Two years ago Manolo Saiz left cycling under a cloud of suspicion. A whirlwind of doping accusations and arrests were at the epicentre of some of cycling's ugliest scenes and consequently brought down one of the sport's most influential characters. Now, although the tremors still rumble on from Operación Puerto, the Spaniard is busy preparing himself for a comeback. He may be ready for cycling but, with his links to Puerto and the negative associations that surround him, it's unknown if cycling is ready for him?
The best of beginnings
Heralding from Torrelavega, Saiz became the archetypal directeur sportif of the 1990s. He managed the famous ONCE team from its inception in 1989, through to its reincarnation as Liberty Seguros in 2003. The dominant yellow machine - or yellow peril as they came to be known as - became one of the strongest outfits in professional cycling, racking up four Vueltas, Milano-Sanremo, and the Tour of Lombardy. There was a time when Saiz could do no wrong. Riders such as Laurent Jalabert, Alex Zülle, Roberto Heras, Abraham Olano, Melchor Mauri and even Carlos Sastre rolled through the ONCE doors.
Ever the innovator, he was the first directeur sportif to use team buses. Before that riders were either forced to hitch a ride from the mechanics and staff or even ride their bikes from hotels to the start line. Saiz revolutionised the way riders trained, too. His hands-on approach meant his riders were introduced to tailor-made training schedules, were kept up to date via fax and were riding for one purpose - the success of the team and not the individual.
The dream unravels
Yet three years after Liberty Seguros replaced ONCE as Saiz's main sponsor in 2003, his name, reputation and career were dragged into the murky cauldron of Operación Puerto. The story doesn't need retelling here, suffice to say that the director was arrested with a suitcase full of cash at the same time that Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes was arrested. In Fuentes office several blood bags were seized. Some were later linked to riders via an DNA analysis. Claims by Jörg Jaksche over the conduct and practice of the ONCE team didn't help but to this day Saiz still claims his innocence. Two years after the sport was rocked to its very core, the director wants to return.
That's not to say he's been completely out of the picture. "I'm part of an amateur team because I always liked the nature and basis of cycling and I always cared about the young riders. Once in a while I have a meal with them to talk to them a bit about feeding and things like that. But I don't go to competitions at the moment," said Saiz. "If you had asked me if I wanted to return a year ago, I would have said 'no'. But if you ask me today, I'll say 'yes'. As soon as I can, I will come back to professional cycling. I am ready."
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