Eighteen months after he was linked to Operacion Puerto, Joseba Beloki has recognised that the time has come to call it quits on cycling.
The 34-year-old Spaniard, who finished third twice and second once in the Tour de France, has not raced since Puerto hit the headlines back in May 2006.
After Jan Ullrich?s retirement and Ivan Basso?s suspension, Beloki is the third top name to leave the sport under a cloud because of Puerto.
But in comparison the German and the Italian, his connections with Puerto were never established. Instead, Beloki was in the wrong team – Liberty Seguros – at the wrong time, when team manager Manolo Saiz was arrested in the company of the controversial medic Eufemiano Fuentes.
It was enough to condemn Beloki to what he called a ?suspension that has no official status but which has the effect of ending your career.?
?I leave with my head high and proud of all I have accomplished.? Beloki said. ?Like in all things in life, there exists a start and a finish and whilst I was hoping to finish my career on a high, I?ve reached this point and that?s all there is to it.?
After starting his career with Euskatel-Euskadi in 1998 – he turned pro at the comparatively late age of 25 – Beloki signed for Festina in a controversial move two years later.
He started the 2000 Tour doing turns on the front in the first week for Festina sprinter Marcel Wust, but slowly rose through the gc ranks to finish third overall behind Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich.
Another third place followed, and then even a second in 2002 when Ullrich did not race, but Beloki never looked like a genuine challenger to Armstrong. Just like the rest of the field, his real target was to finish as close as possible to Big Tex. Only Ullrich equalled him in terms of consistency, but Beloki?s placings were never thanks to his dramatic racing tactics.
Beloki really hit the headlines more because of an appalling crash in the 2003 Tour on the road to Gap. His crash came, ironically enough, in the Tour where he had been riding more aggressively than ever before, and where he – together with Ullrich and Vinokourov – finally seemed to have the edge on the Texan.
Instead Beloki left the race in a stretcher, and after that crash he never really recovered fully. Brief periods in Bouygues Telecom and Saunier Duval were followed by a return to Saiz and Liberty Seguros, where again he failed to shine.
Beloki now hopes to continue working in cycling in some sort of capacity.
Tour de France 2000 final podium: left to right, Jan Ullrich, Lance Armstrong and Joseba Beloki. Photo: Offside/L’Equipe