Francisco Mancebo believes he could have won the Vuelta a España, had it not been for the intervention of Operación Puerto in 2006.
“In 2006 it cut my career,” Mancebo told Biciciclismo. “I do not know where I would have finished. Maybe I could have won a Vuelta a España or maybe not, but it is certain that I would have contested it.”
While at the peak of his talents, Mancebo’s career suffered irreparable damage when he was implicated in the Spanish investigation. 2006 was a year that held much potential for him. He’d finished fourth at the Tour de France and had taken his second podium finish at the Vuelta a España the year before.
The Spaniard switched to the AG2R-Prévoyance team, after 11 years with Banesto, but was immediately suspended when his name appeared on the list of riders produced during the investigation.
Mancebo returned to racing in 2007 with the Pro Continental Relax-Gam team, but has never managed to make it back to the highest level. He currently rides for the Skydive Dubai team, after years on the American circuit.
Despite never formally being sanctioned, Mancebo has been a self confessed outcast for the best part of a decade. He went so far as to say that a ban would have been a lesser punishment. “I've paid and am paying a penalty. I have spent eight years a pariah and I think that is much more than a penalty.”
Mancebo believed that cycling has turned over a new leaf since his days on the WorldTour. “Currently, cycling is much cleaner. As I said before I have noticed that the mentality has changed. I saw it in the U.S. and certainly here will be similar.”
The madrileño made a brief return into the limelight during the final stage of the Dubai Tour, where he got into the day’s break. Mancebo says that this is part of the new him. “Before, I was riding more conservatively,” he explains.
“I had the responsibility of having to be in front at the decisive moments. Now I have more fun, I go on the attack.”
At 37, his career is definitely in its twilight, but Mancebo says that he takes heart from the performances of riders such as Chris Horner. The American became the oldest winner of a grand tour when he won the Vuelta a España in 2013.
“For me, the triumph of Horner's is like a motivation to continue in the world of cycling. Given his age (42), and the one I have (37), you realise that you can be a veteran and still be getting results.”
However, Mancebo is still being realistic about his opportunities. Even if the Dubai based team achieve their goal of moving into the professional ranks of the sport, he says that his days as a grand tour rider are over.
“Now I am transformed for one-week races and very short tours or hunting stages,” says Mancebo. “The grand tours are already too much for me.”
Due to his new team, Mancebo will be riding a predominantly Asian programme this season. He is currently riding the Tour of Qatar and will make a brief European appearance at the Volta ao Algarve, before returning to Asia.