Colombian rider Santiago Botero has decided to call it quits for the season after being sidelined by Phonak for his relationship with Dr Eufemiano Fuentes and Ignacio Labarta, two of the men accused in the 'Operacion Puerto' affair. While Botero maintains that he is innocent of doping, he claims to have completely lost morale for cycling at the moment, although it is too early to think of retirement.
In an interview with Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper, Botero admitted that he had links with Dr Fuentes and Labarta from his time with the Kelme team. "I don't deny that he helped me when I came to that team," he said. "I explained to [Phonak] that Ignacio Labarta did my training program. I have no reason to hide that. I was with [Fuentes] for eight years. I arrived at Kelme at the age of 21, like a boy, and the first thing that I discovered was that it was a team of people, of experienced riders and doctors, Fuentes and Ignacio Labarta. Since 1995, the did all my programs, prepared the calendar, effort tests, and everything that has to do with the preparation of a sportsman that has nothing to do with giving steroids, anabolics or anything that they found on them."
Botero said that the team's decision to prevent him and Gutiérrez from racing until the investigation has finished meant that, "I lost my morale and spirit...It seems to me like they threw firewood on the fire and fed the yellow press.
"I was not happy. I spent seven months preparing myself in Colombia, killing myself, training every day, living for the bicycle. I did road, track, I took care of my diet. I arrived in Europe in good spirits and was looking forward to doing a good Tour de France. I went to Alcobendas and did an excellent race. I said that I had lost the Volta ao Catalunya because of them and they did that to me. For me, the year was finished. I have no objectives, no ambitions. When am I going to race again? The decision doesn't seem to be just to me."
While saying that he has nothing to hide, Botero said that he is in a no-win situation now. "If I win, then I'm doped. If I lose, it's the same, then I don't have any way out.
"I have not thought about retirement, for the moment. This leaves me deflated, but what is the point of treating someone like a delinquent? That makes no sense and is not justified."
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'
April 2, 2009 - Valverde indignant over possible suspension
April 1, 2009 - Valverde: Italy requests two-year suspension
March 13, 2009 - Le Monde newspaper hit with fine over Puerto allegations
March 2, 2009 - WADA president Fahey asks for Puerto evidence
February 24, 2009 - Spanish federation seeks access to Puerto blood bags
February 20, 2009 - CONI considers Valverde case while UCI awaits verdict
February 19, 2009 - Valverde under criminal investigation
February 11, 2009 - Valverde summonsed for Operación Puerto in Italy
February 8, 2009 - Eight charged in Operación Puerto