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Vande Velde sidelined by paperwork

Uncertainty over his work permit forced Christian Vande Velde to skip last week’s Paris-Nice, an issue that may prove problematic for other Americans racing in Europe for European teams. Vande Velde, it seems, didn't actually have the proper paperwork to allow him to work for a European employer. Since joining the Liberty Seguros team, the question of the 27-year-old American's legal status in Spain has come up and the team has asked Vande Velde to get his papers squared away before allowing him to race again. Vande Velde told VeloNews he is scheduled to meet Wednesday with immigration

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Immigration issues may be concern for other Americans in the peloton

Vande Velde: Undocumented worker?

Vande Velde: Undocumented worker?

Photo: AFP (file photo)

Uncertainty over his work permit forced Christian Vande Velde to skip last week’s Paris-Nice, an issue that may prove problematic for other Americans racing in Europe for European teams.

Vande Velde, it seems, didn’t actually have the proper paperwork to allow him to work for a European employer. Since joining the Liberty Seguros team, the question of the 27-year-old American’s legal status in Spain has come up and the team has asked Vande Velde to get his papers squared away before allowing him to race again.

Vande Velde told VeloNews he is scheduled to meet Wednesday with immigration officials in his Spanish home in Girona to sort out the problem.

“I’m in limbo right now,” he said Monday. “I hope I’m not making a bigger deal about this than it is, but it makes me nervous. It might take a couple of weeks and I need to be racing as soon as possible. I can’t afford to be sitting on the couch.”

Vande Velde had already raced at the Mallorca Challenge, Luis Puig and the Tour of Valencia in February before team officials inquired about his status in Spain. He’s currently earning his check in euros and is paying European taxes, but like many of the U.S. pros racing in Europe for American teams, Vande Velde never bothered to get any formal legal status to race.

Vande Velde’s problem is not at all unique. Fassa Bortolo’s American recruit, Tom Danielson, found himself in similar circumstances when he tried to buy a car in his new home base in Italy.

“When I sat down to make the purchase, they asked me where my residency permit was,” Danielson said. “When I told them that I had a tourist visa, the dealership told me I couldn’t buy a car as a tourist. It was at that point, my team told me to get it worked out… mostly so the issue isn’t raised during a race.”

Americans are allowed to stay in Europe for 90 days on a tourist visa and American racers on American-sponsored teams are not technically working in Europe. European immigration officials have been cracking down in the wake of security concerns, increased illegal immigration and tougher competition for jobs.

“For me, it’s not an issue,” Danielson said. “I work here. In order to do my job well, I need to feel like Europe is my home… so doing the paper work is just something I need to do.”

For Vande Velde, who has lived in Spain for most of his professional career, the news was something of a surprise.

“Liberty just assumed I had residency and I never worried about it when I was with Postal. It was a big miscommunication. They thought I had it and I never thought about it,” he said.

Vande Velde said he’s already undergone medical exams, background checks and filed other paperwork required to apply for the necessary permits. Vande Velde said part of the problem is that he gets a different answer from every bureaucrat he talks to.

Some have even told him he must return to the United States to file for a residency permit, a process that could take weeks, if not months.

“Hopefully that’s not going to happen,” he said. “We’re meeting with some people on Wednesday and hopefully put me on a fast track. I’m going to be very, very, very upfront with them – I need to be racing my bike as soon as possible.”Danielson’s agent, Oregon attorney Bob Mionske, said the only workable solution for his client was a quick trip home since “Italy simply doesn’t allow someone to convert a 90-day tourist visa into anything else. The application has to be initiated in that person’s home country.For Danielson, the process was relatively painless.”I flew into Denver,” Danielson said, “I think I spent maybe six hours in Denver to speak with the Italian consulate. Then I went home to Durango for a few days, got some good rides in and was back in Italy in a week.”Despite the glitch, Vande Velde says he’s very happy with the switch from Postal to Liberty.“Things aren’t that much different from Postal. It’s a big, Division 1 team, it’s been around a long time and just like Johan (Bruyneel), the team doesn’t expect anything but the best,” he said. “Johan learned a lot of things from Manolo (Saiz). You see a lot of similarities in the way they talk to the riders, how they run the team.”Vande Velde says his training is going well and that he hasn’t felt as good on the bike since the 2001 season.“I’m just trying to get over this hurdle,” he said. “The form is going pretty good. I already feel better at this point than I did last year. I’m on the short list for the Tour and I’m going to be at the start with my visa in hand.””The team’s worried about getting fined. Just like in the States, if an illegal worker is in the back and doesn’t have a green card, if you’re that employer, you’d be hit with a huge fine,” he said. “I feel for all those immigrants now, that’s for sure. You take it for granted those workers coming to America to find a job. I’m going to be standing in line now with the rest of them.”