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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
First Steve Peat went down with a shoulder injury. Now Chris Kovarik is out with … visa problems.
Word out of the Intense camp is that the American INS boys up in Vancouver wouldn’t let the young Aussie downhiller back into the States after he’d finished up competing at the World Cup race at Grouse Mountain because he had the wrong kind of visa.
“He’s got a five-year visitation visa, but what he needs is a work visa or an athlete’s visa,” said Intense owner Jeff Steber, Kovarik’s primary sponsor. “We’ve got all the right paper work going now, but at minimum it’s going to take two weeks.”
That means Kovarik will miss both the World Cup stop in Durango, Colorado, this coming weekend, and NORBA National No. 4 in Mammoth Lakes, California, July 20-22. And that will do some serious damage to his overall title hopes.
Following his second-place finish at Grouse — he lost to GT’s Fabien Barel by one one-hundredth of a second — Kovarik stood second in the overall World Cup standings. But by missing Durango, he is sure to drop out of the top three, if not further.
As for the NORBA downhill series, which Kovarik is the current overall leader, the damage won’t be quite as severe. That series allows riders to drop one race, so assuming things go as planned, Kovarik should be able to come back to America in August for the finals at Mount Snow in Vermont.
“The whole thing has been really frustrating,” said Steber, who admitted some “alternative” solutions were considered. “We kicked around all kinds of options — smuggling him in a bike bag or going over some hiking trail that pot smugglers use that goes between British Columbia and Washington, then bringing him back after the two races — but one of the INS guys said that if he got caught in the States they’d never let him back in the country. We don’t want that to happen.”
So as of Wednesday Kovarik remained at a hotel in North Vancouver while the rest of the mountain-biking world headed to Colorado. The plan is to fly him back home to Australia, where he can rest up before the second half of the World Cup season kicks off in Arai, Japan in late July. But even going home has proved difficult.
“They won’t let him take a flight that goes through L.A.,” Steber said. “That meant we had to get some crazy flight that went to Japan first, then to I don’t even know where, and then to Australia. I think he’s going to get out of there today or tomorrow, but the whole mess is going to cost me like $6000.”
Peat, who’s out 3-4 weeks after separating his shoulder in a training-run crash at Grouse, ran into similar problems back in May, and got deported back to England on the eve of NORBA No. 1 at Big Bear in California.
“This should be a warning to the people in the sport,” Steber said. “You better make sure you have the proper documents, especially if you’re one of the guys making good money. I know we’ve learned a big lesson.”