Manolo Saiz plots comeback by 2012

Manolo Saiz — the controversial Spanish sports director who was among eight people arrested in the Operación Puerto doping scandal back in 2006 – hopes to be back in the international peloton with a new team.

Manolo Saiz – the controversial Spanish sports director who was among eight people arrested in the Operación Puerto doping scandal back in 2006 – hopes to be back in the international peloton with a new team by 2012.

Manolo Saiz was among those arrested in 2006 Operación Puerto investigation. | AFP file photo

Saiz hinted that he hopes to find Spanish sponsors to back a new team despite the Puerto charges still unresolved in a Spanish court.

“I hope to get things started in 2011 and begin to work on a new professional structure in 2012,” Saiz said in the Spanish newspaper El Diario Montañes. “I hope to make important progress next year and be leading this team in 2012.”

Saiz should find a very different peloton than the one he left in disgrace in 2006, when he was among eight people arrested for what turned out to be the biggest doping scandal in Spanish cycling history.

Those eight are still waiting on an appeal ruling four years later. Saiz lost his sponsor in Liberty Seguros, but picked up Astana to carry the team into the disastrous 2006 Tour de France when the team was not allowed to start.

Scores of riders were implicated in the Puerto scandal and its impact is still being felt four years later; Alejandro Valverde was recently handed down a two-year racing ban after authorities linked him to blood bags rounded up in police raids.

Saiz, now 50, said a lawyer told him to keep quiet following his arrest, but he now says it’s time to try to plot a comeback.

“I will say that the Guardia Civil treated me well, but the day that I was thrown in jail was very hard. They put me inside of a cell where they put (Basque terrorists). It’s not a normal cell, it’s one of the etarras. I looked around and thought, who has slept here? Have I killed someone?,” he described. “When I left, my lawyer told me, ‘Manolo, stay quiet, forget about press conferences, public statements. I am sure that I did what I had to do to find my way out of this process, but looking at it from the outside, I don’t think I should have stayed quiet so long.”

Even before the Puerto scandal, the passionate Saiz was often a lightning-rod for attention. In 1998, he angrily pulled his ONCE team out of the Tour as the race unraveled in the opening days of the Festina Affaire.

In 1989, the brash Saiz formed ONCE, which soon became one of the powerhouses on the circuit, winning the Vuelta a España with such riders as Alex Zuelle, Laurent Jalabert and Roberto Heras, but could never manage to win the Tour.

In 2006, Saiz was one of the central characters in the Puerto doping scandal when Spain’s Guardia Civil revealed an elaborate blood doping ring organized by Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes and several associates.

Because the scandal was blown open before the introduction a new federal law illegalizing doping practices, Saiz nor anyone else connected to Puerto have yet faced legal proceedings in Spain. A judge has thrown out charges no less than three times, but the case is currently awaiting a ruling on an appeal.

Saiz hopes he can turn the page, at least against possible legal charges in Spain, and form a new team.

“The situation is as bad as it can be,” he continued. “I know what I want to do, but I cannot, because they won’t end, or decide, or conclude the situation I am in. The added damage is having to wait, finding myself trapped in this labyrinth of delays until the courts can find a way to get out of this.”

When asked if had any regrets since Puerto, Saiz blasted what he called a lack of support from his fellow cohorts in the peloton.

“I regret having too much confidence in people. What I will never do again is defend all the teams and directors that I once defended. I will never do it again, and I will never again at the head of the (AIGCP),” he said. “They don’t deserve it. The world of cycling is a world of cowards.”

Saiz also had negative comments about his former pupil, Alberto Contador, who rode with Saiz until the Liberty Seguros team went down in flames in the wake of the Puerto scandal.

“It’s not good that Contador ends his season with 48 days of competition,” Saiz said. “I am going to say something that I hope doesn’t bother anyone: Contador has only learned the bad things from (Lance) Armstrong, not the good things. Armstrong did some good things that Alberto has not been able to capture and has only taken the bad things. It’s not good for him and not good for cycling.”