Bad Boy No.3: Juan Garriga

When the fast pace of Grand Prix wasn't enough Juan Garriga turned to the fast pace of drug smuggling, here's the untold story

He won three 250cc Grand Prix races and finished second in the 1988 world championship, was a factory rider in the 500cc class, and has competed in WSB on a semi-factory Ducati. But when his racing career was over, Spaniard Juan Garriga found even more excitement amidst an underground world of drugs and guns.

‘But for circumstances beyond his control, he would have been hard to beat in the championship.’ So said the 1988 edition of Motocourse, referring to Juan Garriga’s 250cc world championship season. The bike racing bible listed him as the fourth best rider in the world that year, and the top 250cc rider on the planet, even though he was beaten into second place in the World Championship by fellow Spaniard Sito Pons.

Garriga was a hard-as-nails, aggressive racer on-track and he looked every bit as tough in the paddock. While he failed to win any races in the 1989 250 season, he was still deemed worthy of a 500cc Grand Prix ride in 1990 and was signed by Ducados Yamaha to ride a YZR500 in the premier class, finishing a credible sixth place overall in the championship in what was his rookie year.

Garriga went on to finish seventh in the world in 1991 and ’92 and enjoyed a career-best result of third at the British Grand Prix in what was his third and final year in the top class.

In 1993 he moved to World Superbikes riding a semi-factory Team Grottini Ducati 888 and scored a promising 5th place in the opening round at Brands Hatch. Despite only contesting a further three rounds before parting company with his team, he scored highly enough in those outings to finish 12th overall in the world championship standings.

For the second half of the season Garriga found himself back in 500cc Grands Prix having been thrown a lifeline by the Cagiva factory. In hindsight, it was a bad move and the Spaniard ended up contesting just two rounds on the uncompetitive C593 machine, though he did manage a ninth place in one of those outings before calling it a day. From then on, it was all downhill as Garriga sought to replace the buzz of racing in some altogether less legal pursuits.

In May, 1998 Garriga was arrested and charged with drug trafficking and possessing firearms after a raid on a Barcelona bar uncovered half a kilo of cocaine, stocks of ammunition, and 300,000 pesetas in forged money (£1,430 by today’s exchange rate). Four other people were arrested, including the bar owner, a garage owner, and two employees of a local business. When police later searched Garriga’s private villa in Vallvidrera they found a revolver, a pistol, two rifles, a shotgun, ammunition, and a stash of cocaine.

The trial was a long, drawn out affair but when the former GP star appeared in court for the fourth time in 2003, he was facing a potential 11-year prison sentence, though he eventually accepted a two-year suspended sentence for ‘complicity in the business of drug trafficking and possession of illegal weapons.’ The sentence was broken down into one-and-a-half years for involvement in the drugs trade and a further six months for firearms charges.

Incredibly, despite the severity of his sentence and the public humiliation he endured in the bike-mad Spanish press, Garriga stopped short of condemning drugs outright or swearing that he’d turn his back on them for good.

When pushed, the most he could manage to say about the verdict and how it would affect his lifestyle was, “It’s taken a weight off my mind and I’ll think twice about taking drugs again.”

Medical reports compiled by the court revealed that Garriga hadn’t just turned to drugs after his career as a way of replacing the buzz he got from racing, but that he’d been taking them during his time as a top flight rider as he claimed, they allowed him to ‘maintain a high pace of professional activity.’ His habit got so out of hand he was eventually snorting more than three grammes of cocaine every day between 1996 and 1997.

The prosecution had asked for up to 12 years in prison for the pub owner, but he was eventually handed a five-year sentence while the other defendants were given suspended sentences of one year and 11 months. In addition they were ordered to pay fines between 13,500 and 27,000 Euros (£12,225-£24,451 in today’s money) and it was recommended that Garriga attend a detox treatment programme for cocaine addicts.

Speaking to the press after his conviction, Garriga announced his intention to start a training school for promising young riders but he has since dropped off the radar.

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