Returning from the shadows

Spain's Manolo Saiz is a well-known name in professional cycling. The man from Torrelavega managed...

An interview with Manolo Saiz, August 27, 2008

Spain's Manolo Saiz is a well-known name in professional cycling. The man from Torrelavega managed the famous ONCE team for many years. The yellow outfit became one of the strongest teams in professional road cycling in the late 80's and throughout the 90's. It even continued under different names in the new century. Cyclingnews contributor Hernan Alvarez checked on the whereabouts of Saiz, who brought up riders like Melchor Mauri, Laurent Jalabert, Alex Zülle, Joseba Beloki and Roberto Heras.

The end of ONCE didn't bring luck for Saiz. Once, the Spanish lottery for the blind, was replaced by Liberty Seguros in 2004. Two years later, Saiz's name was linked to Operación Puerto by the Spanish police in Madrid and Zaragoza. He stopped as a team manager, but now Saiz is ready for a return to professional cycling.

His career as directeur sportif is full of good results and achieved championships. However, Saiz doesn't highlight any win – not even Laurent Jalabert taking out the Vuelta a España in 1995 or the fact that he turned ONCE into the top team of the world. "I think the greatest achievement is not measured in wins," said Saiz. "It is measured in human quality. The thing I am proud the most of is that riders who belonged to my teams are still racing when they are older. They have very long careers in the world of sport and that means that their fundamentals achieved in my teams were good. The training and the attention to detail [has been good]."

As a director, Saiz never won the Tour de France. That is like a wound in his heart. "We had our chances and there were riders at those moments that did better than we. The truth is that it was like a broken dream for me, but we must be realistic. We coincided with [Miguel] Indurain at some occasion, we coincided with [Bjarne] Riis, we coincided with other riders. We have coincided with [Jan] Ullrich, with [Lance] Armstrong. We fought with them in a period of time when our riders were very good. Maybe I didn't do it well enough, because there are two riders who became professionals with ONCE and later went on to win the Tour for different teams," Saiz said. He was talking about the last two Tour winners, Albert Contador and Carlos Sastre.

It is obvious that he loves cycling. His passion for the sport cannot be denied. Saiz still follows the road competitions. "Honestly, I spent quite some time without watching cycling, but lately I have been watching it again," he admitted.

Saiz is impressed with the good work by Spanish cycling, highlighted this year by Contador's Giro win and Sastre's success in La Grande Boucle. "We must recognise that things are done very well from the basis of cycling in Spain," stated Saiz. "And also that the new riders are shaping up well in Spain. Maybe it is due to the Spanish geography or the mentality, but amateurs race many five-day or three-day races. That trains them the ability to recover quickly from a very young age, with 16 or 17."

Saiz emphasised that this way of racing has produced many champion. Miguel Indurain, Pedro Delgado, Angel Arroyo or Abraham Olano and many other have come through a similar programme. Saiz knew exactly who to thank for this. "The amateur teams overall have a great merit on this. The amateur teams do a great work with riders and the results are seen in the professional field."

Saiz has coached another rider who achieved a good success lately, Joan Llaneras. Llaneras won one gold and one silver medal at the track competitions in the 2008 Olympics. "I saw his victory with pride," Saiz acknowledged. "Llaneras is a rider who moved from the amateur to the professional field with us. He also stayed with us many years as a pro rider. During those times we started advising him that maybe he could perform better on the track."

Llaneras is 39 years of age and prove to Saiz's approach and his opinion that if riders are brought up well, they can have long careers. Saiz was proud of Llaneras and his accomplishments. He is the most successful Spanish sportsman at the Olympics now. Former tennis player Arantxa Sanchez Vicario also has four medals, but her two silver and two bronze medals aren't quite as shiny as Llaneras two gold (points race 2000 and 2008) and two silver medals (points race 2004 and Madison 2008).

Belgium's Johan Bruyneel learnt everything his trades as a directeur sportif from Saiz. Saiz is not jealous of the man who won eight Tours de France. "I'm not jealous at all. I never was a jealous or an envious person; on the contrary. I always felt very proud that people whom I managed have succeeded in life. In that sense, I feel very proud of seeing how he was able to have the luck to manage some great riders, to know how to work with them, to prepare them mentally very well and to obtain all the wins he is obtaining."

Saiz never left cycling completely, currently managing a non-professional team. "I've got an amateur team because I always enjoyed the basis of cycling and I always cared about the young riders. But I don't go to competitions at the moment," Saiz said. Asked if he plans to return to professional cycling, Manolo replied: "If you asked me this question one year ago, I would have said 'no'. But if you ask me today, I say 'yes'. As soon as I can, I will come back to professional cycling."

Operación Puerto

There are attempts by ASO, the Tour de France organiser, or the UCI, the cycling world governing body, to clean up cycling. Saiz thought it was cycling's own fault to get there in the first place. "First of all, we shouldn't have dirtied it so much. In cycling, one rider climbs Alpe d'Huez one second faster and people think there is something wrong. In almost all the events of the swimming competitions in the Olympic Games the world records were broken and people don't think that way. The same thing happens in track and field competitions or other sports. So maybe it is that we have dirtied cycling much more than we should have."

Bjarne Riis has confessed that he doped when he was a rider. He remains as the CSC sports director, and with much success at that. Saiz on the other hand is not working for a team right now. But he didn't think it to be unfair. "No, I think that I have taken the decision of not working now," Saiz answered. "No one has prohibited me not to be at work. It was me who took the decision. I think Riis is free to say everything he wants. There is no doubt he is a director with a great background and also with a great working capacity and that he is a valid director for the world of cycling. I think the world of sport should currently feel proud of Bjarne Riis."

Saiz was not willing to comment on the new generation of EPO CERA out on the market. "I don't know it. As I don't know it I can't talk about it," he excused himself.

Saiz is close to putting the Puerto affair and the raid the Spanish police did to him in May 2006 behind. "Everyone knows the sentence is done. It stated that there was no kind of culpability and there was a judicial challenge made by the fiscal ministry. Now we must wait for the judge to reply that without a doubt will [say that I am innocent]."

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