The UK has denied entry to four out of seven members of Eritrea’s national team, including Biniam Girmay, for the UCI World Championships in Glasgow.
The elite men’s road race at the UCI World Championships will take place without one of the top contenders for the rainbow jersey, with Biniam Girmay injured and unable to secure a visa.
GCN understands that Girmay’s visa application was not approved and that three of his teammates for Sunday’s road race have also been unable to acquire visas.
At present, three Eritreans have been granted visas for the Worlds: Natnael Berhane, Henok Mulubrahn, and Dawit Yemane. Three others from the named squad, as it stands, are unable to travel: Natnael Tesfatsion, Merhawi Kudus, and Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier.
Girmay was part of that group but on Wednesday morning his Intermarché-Circus-Wanty team issued a statement indicating he had withdrawn citing injuries sustained in last weekend’s Clásica San Sebastián.
“I’m of course very disappointed,” Girmay said in the team’s statement. “I had a good feeling after the Tour de France but my crash in the Clásica San Sebastián caused too severe pain to be able to defend my chances in the Worlds.”
It is unclear at this stage what exactly went wrong with his visa application. His agent declined to comment when contacted by GCN, calling it “a political matter“.
The UK Home Office declined to comment on this specific case, simply stating: “All visa applications are carefully considered on their individual merits in line with the Immigration Rules.” Neither the UCI nor the Eritrea Cycling Federation responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.
It is still not impossible for Tesfatsion, Kudus, and Ghebreigzabhier to ride Worlds, with appointments said to have been put in place for Thursday, and the option of a fast-tracked 24-hour visa application. Kudus is currently racing the Tour de l’Ain, which finishes on Wednesday but needs to return to Andorra, where he resides, in order to submit his application.
Girmay lives in San Marino, a state within Italy, along with Tesfatsion and Ghebreigzabhier, who is also at the Tour de l’Ain. Most members of the squad were planning to travel to the UK on Friday.
With a Classics-flavoured parcours on offer in Glasgow on Sunday, Girmay was among the contenders for the road race rainbow jersey, which would be the first for an African rider. The 23-year-old has achieved a number of milestones for his continent, becoming the first African to win a cobbled Classic at Gent-Wevelgem in 2022 and soon after becoming the first Black African to win a stage of the Giro d’Italia.
He has only won twice so far this season but his vicious sprint at the end of punchy races made him a true threat for the gold medal in Glasgow.
Visa headaches are no stranger to Girmay and his compatriots, and present one of the major hurdles to African riders turning professional in cycling’s European heartlands. Once established in a European country, things are easier, although the UK is no longer part of the EU, meaning the Schengen visas commonly used do not cover the 2023 Worlds.
This time last year, Lawson Craddock missed the World Championships in Australia after his visa was initially denied, and his re-application was only approved just after his flight had taken off. [Patrick Fletcher | GCN]
#UCIWorldChampionships, elite men's road race could see one of the leading contenders for the rainbow jersey sit out of the competition. #BiniamGirmay and 4 of Eritrean National cyclist have been denied visas to enter the UK. Shame to #British Authorities! #EritreaShines pic.twitter.com/bePki3KyjQ
— Yared Tesfay (@ytmn2) August 2, 2023