The last time I saw Miguel Martinez in person he looked like the above image. On his way to winning the men's cross-country (XCO) at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

For those who don't remember Martinez, he was the best mountain bike rider at the turn of the century, and in 2000, he won not only gold in Sydney at the Olympic Games but also the MTB world cup and world championships.

There was another guy you may know chasing Martinez in Sydney that day; Cadel Evans, who went on to finish seventh, and later, of course, Tour de France glory.

Martinez eventually moved to the road with Mapei-QuickStep (2002) then Phonak (2003) but was essentially pack fodder in an era fuelled on anything but bread and water.

That plus a road accident involving a car saw Martinez retire at the end of the 2003 season, when he suggested that it was doping which made his time in the professional road peloton an unsuccessful one. But he was soon back on the bike, riding the road and dirt for Amore e Vita.

"I still love the bike too much to give up my career altogether," Martinez told L'Equipe at the time. "I was being told that I had nothing to do in that scene.

"I always did the best I could in my profession, without doping, and they quickly made me understand that I didn't perform as they wanted.

"But today, I really think that things have changed. I'm convinced that cycling evolves in the right direction and I want a second chance at top level."

However, results remained thin on the ground and by 2008 Martinez was gone for good. Or so we thought.

Fast forward to 2013, and Martinez, now 37, has been back on the bike.

He made an informal return to the dirt at the urging of Italian bicycle components manufacturer FRM. Martinez is French but now lives in Italy.

This past weekend he appeared at the Sea Otter Classic ready to race some of the best in the world in the Pro Men Cross-Country race, including Christoph Sauser, Lukas Fluckiger, Geoff Kabush and London 2012 Olympic Games champion Jaroslav Kulhavy.

There, Martinez turned back the clock to claim an amazing win on a hard track with very little single track, and which started and finished on a paved racetrack. Martinez was off the front early with a six-pack of riders chasing hard, reportedly at 40km/h in some sections. It was simply an incredible return.

The Sea Otter is a big USA Cycling sanctioned event but prize-money for the men's and women's winners was less that $1000. There were no doping controls, despite the technical guide saying there was.

While it is a relaxed return to high-level racing, with the majority of the professionals there to shake hands and sign autographs on behalf of sponsors, the competitive spirit still burns brightly.

Like many, Canadian Kabush, who was one of the riders fighting to catch Martinez, was surprised by the result.

"Definitely not my favourite guy I'd like to see on top of the box," said Kabush. "Makes it that much more bittersweet to see a guy with his history from back in the day coming out of nowhere. Obviously he had fantastic legs the whole day to hold off our group, so credit to him."

Out of nowhere? Geez, I really hate hearing that phrase. Hopefully just out of the past.

By the way, Australia's Sid Taberlay finished ninth in the race and ill countryman Daniel McConnell rolled through in 86th position.