News

Ian Garrison turned away from flight to Europe as WorldTour season approaches

New travel restrictions causing concern among riders in Americas hoping to return in time for Tour de France.

Travel restrictions between the United States and Europe just derailed efforts by Ian Garrison to reunite with his Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammates.

Garrison, 22, confirmed to VeloNews Friday that he was not allowed to board a flight Wednesday from Atlanta to Amsterdam in the wake of an EU travel ban imposed this week preventing U.S. citizens from entering Europe.

It’s the first confirmed case of a top pro cyclist being prevented from flying from the Americas back to Europe after a wave of worsening coronavirus cases have swept across the United States.

Garrison, who spoke to VeloNews both before and after trying to travel, was hoping to use a team-issued letter to present to immigration officials, but was turned away at the airport Wednesday night. With no visa or residency card, the Atlanta resident was told he didn’t have the required paperwork to be permitted to travel back to Europe.

“I went to the airport on Wednesday and pretty much got turned away at the counter because I didn’t have any sort of official government document,” Garrison told VeloNews Friday. “We are now in the process of talking to different embassies to see if we can get approval and an official document allowing me to return to Europe.”

The Deceuninck-Quick-Step rookie had been working on obtaining residency paperwork this winter before coronavirus took hold in Europe, leading him to return from his temporary training base in Spain to his home in Atlanta, Georgia.

“For the past three years, I’ve been with Hagens Berman Axeon, and I spent extended periods in Europe,” Garrison told VeloNews before flying, Wednesday. “This year was my first year I was planning to be over there full-time. I was going to be based in Girona and then ended up coming back once all the corona stuff started. I was just in the process of getting a visa and then I came back home – so I don’t have one yet.”

Uncertainty continues to swirl around the fate of top WorldTour riders who returned home to ride out the coronavirus pandemic. Several U.S. riders who have European residency or work visas recently traveled back to Europe, including Ben King (NTT Pro Cycling) and Larry Warbasse (Ag2r-La Mondiale), but they traveled before the EU instituted its formal travel ban this week.

Egan Bernal at the 2019 Tour de France
Garrison’s situation will cause concern for top riders still in the U.S and South America. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Garrison’s case will cause concern for any pro racer in the Americas who might not have the required residency or visa status that will exempt them from the travel ban.

In Colombia, officials have organized a special charter flight on July 19 from Bogotá to Madrid to bring dozens of top riders and other Colombian athletes to Europe, including Egan Bernal (Ineos), Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling), Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and others. Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz (Ineos), who lives in nearby Ecuador, is also hoping to board the flight, and is even considering riding his bike 900km to the Colombian capital if he cannot arrange other transportation.

Officials say that everyone boarding the Colombia charter will undergo a battery of coronavirus tests before being allowed to travel, and it appears Spanish authorities will allow the flight to enter Europe.

VeloNews spoke with Garrison just hours before he was leaving for the airport Wednesday.

“It kind of seems like I’m the guinea pig right now. I will go and see what happens and let the other guys know,” Garrison said before his flight. “I plan to take a letter that the team has given me and show it to whoever asks. It says that I can be considered an essential worker, that I need to go over there for my job. I’m going to just go until somebody stops me or I get through.”

“I heard about a couple getting turned away in Europe,” he continued. “We don’t really know what will happen … It’s kind of just an unknown area. If I get turned away, I guess I’ll stay here until hopefully the ban is lifted.”

Barta has a nervous nine-day wait until his flight to France. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Will Barta, another American hoping to return before racing resumes in August, says he has the proper documentation having spent much of 2019 in Nice. The CCC-Team rider hopes to be able to fly to Europe later this month to compete in his sophomore WorldTour season.

“I have a residency card for France,” Barta told VeloNews on Thursday. “So under the rules, I’m allowed to go back, so it should be OK, ‘knock-on-wood.’ But you never know. I mean, it all changes so fast. I mean things aren’t really very good in the U.S. right now. You never know what could change at the last minute.”

“My flight back is July 12, so it’s not too long,” Barta continued. “My sister is supposed to get married on July 10, so I was planning to go back after that.”

Barta, 24, left Europe as the coronavirus restrictions began to take effect in Europe this winter. He returned home to Boise, Idaho, and is currently spending time at a DIY altitude camp in Park City, Utah. With conditions in both Utah and Idaho rapidly deteriorating, Barta is hoping that additional restrictions aren’t imposed on top of those currently put in place by the EU. European officials say they will update travel restrictions every two weeks.

“I’m just hoping it doesn’t get any worse in USA right now,” Barta said. “At home in Boise, we’ve been returned to lockdown stage three, and now they’re talking about going back to stage two [with stage four being the most relaxed]. There’s been a spike there, the most there’s been so far actually. So it’s kinda scary.”