MADRID (AP) — It’s become the soap opera of the missing bike.
The cast involves a financially strapped moto racing team and a disgruntled Spanish rider with past problems with the law. The setting is a motorsports track in northeastern Spain. The plot is centered on the mysterious robbery of a motorcycle hours before a race.
The tale began over the weekend when former MotoGP rider Hector Barbera decided not to compete in Sunday’s World Supersport race at the Motorland Circuit, saying his team didn’t have enough money to give him a new engine.
“For my safety and the safety of the other riders, today I will not be able to race,” Barbera wrote on Instagram. “We don’t have the means. What started as a dream has become a nightmare.”
The decision was made without the consensus of his Hungary-based team, Team Toth, which said the engine Barbera had on his bike was still good enough to race.
It wasn’t long before the plot thickened, as a few hours before the race the team reported that Barbera’s bike disappeared from the garage.
The police were called and an investigation was immediately opened. They searched the track premises several times, but no sign of the bike. Nobody had any clue about what might have happened.
Team owner Imre Toth, a former rider, eventually implied that Hector might have been involved in the bike’s disappearance.
“Hector doesn’t want to ride with this bike,” Toth told Spanish channel TVE while still at the track. “He is thinking he can come here, take the bike out and then communicate to the media and to all the fans that the bike is not here and he cannot race.”
Barbera denied any wrongdoing and said he is the only victim.
Police told The Associated Press on Tuesday that so far no one has been named as a suspect in the investigation.
Barbera has attracted headlines for his off-the-track behavior in the past. He has past convictions for driving while intoxicated and for domestic abuse. He lost his ride with Moto2 team PONS Racing last season following one of his detentions for driving under the influence of alcohol.
The 32-year-old rider eventually joined Puccetti Racing for the final four races in the Supersport series, which is one below the Superbike. He signed with Team Toth this season on a contract in which local media said he agreed to race for free. He was fourth in the standings entering the race in Spain despite racing with what he said was “practically a street motorcycle.”
Barbera said the team’s financial problems began after the first race of the season in Australia, and he had to race in Thailand with an engine that was already too old.
“I could have been very competitive if I had the proper equipment,” Barbera said, adding that the financial problems were caused by a sponsorship deal that fell through at the last minute.
“This adventure with Supersport ends today with me unable to compete at my home race,” Barbera said. “We started this project with a lot of hopes … I’m very angry and feeling helpless.”
With its bike still missing, Team Toth was not expected to race in this weekend’s race in the Netherlands.
But there was a happy ending for Barbera.
He was picked by Orelac Racing Verdnatura for the Superbike race as a replacement for the injured Leandro Mercado, who will undergo wrist surgery on Wednesday and won’t be able to compete.
“It’s unfortunate to get this opportunity due to another colleague’s injury,” Barbera said. “Life sometimes gives you an opportunity like this and I want to make the most of it.”
The next episodes will tell what the future will hold for Barbera and Team Toth. And whether the bike will ever be found again.