Controversy as former ONCE manager Saiz returns to cycling

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Eight years after he was sidelined from the sport due to his implication in the Operacón Puerto doping affair, former Once and Liberty Seguros general manager Manolo Saiz is returning to international cycling.

According to plus EFE, the Spaniard is taking up a sporting manager role with the under 23 Baqué-Campos team and is part of a push to elevate it to continental level in 2015.

The Spaniard’s return to the sport will be seen as controversial by some due to the implication of many of his riders with doping. He himself earned considerable headlines in the Operación Puerto case when he was reported to have met with the doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes the day Puerto broke, leaving that meeting with a suitcase full of cash. He was then arrested by police.

Saiz’s Liberty Seguros backing ceased to be, although Astana stepped in to take over sponsorship of the team. This helped Alexandre Vinokourov to win that year’s Vuelta a España.

The Spaniard has been sidelined since then. In a March interview with Europa Press and National Radio of Spain, he predicted he would be cleared but also hinted that bending of the rules may have taken place on his teams.

“We have to know what is biological support and what is doping. If I saw someone dope themselves? If you ask me, ‘have you seen cyclists aid themselves biologically?’ I would say yes,” he said then.

“But I’ve seen them train and sacrifice themselves like nobody else. I am clear on what are the limits and I can assure you that in ONCE, we never passed that limit.”

In mentioning ‘biological support’, Saiz may be referring to the controversial belief by some within sport that there is some justification for dwindling hormone levels – and possibly blood values – to be boosted back to regular levels in the case of fatigue or hard training.

Fuentes himself has said that he doesn’t consider this to be doping, but rather the protection of the health of individuals.

This is banned by WADA and the UCI.

On April 30 of last year the Spanish judge Patricia Santamaria found Fuentes and his helper Ignacio Labarta guilty of breaking Article 361 of the Spanish criminal code. This refers to crimes against public health, with the judge being satisfied that the conduct of Fuentes and Labarta was indeed a risk to those they helped dope.

There were no specific laws against doping at the time Operación Puerto broke, and so they could not be tried on this basis.

The same applied to Saiz, who was himself cleared of the charge of breaking Article 361.

The management and sporting staff of the Baqué-Campos team will include Saiz and a number of former pro riders, including David Etxebarria, David Herrero, Rubén Gorospe, Mikel Pradera, Marino Lejarreta, Roberto Laiseka and Herminio Díaz Zabala.

The team has until December 1st to register as a Continental team. It has signed one of the best young Basque riders, Alex Aranburu.

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