After two years racing with Cervélo Test Team and then a year with Omega Pharma - Lotto in 2011, Spain's Óscar Pujol found himself out of a job - for the second time in his short career. He secured a contract with the Iranian-registered Azad University team for 2012 but Pujol now admits that it hasn’t provided him with sufficient opportunities to return to the WorldTour.
It’s a problem Pujol has a difficult time coming to terms with. He’s almost 28-years-old and has ridden for three seasons at the top of the sport and yet for the past 18 months he’s lived at home with his father in order to continue his pursuit to make it back to a big European team.
Pujol has been plagued with bad luck over the past few seasons. His Cervélo team folded at the end of 2010 and while a number of the top riders were picked up by Jonathan Vaughters' Garmin squad, Pujol was not one of them. He subsequently found himself in the same position at the end of 2011 when sponsors Omega Pharma and Lotto decided to part ways .
"Cervélo wanted to keep me but then it was over at the end of 2010. I found Omega Pharma and had a two-year contract but my year wasn’t very good in 2011. I didn’t do a lot of things right and I was struggling with illness. I kept racing but I should have taken a break," Pujol told Cyclingnews.
"I was training with Jurgen Van Den Broek at altitude to ride the Tour de France but I wasn’t in good enough shape and just a week before the Vuelta a España , when I was in the team, I was told I wouldn’t be going. There was no real reason but then I got told I wouldn’t be doing many more races because of the points system. They had to take the riders who would have a contract with Lotto in 2012."
"There were not any other chances for me to show myself."
With time running out to secure a professional contract for 2012 Pujol made contact with Azad University who gave him the opportunity to race the Asia Tour circuit. It was a far cry from riding in WorldTour events but it was the only option available.
"There was a small chance that I may have gone to a smaller European team but finally I got the opportunity to go to Azad - just three weeks before Tour of Azerbiajan."
"I was in good shape but I only did three races; Azerbiajan, Singkarak and Qinghai Lake. I thought at the beginning of the season I would have a better schedule. I love to race, to train hard and be in good shape and that has all been for nothing it seems.
"I finished sixth overall at Azerbaijan and got third on the hardest mountain-top stage which ended at nearly 4,000m. I was training hard because I expected to go to another team."
After another year without opportunities Pujol is faced with limited options for the coming season. He fears that despite his ability to ride in the top-tier of the sport he may choose to end his short career rather than spend another year without sufficient pay and adequate racing.
"I feel a little bit sad for that, you know," he told Cyclingnews.
"It’s been a year without salary and living with my father. They [Azad] pay my food and everything at the races. I’m not 18 or 20-years-old anymore. It’s a lot to ask for continual support. I can’t really keep on going like this."
"For one reason or another all the doors have closed on me. I don’t have a team for 2013. It’s the same now as last year, without a team and just training for the small chance that something comes up late in the year. Still, I have the hope and ambition to keep racing and find something good," he said.
Pujol remains upbeat about finding a team which will see him continue to live out his passion. He says that all he wants is for a team to give him the opportunity to prove that he still has what it takes to ride at the top of the sport.
"I’m not asking for money, just to prove myself and show everyone that I’m worthy on being on a good team again and ride like I did at Cervélo or Omega Pharma - Lotto."
"I don’t have another plan, I don’t think another year like this is any good. Not just for cycling but also for the head. It’s been a year and a half waiting for calls or emails from teams. It’s not an easy life. I can be happy and be positive but it’s difficult sometimes."
"I found the Azad team on Facebook so you never know."