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Manolo Saiz: I could return to cycling

Manolo Saiz, the former head of the ONCE team and one of the biggest figures in professional cycling of the nineties, has told Cyclingnews that he would be interested in returning to the sport but said he has not discussed creating a team with Oleg Tinkov.

Saiz developed the ONCE team into one of the powerhouses of the peloton between 1989 and 2003, with the likes of Laurent Jalabert, Alex Zülle and Johan Bruyneel as team leaders. Liberty Seguros took over sponsorship in 2004, with Alberto Contador spending his formative years under Saiz's wing.

Many of his leading riders have since been caught up in doping scandals and Saiz was himself arrested during Operacion Puerto. He was cleared of damaging public health but the investigation revealed details of Dr Fuentes elaborate and widespread doping programme.

Saiz has managed a restaurant and wedding catering business in his home region of Cantabria in recent years but told Cyclingnews he is now ready to return to cycling despite the risk of an appeal against his Operacion Puerto verdict.

"Two years ago I'd have said no, there was no way I was coming back into cycling but now I'd be interested in the idea," Saiz told Cyclingnews.

"I wouldn't want to give a percentage on the chances of my return. It could be 1% or it could be 99%. I don't need to comeback to the sport. I'm not ambitious but I do think I can give something to the sport."

"If I found a sponsor I could create a development team with young riders and then help it grow, or I could work as a consultant or adviser for an current team."

Saiz has been linked to Oleg Tinkov after the Russian businessman ended his plans to stay to with Bjarne Riis as a sponsor of the Saxo-Tinkoff team. However Saiz denied he was linked to the creation of a new team with the Russian oligarch.

"I spoke to Tinkov a few years ago but I haven’t spoken to him recently. There's no truth to that at all," he said.

Despite the doping scandals of the nineties, his aggressive style of management and the revelations of Operacion Puerto, Saiz defended his track record in cycling.

"I helped develop a lot of good young riders during my time as a team manager," he argued. "Even at this year's Tour de France, two riders (Joaquim Rodriguez and Alberto Contador) who developed in my teams were fighting for the podium. Lots of my riders have had long careers; that's an indication of their special talent, not that they're a product of doping."

Saiz insisted he does not deserve to be considered persona non grata by the sport.

"I don't think I'm a problem for the sport or the problem. A lot of other people who were in the sport when I was are still involved and so why am I different to them? I don’t understand why people keep digging things up from the past. We should look to the future, not go back to what happened 10 or 15 years ago. That's pointless."

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Stephen Farrand
Stephen Farrand

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.