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Beloki considers retirement

Beloki in 2003 Photo: © Jonathan Devich

Beloki in 2003 Photo: © Jonathan Devich

by Laura Weislo

Basque cycling star Joseba Beloki, a three time podium finisher in the Tour de France, has fallen on bad times. Once, a major protagonist in the grand tours, Beloki has not found a team for 2007 and is contemplating retirement.

The turning point of his career could probably be pinned down to a single day: July 14, 2003. Riding on the form of his life and sitting second to Lance Armstrong on the GC in the 2003 Tour de France, Beloki crashed on the ninth stage into Gap when his wheels slid on the melting pavement. A broken femur ended his 2003 season, and his form has never come back to the level it was before the crash.

In 2004, Beloki had a dismal year, skipping the Tour due to a contractual dispute with his Brioches la Boulangère team, and then moving over to Saunier Duval for the rest of the season. He then went back to Saiz, signing with the Liberty-Wurth squad. After a mediocre 2005, Beloki's 2006 season was cut short when the Operacion Puerto investigation led to his team's exclusion from the Tour de France. After a summer spent asserting his innocence, Beloki was cleared of involvement, but was left tied down to a contract with a team that had disintegrated.

Now, after more than three years of struggling on the come-back trail, the 33 year-old Beloki, is pessimistic about the future of his career. In an interview earlier this month in the Basque newspaper Gara, Beloki said that between Operacion Puerto and the contract dispute with Manolo Saiz and Active Bay, he still hasn't found a team for 2007, and might have to simply retire.

"It's likely that in coming days I'll have to announce that I won't continue racing. I want to race if there is a possibility, but I'm getting the feeling that it won't be possible." In the interview, Beloki suggested that a decision would be made in mid-January. "I cannot wait for long time to decide if I am going to race or not."

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