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American riders scramble to return to Europe as possible EU travel ban looms

US road race champion Alex Howes (EF Pro Cycling)
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

When the US President Donald Trump suddenly announced a ban on travel from Europe in March, American riders in Europe faced a difficult choice: stay put and be forced to ride out the frightening coronavirus pandemic away from family and friends for an undetermined amount of time, or get on the first flight out to the USA. 

Most riders chose the latter and now, with the US falling far behind Europe in controlling the spread of COVID-19, those riders are scrambling to get back to Europe before a decision next week on which nations will be on the EU welcome list when international travel reopens on July 1. Riders need to be in Europe for vital training camps and the return to racing. Strade Bianche kicks off the WorldTour on August 1, with the Tour de France scheduled for August 29-September 20.  

According to the NY Times and other outlets, the US has not made the list because its rate of new infections is still higher than its epidemiological benchmark - the EU average of 16 new cases per 100,000 people. The US average is currently over 100 per 100,000 and other countries in South and Central America also exceed that mark.

The list of countries deemed acceptable for travel to the EU includes Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and other nations, but notably excludes the US and Russia.

Of the more than 20 US professional riders looking to resume racing at the sport's top level, only a few remained in Europe: Sepp Kuss, who was named to Jumbo-Visma's Tour de France squad, stayed in Andorra and Chad Haga (Team Sunweb) remained in Girona.

Ben King (NTT Pro Cycling) spent the lockdown in the USA but travelled back to Lucca, Italy last week. That country allowed US citizens with proven work to enter but it is unclear if the EU's decision next week will change that. Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale) went home to Michigan but returned to Nice this week.

Riders like Joe Dombrowski and Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) - who were both named to the team for the Giro d'Italia - and Tejay van Garderen, Lawson Craddock, Alex Howes and Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling), Brent Bookwalter (Mitchelton-Scott), Quinn Simmons and Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo) may face difficulty getting back to Europe for the races.

EF Pro Cycling team manager Jonathan Vaughters confirmed his WorldTour team was working to get its riders to Europe before July 1 because of the uncertainty.

The women's peloton is similarly affected, with Ruth Winder and Tayler Wiles (Trek-Segafredo), Coryn Rivera (Sunweb), Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM) and Katie Hall (Boels Dolmans) among those who need to get back to Europe when the racing calendar resumes.

With a number of notable riders - Haga, Dombrowski, King, Bookwalter and Rosskopf - left off USA Cycling's long team for the Olympic Games, the pressure will be on to get back to racing and earn a coaches selection to the list. Some riders are also chasing new contracts for 2021 and beyond.  

Other countries in South and Central America may also face issues as their infection rates are not at or below the EU's average. 

Defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal and other Colombians are due to take a charter flight to Europe on July 19 after the Colombian government gave special permission for the flight. Commercial flights from Colombian and other South American countries have been suspended until August 31. 

Cyclingnews understands the Colombian riders will be tested for COVID-19 before they leave for Europe.

The EU's list of acceptable countries is only a recommendation and each country still remains in control of its own borders, but there is pressure on the EU members to adopt a unified strategy or risk losing free travel within the EU. Most of the 26 European nations in the Schengen area now allow people to travel after easing strict lockdown rules. 

At risk is the lucrative tourism flow from the US, key for many EU economies, but a second wave of coronavirus outbreak would be equally damaging.

According to the NY Times, the EU guidelines are expected to include some exceptions for health workers, diplomats, humanitarian workers, transit passengers, asylum seekers and students, as well as 'passengers traveling for imperative family reasons' and foreign workers whose employment in Europe is deemed essential.

Professional cyclists are not deemed essential, but according to Reuters, US officials suggested that US travelers may be allowed in if they meet certain criteria and pass temperature checks.

The EU is expected to announce its guidelines next week.