An unexpected subplot in the build-up to the Giro d’Italia start in Belfast has been the late scramble to secure United Kingdom visas for riders hailing from certain countries from outside the European Union.
Colombia, for instance, pulled out of the Tour of Turkey as eight of their riders were temporarily without their passports after submitting them to the British embassy as part of the application process, while Astana were ultimately forced to withdraw Kazakh riders Maxim Iglinskiy and Alexey Lutsenko from their Giro line-up when they failed to complete the process in time.
For a long time on Wednesday, it seemed as though the British Home Office’s red tape might also prevent Androni-Venezuela’s Jackson Rodriguez and Yonder Godoy travelling to Belfast. Manager Gianni Savio and his two Venezuelan riders spent the day cooped up in a hotel opposite the British embassy in Rome, sweating on the return of their passports, with Tuttobici providing updates throughout the day under the headline “Androni Odyssey.”
On Thursday morning, however, the stately Savio was present and correct at the pre-Giro meeting of team managers and the race jury, having landed at Belfast’s George Best airport just half an hour beforehand in the company of Rodriguez and Godoy. After the meeting, he talked Cyclingnews through the convoluted process, which began when Rodriguez and Godoy returned to their Italian base from their national championships in mid-April.
“The riders had submitted their passports to the British Embassy in Italy and then DHL were supposed to return them directly to their homes in Bergamo, but they never arrived at all,” Savio said.
On Tuesday, as the rest of the Androni-Venezuela team departed for Belfast, Savio headed for the British Embassy in Rome and then managed – finally – to discover that Rodriguez and Godoy’s passports were still in London. “The woman there was very kind and said, ‘don’t worry, I’ll take care of it and they’ll be sent out this evening with DHL and tomorrow they’ll be in Italy.’ But I said ‘No! Stop everything! I’ll send someone to pick them up instead,’” Savio said.
And so on Wednesday morning, while Savio, Rodriguez and Godoy waited in Rome, Androni-Venezuela press officer Leondino Pescatore flew from Belfast to London to collect the passports and visas, and then onwards to Rome.
“Then an hour and a half after Leondino arrived, we all left together from Rome to London. We spent last night in London and then this morning we came from London to Belfast,” Savio said, adding: “The visas are valid until
November 7. We’ll even be able to do the Tour of Britain now.”
Savio’s riders already have working visas valid for the rest of the European Union, and he said he was at a loss as to why immigration law was by comparison so stringent in the United Kingdom. “For example, when the Venezuelans to go to France, Belgium or anywhere on mainland Europe, they don’t need visas. Why we need it for Britain, I don’t know, because we don’t need it for the Republic of Ireland either,” Savio said.
Speaking on Wednesday, Giro race director Mauro Vegni said that he felt teams had more than enough time to prepare contingency plans to ensure all of their riders had visas to compete in the Northern Irish stages. “The Giro route was presented in October of last year, around six months ago. In six months, you can get any kind of visa for any country in the world,” Vegni said. “I have to say, too, that we have a team that is completely made up of riders from outside the EU [Colombia – ed.] and they’re all here with their visas…”
Savio agreed that there was nothing RCS Sport could have done to facilitate the process and the onus was on the teams themselves to take care of the paperwork. “No, I don’t think there’s anything they could have done. It was up to us to do it and in the end, we got it done, even if it came down to the finishing sprint,” Savio said.
“I should have been here three days ago and yet I only arrived two hours ago because I was putting in the effort to get it done, as if I was in the race myself. Let’s say we’ve won the prologue: now let’s hope Manuel Belletti can win a sprint in the first week.”