In a week that’s seen some ghosts of doping past step up and win big races after serving bans, yet another rider with a notorious past was back on the winner’s podium.
Santi Pérez – who tested positive for homologous blood doping during the 2004 season – won the one-day mountaintop race Subida al Naranco in northern Spain on Tuesday.
Pérez, riding for the small Portuguese team Loule-Louletano, surged to the front in a perfectly timed late attack out of the lead bunch of climbers to win the prestigious climbing race in his native region of Asturias along Spain’s verdant northern coast.
It’s Pérez’s first victory since returning from his doping ban in 2007.
Pérez was once one of Spain’s highest touted young climbers, and lived up to expectations with a spectacular 2004 Vuelta that included three stage victories and second overall behind Roberto Heras.
Pérez, now 32, later found himself in trouble, however, and followed on the heels of then-Phonak teammate Tyler Hamilton and tested positive for homologous blood doping in late-season, out-of-competition tests.
Pérez roundly denied the allegation, but admitted he didn’t have the money to mount a high-profile and expensive defense such as Hamilton’s and was forced to accept his two-year racing ban despite arguing he was innocent.
Pérez was later linked to the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal that scourged Spanish cycling in 2006, with police identifying him as client No. 6 among files of alleged ring-leader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
Again, Pérez denied any wrong-doing, yet authorities are still bickering on how to handle the complicated and multi-jurisdictional case, leaving riders like Pérez in limbo.
In 2007, Pérez found a ride with Relax-GAM, joining four other riders implicated in Puerto, and rode to 65th overall in subdued Vuelta comeback that year.
The Spanish continental team folded and Pérez could only a ride on small Portuguese clubs, following scores of other Spanish riders tainted by the Puerto scandal. Pérez said he was making as little as 18,000 Euros a season, a far cry from the big-money contract he was poised to sign in 2004 before his blood doping ban.
Racing in Spain continues this week with the five-day Vuelta a Asturias, starting Wednesday in Oviedo.
1. Santi Pérez (Sp), Loulé 3:47:48
2. Andrés Antuña (Sp), Burgos 2016, at 0:02
3. Luis Laverde (Vz), Colombia es Pasión, at 0:07
4. André Cardoso (P), Palmeiras, at 0:23
5. Pasquale Muto (I), Miche, at 0:31
6. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol), Miche, at 0:46
7. Marcos García (Sp), Xacobeo Galicia, at 0:51
8. Dalivier Ospina (Col), Colombia es Pasión, at 0:51
9. Fortunato Baliani (I), Miche, at 0:51
10. José Herrada (Sp), Caja Rural, at 1:11