By Gregor Brown
The Giro d'Italia could start from Belfast with less than 198 cyclists after a number of foreign riders were unable to secure UK entry visas for the race's Grand Depart in Northern Ireland.
Venezuelans Yonder Godoy and Jackson Rodriguez were unable to depart with the rest of the team Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela yesterday from its base in Italy. General Manager Gianni Savio and Sports Director Giovanni Ellena remained behind to help sort out the problems.
"I've never seen a problem like this in 30 years doing at the job," Savio told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. "It's paradoxical because now we don't even know where their passports are."
The UK embassy in Rome controls their Giro destiny. Savio explained that he turned in the passports and documentation as required for a rush, five-day turn around, visa. However, 10 days have already passed and the embassy has not returned the two passports.
Savio's other seven riders are either Italian or Dutch and not required to present a visa to enter Northern Ireland. He said that he would not replace Godoy or Rodriguez if he cannot secure their passports with visas in time.
Maxim Iglinsky and Alexey Lutsenko will not start the team time trial with the rest of their team-mates in Astana's blue colours on Friday. The UK embassy in Paris turned down their visa request and forced the team to field Borut Bozic and Janez Brajkovic instead.
General Manager Alexandre Vinokourov explained, "They received no response after two weeks, nor were their passports returned – leaving them off the roster and then stranding them in Nice, away from their families in Kazakhstan."
Team Tinkoff-Saxo had similar problems for its Russians. Ivan Rovny received his visa but Nikolai Trusov did not. Tinkoff had Colombian Edward Beltran on its list to substitute Trusov but could not obtain a visa. Instead, Australian Jay McCarthy will race the Giro.
"We've never had this problem before," team Colombia's general manager, Claudio Corti said last week. "We've raced in the USA, Turkey, Malaysia... We've always received our visas in time."
Corti applied for his Colombians in Rome. After initial problems that forced him to cancel the team's Tour of Turkey trip, his riders received their passports back with visas. He told Cycling Weekly this morning, "We are all here in Belfast and ready to race the Giro d'Italia."