Colombian cyclists escape lockdown on ‘sports flight’ to Europe

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There are many things that are up in the air about the 2020 cycling season. Rising COVID-19 case numbers in some European countries, including France and Belgium, put question marks over the safe running of the resumed season, which is set to begin in August. The Tour de France, scheduled from 29 August to 20 September, is set to be the crown jewel of the calendar, but until recently it wasn’t even certain whether the defending champion, Egan Bernal, would be able to be there.

Now, that question has been answered. A special “sports flight” carrying most of the Colombian contingent of the peloton left Bogota at 5pm on Sunday, and is on schedule to land in Spain ahead of schedule at around 9am Monday local time.

International flights both in and out of Colombia have been suspended since March 23, with the ban set to continue until the end of August. However, with the morale of the nation riding in part on the performance of its sporting heroes, special dispensation was granted for a charter flight carrying Europe-based sports professionals back to the continent. On board are 185 passengers from a number of sports, including cycling, football, judo and tennis.

The flight departed Colombia – which is itself in the midst of a worrying spike in coronavirus cases – with substantial media attention, and several levels of controls. Athletes sanitised their hands at the entrance to the terminal building, washed their hands again when inside, and were provided with protective gear for the journey.

Thanks to the media contingent in attendance, we can reveal that Nairo Quintana is taking no risks. He wore gloves on the way in, sanitised them at the door, took them off inside the terminal to wash his hands extremely thoroughly, was wearing a double layer of masks, traded his outermost mask for another mask, and then wore a see-through plastic visor over the top. Respect.

Rigoberto Uran was his typically charismatic self, and Esteban Chaves, owner of the peloton’s warmest smile, still holds that distinction even if you can’t see his mouth.

Egan Bernal, meanwhile, opted for a touch of whimsy with his face mask, and looked fairly relaxed in comparison. Last week the reigning champion was waved off with a ceremony in his hometown, Zipaquirá, and promised to do his best at this year’s Tour. After he lands in Spain, Bernal will travel to Andorra to prepare for the resumed season. His first race back will be La Route d’Occitanie (August 1-4), followed by the Tour de l’Ain and Critérium du Dauphiné, and then the Tour de France.

The charter flight which the athletes are travelling on is run by Avianca, Colombia’s national carrier, and has a capacity of 250 passengers in a two-class cabin. That means that, with 185 athletes on board, things will be at least somewhat socially-distanced in economy class, but the real prize ticket is one of the 28 business class seats up front.

So who got the nod? Great question and thank you. From images shared by the airline, it appears that Egan Bernal, Rigoberto Urán, Esteban Chaves, Nairo Quintana and Alvaro Hodeg will be among the lucky cyclists enjoying the finest comfort Avianca has to offer, on their way back to a distant continent for a racing season that remains shrouded in uncertainty. Bon voyage!

Inbound to Europe

The Colombian cyclists en-route include all the major names:

Team Ineos
Egan Bernal, Iván Sosa, Sebastián Henao, Brandon Rivera.

Astana Pro Cycling
Miguel Angel López, Hernando Bohórquez, Rodrigo Contreras, Harold Tejada.

EF Pro Cycling
Rigoberto Urán, Daniel Martínez, Sergio Higuita

Winner Anacona, Dáyer and Nairo Quintana

Esteban Chaves

Álvaro Hodeg

Bahrain McLaren
Santiago Buitrago

Liliana Moreno

Movistar Team
Juan Diego Alba, Carlos Betancur, Paula Patiño

UAE Team Emirates
Sergio Henao, Camilo Ardila, Cristian Múñoz, Fernando Gaviria, Juan Sebastian Molano

That’s in addition to riders from Androni Giocatolli, Burgos BH, Caja Rural, Colombia Tierra de Atletas GW Bicicletas, Giotti Victoria and Kern Pharma.

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