Former ONCE and Liberty Seguros team boss Manolo Saiz has continued his emergence from a self-imposed absence from cycling with a typically bullish performance in an interview with Spanish press and radio. Among the highlights were his claim that he and everyone else involved in the Operación Puerto inquiry will be declared “innocent” and his belief that Alberto Contador will win the Tour de France this year because no other rider has a palmarès to compare with the Spaniard’s, and certainly not Andy Schleck.
Speaking to Europa Press and Spanish national radio (RNE), Saiz said that he got involved in the Puerto case because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Guardia Civil made their initial arrests on 23 May 2006. He says he went to a hotel cafeteria that day to speak with doctors Eufemiano Fuentes and José Luis Merino Batres to talk about the health and prospects of a blind girl.
“When I got there I saw some strange things and went back to my car… But then I returned to the hotel. If in that moment I had followed my instincts and had not gone back there would have been no recordings and Manolo Saiz would have sailed through Operación Puerto without any kind of problem. I got myself wrapped up in it all,” he explained.
Saiz said that he believes all those that were implicated in the Puerto investigation will be cleared of any wrongdoing, and added that when the case is cleared up he will go on the record “about things, not related to doping, that the press have not talked about”.
He suggested that others had been behind his fall from grace as manager of the Liberty Seguros team. “It was very lucky for some that we disappeared. Why? Because the likes of Contador, Luis León [Sánchez], Rojas, Barredo, Allan Davis became free… the foundations of the current cycling scene.”
Saiz defended the reputation of former ONCE doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, who was also implicated in the Puerto case and has been so again in the more recent Galgo investigation. “I have said and I will always do so that he is a great psychologist,” he said. When pressed on his relationship with Fuentes, he replied: “None at all. I can guarantee that since the beginning of 2005 I’ve only spoken with him four times. Is he a doping guru? It’s not the moment to talk about that. I think the only one who has the right to talk about Eufemiano Fuentes is the man himself.”
Speaking about his former Liberty Seguros rider Contador, Saiz said he believed in the “total innocence” of the three-time Tour de France champion in relation to the clenbuterol doping case. “I believe that he is going to ride the Tour. I believe in justice and that if Alberto was not allowed to ride the Tour this year it would be an injustice,” said Saiz.
Saiz described Contador as the outstanding favourite for this year’s Tour title. “There is nobody else. People say to me: ‘This year there is going to be a duel between [Andy] Schleck and Contador.’ What kind of duel? One of them has an extraordinary palmarès, and the other has barely begun. Tell me what he’s won. Second in the Tour – OK. Third in the Tour – OK. Winner of the Tour of Luxembourg – OK. But how many seven-day races has he won? How many two-week races? How many three-week races?”
His praise for Contador was not total, however. He said that there are “many things” on which he does not agree with his former charge. “I think it shows temerity by appearing with a cap that does not feature his team’s logo and there are certain other individualistic aspects that he’s adopted since he’s left the family atmosphere we had at ONCE,” said Saiz.