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Ex-ONCE director Manolo Saiz says team never transfused blood ‘before 2003’

Spanish manager speaks about his role in the 'Operación Puerto' doping scandal and why he never came back to the peloton.

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Manolo Saiz, the controversial ex-manager at ONCE, has spoken about his role in the Operación Puerto blood-doping scandal and why he never returned to the pro peloton.

Speaking on RTVE during the Vuelta a España, the Spanish manager says he turned a blind eye toward what was happening on his team when the Puerto scandal blew up in 2006.

“There were never transfusions on ONCE before 2003, but after that, who knows? There were riders who asked me permission to work with Fuentes, and I gave them the OK,” Saiz said. “I wanted to turn my head, and I didn’t want to know. It was their problem, not mine.”

Also read: The Puerto scandal ‘lives on’ 10 years after

The mention of 2003 and ONCE is interesting, if true, because that would suggest that Saiz insists his teams were not blood transfusing during the 1990s and early 2000s, when EPO was the favored drug of choice.

“A manager only knows about 80 percent about what happens on their team,” he said. “The rest is very difficult to know because the riders are at their own homes and it’s difficult to control.”

Several top riders across some of the biggest teams in the world were involved, including Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, and several riders from Liberty Seguros.

Liberty Seguros, the European branch of an American insurance company, pulled its sponsor in the wake of the devastating scandal focused on a blood-doping ring ran by Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

Saiz, who ran the ONCE team from the late 1980s and its later incarnation as Liberty Seguros, said the fallout from such scandals as the Festina Affaire and Puerto were unfair and uneven.

“It was the case of some riders, yes, other teams, no,” Saiz said. “The team like T-Mobile had even bigger scandals than ours. Maybe it was because I liked to speak too frankly about things when I was meeting with ASO or with the UCI, I didn’t know how to keep my mouth shut.”

The team regrouped around Alexander Vinokourov and the arrival of Kazakh sponsor Astana. Saiz was out, and later legal issues arose as the scandal played out in the Spanish court system.

Saiz downplayed his role in the doping scandal, and said he could never find another position with a new team in the aftermath. He claimed that he was “black-balled” by larger forces in professional cycling.

A few years ago he tried to pull together new sponsors to create a team, but those efforts fizzled out.

“If I had something to do with it, I ask forgiveness,” Saiz said. “I have to carry some responsibility for this guilt, but now it’s already too late.”

ASO won’t comment on Saiz’s allegations of ‘black-balling’

Also during the interview, Saiz claimed Tour de France owners ASO “vetoed” a possible return to the peloton following his role in the Operación Puerto doping scandal a decade ago.

“I had the opportunity to return with ‘Purito’ [Katusha] and later I spoke with Tinkoff,” Saiz said on RTVE. “And Tinkov told me loud and clear that the Tour said not to have anything to do with me. It’s ASO is who controls cycling worldwide.”

Saiz said he raised the ire of ASO by insisting in 2005 that the three grand tours should not be allowed to be owned by the same company. ASO bought 50 percent of the Vuelta, and later bought it out completely to bring the Spanish grand tour under the French-based business.

VeloNews reached out to ASO officials on Saturday, and a spokesman said the company “would not comment” on the Saiz allegations.

Liberty Seguros, a new sponsor, left in 2006 following the Puerto scandal. (Photo: AVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)