Just five months after confirming his retirement from the sport at the end-of-season criterium in his home city of Valencia, José Enrique Gutiérrez is back in training and set to return to racing with the Colombian Gobernación de Antioquía team.
Gutiérrez, who finished second in the 2006 Giro d’Italia riding for Phonak, but then saw his career peter out after he was severely compromised in the Operación Puerto blood doping investigation, was contacted late last year by the Colombian team’s manager, Santiago Botero. The two men spent five seasons racing together at Kelme and then another two at Phonak.
Speaking to Spanish newspaper Meta2Mil, the 36-year-old Gutiérrez admitted that he had keen to return to the sport, but as a director rather than a rider. But in mid-December he got a call from Botero asking him to come to Colombia to act as mentor to the young riders on the Antioquía squad alongside another ex-Kelme rider, Oscar Sevilla.
“Botero told me that he had signed Sergio Luis Henao, winner of the 2010 Tour of Colombia, and that they wanted to repeat that success in 2011. They needed a rider alongside him with lots of experience to help him through the good and bad moments,” said Gutiérrez, nicknamed ‘El Búfalo’ due to his solid and powerful build.
“At first I told him that I couldn’t accept, that I hadn’t trained during 2010 and I didn’t fancy spending the whole year in Colombia because I’ve got a family and it would be difficult for me to be so far from home for so long. But he made me a good offer and told me that they would need me only for certain specific races.”
Gutiérrez said that the difficult economic situation in Spain had played part in his decision to take up the offer. “It’s not easy to earn a good salary currently. I’ve been leading spinning classes in a gym for three to five hours a day, and this has enabled me to maintain muscle tone. But from a financial point of view it doesn’t compare with what a pro cyclist earns.”
Gutiérrez headed to Colombia last week (February 22) for the team’s presentation. He’s not expecting to shine after more than a year out of racing and in Colombia’s high altitudes, but says he happy to be back. “I’ve been out of racing for a year and that’s shown me how tough it is outside the sport, so I’m determined to take advantage of this opportunity.”