Mancebo a Tour of California contender?

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Mancebo and family in Leon.

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The Francesco Mancebo Story looks headed for another interesting and perhaps final chapter. Once a top Tour de France contender, he was implicated ages ago in the never-ending, never-resolved Operacion Puerto investigation.

Once in that hot water, he hastily retired, then unretired (“Look honey, no paycheck”) and went into hiding in the United States. It was quite a freefall going from riding the grand tours for AG2R Prevoyance to little races in the states that nobody in Europe recognizes.

Then to continue the tangled human comedy, he signed up at Rock Racing with crazy fashion jeans CEO Michael Ball. That blew up in spectacular fashion, to work the designer jeans motif.

In fact, Ball delivered the most memorable quote about Mancebo and perhaps one of the greatest quotes of all time in bike racing when he said “This is only what Mancebo is interested in: his family – obviously, go out and train, go race, at the end of the day have a nice dinner and a bottle of Spanish wine – no matter where he is in the world and go home and f**k his wife. That’s it! It’s very simple: training, Spanish wine and f**k his wife.”

As a short philosophical aside, we needed more Michael Ball, less Patrick Lefevere. Admit that we all miss the crazy loon.

In any case, it’s been a long and strange road for Mancebo toiling far from his homeland in Spain while riding for small budget teams like Realcylist.com and now 5-Hour energy. To top off the irony, his new DS is none other than Frankie Andreu, one of the first US Postal riders to blow the lid off Lance Armstrong’s doping machine.

The final twist is that this off-season Mancebo, at the advanced age of 37, decided to re-dedicate himself to training. Already the top stage racer last year in the states, he is leaner and meaner now. His second place overall in last weeks’ Vuelta a Castilla y León is just the latest proof that he has some major form.

So the fascinating question becomes, can Mancebo make a run at the podium in a month at the Tour of California?

Imagine the Spaniard and his squad (beefed up in a merger with RealCyclist) taking on BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen, RadioShack Leopard’s old man Chris Horner and then maybe Andrew Talansky and his Garmin-Sharp troublemakers.

Remember that “Paco” is no slouch when it comes to climbing and going hard day after day, stage after stage. He had five top 10 finishes in Le Grand Shindig. Much more recently, he won the 2009 Tour of Utah and was 2nd in 2010. In January, VELO magazine named him “Men’s Stage Racer of the Year.”

So Mancebo is a true wild card and dark horse and loose cannon. Will DS Frankie Andreu push him to go for broke in California? These days Mancebo isn’t on anything illegal, just those 5 Hour Energy supplements. Could he conceivably pull off a podium ride?

In recent comments, Chris Horner has said the queen climber stage up Mt Diablo isn’t near as brutal as Mt Baldy down in Souther California. So perhaps that will not play to Mancebo’s strength but hey, you never know. A little luck, a daring break, a mistimed chase, big boys BMC, Garmin and RadioShack marking each other too closely — weirder things have happened.

One thing is for sure, Paco is back and he wouldn’t mind proving it on the big stage in California against the WorldTour teams and Tour riders.

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