He retired from the sport prematurely in July when he received threats by mobile phone and social media, with anonymous people trying to intimidate him after he spoke out about doping in Colombia.
Now, having reflected on the decision and received the support of national and international media, Juan Pablo Villegas has confirmed that he will return to cycling.
The 27 year old Colombian won the 2014 Vuelta Ciclista Mexico Telmex and also took two stages in the 2012 Vuelta a Venezuela.
He raced with Team SmartStop in 2015 but ended his season early and walked away from the sport after a frank interview with the Alps and Andes website led to that intimidation, which included death threats.
“When I decided to stop racing I was very sad because it was not the way I wanted to end my carrier,” he told CyclingTips.
“The fact that I talked about doping caused a bad atmosphere for me in the local cycling. I was very confused and I had not a quiet mind to continue. I thought about it and I realized that I have to return to reap the rewards of the honest work done over past twelve years.”
Villegas spoke in detail about his situation in recent days, as did Colombian journalist Klaus Bellon and Ignacio Velez. The latter is the manager of the Manzana-Postobon team, which previously was known as 4-72 – Colombia.
This was a determinedly anti-doping Colombian squad which – at its own instigation – footed the bill for a biological passport program and helped develop the early careers of riders such as 2014 Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves and Fabio Duarte.
Villegas previously rode for 4-72 – Colombia. He and others were ridiculed for their clean status, leading in part to his decision to speak out about the problem.
Velez and Villegas have decided to work together again and will reunite at Manzana – Postobon next year.
“He mentioned to me that he was missing cycling a lot, and was considering returning,” Velez told CyclingTips on Monday. “At that moment we still had three spots to fill in the 2016 roster, so I called our directeur sportif, Luis F. Saldarriaga, and mentioned Juan Pablo’s intentions.
“Salda likes Juan Pablo’s riding strengths a lot, and then he and the team director Alejandro Restrepo decided to sign him again for 2016.”
Velez sees him playing an important role. “He will provide support and experience for the young riders, especially in Europe. As he regains from, he will likely win some stages. He is a very complete rider, so I have no doubt he will be crucial for our return to Europe.”
While the team’s programme is yet to be finalised, Villegas has laid out some goals.
“For 2016 I want to build my fitness again promptly, so I start the races with some excellent performances. I want to win stages and the general classification in races like Tour of Bretagne, Castilla y León and many others important events that I will ride with the team.”
Villegas’s wife was concerned at the previous threats. Vellez acknowledges that she may be worried, but believes he has the right support to be safe.
“I guess she might still feel some kind of fears, but we are 100% behind Juan Pablo and will support him on this new stage of his life,” he said.
“He’s likely concerned himself, but he’ll have our full backing. Besides, there’s been some articles written in the most important newspaper in the country where the media has expressed full support to Juan Pablo. So it’s not only the team, but also strong media outlets that are behind Juan Pablo.”
WADA and the UCI are also aware that he was threatened for speaking out, and will likely be monitoring the situation.