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Colombian rider and former world time trial champion Santiago Botero says he will retire after this year’s Vuelta a Colombia in July.
The veteran all-rounder was once considered a threat for overall victory at the Tour de France, but saw his career tumble when he was linked to the Operación Puerto doping scandal in Spain in 2006.
Botero, 37, raced for Rock Racing in 2008 and is currently competing at the Tour de San Luís with a Colombian team, Orgullo Paisa, in what he says will be his last season in the pro ranks.
“I am giving my last pedal strokes as a professional,” Botero told El Diario Vasco. “I will leave it at the Vuelta a Colombia in July. The Vuelta a San Luís is the only race I am doing this year out of Colombia. I am 37 and I have three kids. It’s time to leave it behind.”
Botero was unique among the scores of Colombians who’ve crossed the Atlantic to seek their fortunes racing in Europe. Instead of being a skinny climbing specialist, Botero was bigger and made a name for himself in time trialing.
And unlike many of his poorer compatriots, Botero came from an upper middle class background and finished his university studies in business administration before turning professional in 1996.
A former mountain biker and track rider, Botero turned pro with the Spanish outfit Kelme in 1996. He admitted he didn’t know much about road racing or training, but soon made an impact on European roads.
His best years were with Kelme, where he won the world TT title in 2002, three Tour stages, a King of the Mountains climbers jersey in 2000 and finished a career-best fourth overall at the 2002 Tour.
A switch to Telekom didn’t go well in 2003-04, though he did win two stages and finish second at the 2005 Dauphiné Libéré after moving to Phonak.
His career was cut short when his name was linked by Spanish media to the Puerto blood doping ring. Botero denied the allegations and he was later cleared following a probe by the Colombian cycling federation in late 2006, but he could never returned with a major European team.
“I was in the best moment of my career. I left with this regret. I didn’t even want to look for a team. I don’t know if I could have found a team, because I didn’t even look,” he said. “My best years were at Kelme. In Telekom I had a health problem due to a biopsy they did on my liver, which left with me a big hematoma that was slow to be absorbed.
I started to feel better at Phonak, above all at the Olympic Games in Athens. From June 2006 to February 2007, I couldn’t race because of Operación Puerto. After that, I’ve continued in Colombia. This all ends, just like everything in life.”