By Kirsten Robbins in Santa Rosa, California
Francisco 'Paco' Mancebo took his first major victory since he retired from the professional racing with the French-based AG2R team in 2006. His Tour of California stage one solo victory Sunday marked the biggest win for his USA-based team Rock Racing. According to the Spaniard, the pressure of being linked to Operación Puerto in 2006 forced him to take a step back from professional racing and coming stateside has reignited his passion for the sport.
"There was too much pressure on me during that time because of the Tour de France," said Mancebo, who does not think that the re-opened Operación Puerto investigation will affect him. "I feel like I have less pressure now. I enjoy the sport more now than I did before because there's a lot less stress and I am having more fun racing now."
Mancebo was one of the top stage race contenders in the world after his consecutive podium finishes in the 2004 and 2005 Vuelta a España. He placed sixth in the 2004 Tour de France and fourth in the 2005 Tour de France.
Investigations linked him to Operación Puerto as code number 17 in 2006 while he racing for the France-based team AG2R and he left that year's Tour de France just prior to the start along with riders like Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich.
"My team would not let me leave the Tour that year, so I left on my own." He did not re-sign with AG2R the following season. He spent one year with Relax-GAM and one with Fercase - Rota dos Móveis.
Michael Ball brought him into the Rock Racing team after winning the Mexico's Vuelta a Chihuahua. Mancebo noted that joining a team with friends like Oscar Sevilla and Enrique Gutiérrez was appealing to him.
"I've raced since I was eight years old on a bike," Mancebo said. "After riding for so long, I felt like I was just doing it because I had to. I just kind of lost interest in it. I took a step back and now I totally enjoy it."
Mancebo has no intention of competing in Europe again.