Many in cycling have no doubt been hoping they had seen the back of him, but it seems that ex-ONCE and Liberty Seguros team boss Manolo Saiz is set to return to cycling’s top level in some capacity next season. Although Saiz is refusing to drawn on his precise plans for 2012, he has admitted that he wants to return and believes that he will do so with a new sponsor.
Saiz has been out of the sport since being implicated in the Operación Puerto blood doping investigation in 2006. In subsequent years he often stated that he had no desire to get involved in the sport again. Instead he focused on running a restaurant and wedding catering business in his home-town of Torrelavega in Cantabria, northern Spain.
However, last year Saiz admitted he had regained his passion for cycling and has, more recently, been providing the Cueva el Soplao under-23 team with coaching advice. Just last month, Saiz posted a cryptic message on his Twitter page saying: “On the 11th of the 11th of 2011 something will happen.” Although he has not clarified what this “something” will be, it is believed to refer to a gathering of all of the staff and riders he worked with during his 15 years at the head of the ONCE team.
Suggestions that he will also announce the identity of a new team on that date will be fuelled by comments Saiz has made to Spanish paper ABC this week. “I want to return with a small set-up and with young cyclists. And I won’t be looking back at the past,” he said.
Saiz has already been speaking to prospective backers for his new team, and insists that his involvement in the Puerto scandal won’t work against him. “I want to return and I think that I am going to. I’m not afraid of what people say about me. That’s never bothered me. I can look all of my friends in the eye. The judge came down on my side on three occasions,” said Saiz in typically bullish fashion.
Reports suggest that Saiz has the support of Cantabria’s minister of sport and tourism, Javier López Arcano, as well as some of his former backers from his ONCE days. But he is refusing to confirm anything himself. “All that I can say is that it is important that I am motivated to return and that now I think that I can return to the cycling world again when just over a year ago I didn’t have the slightest impulse to,” he said.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).