One year after laying low at the Tour Down Under in the aftermath of his doping confession a few days after the 2013 Tour de France, former Australian rider Stuart O'Grady has officially stepped out from the shadows of the controversy.
The occasion was the launch in Adelaide on Saturday of his new business venture, Stuart O'Grady Cycling that provides various services related to the sport that range from coaching to customised cycle touring.
Afterwards, the 41-year-old former Orica-GreenEdge rider who admitted that he used the illegal drug erythropoietin for two weeks before the 1998 Tour in which he wore the yellow jersey for three days and won the 14th stage into Grenoble, sat down with a number of media outlets – including Cyclingnews – to discuss where he is at in his life, and also to reflect on the scandal that brought his racing career to a premature end.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview …
Question:At the 2014 Tour Down Under you were still keeping a low profile following your doping confession and retirement. What were you feeling then?
Stuart O'Grady: Very anxious. I wasn't really sure what to expect. [I was] not happy with myself with what had happened. Twelve months on it's black and white. It's been a really supportive crowd. I think it was really important to step away for a while, and take a breather … life had been fast forward for 23 years. It was almost like a military regime – wake up, eat, rest, sleep, train … there was not time for anything else. When you are at the top end of your game, you are selfish. You have to be selfish. Now I am going to give every moment back to my family and friends and be there for my kids.
Q: We saw you on the footpath waiting for the Tour Down Under after the stage start in Unley. What thoughts went through your mind as the race went by you?
SO: Weird, really weird. I don't really know how to explain it. I had never done it [watch the Tour Down Under] in my life. It was like going to the Tour de France and watching the stage ride past. It was something I had never experienced and weird.
Q: You went through a retirement which can be challenging for anyone, especially with your doping confession. What was that like to handle both?
SO: There was a lot to try and take in, but at the same time every person I come across [says]: “Do I miss it? [racing]” Absolutely not … not for a 'nano' second. I don't miss hurting myself. I don't miss the pain it brought on and the suffering. I don't miss lying in my bed just in pain. I don't miss the actual racing. I miss being around the guys … you are like a trained dog. It's been your whole life. Things are different …
Q: Have you been able to step away from public debate over whether you doped once or not?
SO: At the end of the day I know what I did and didn't do. So I really don't care what other people guess or want to think because other people went down that avenue.
I had some pretty good results before and some pretty good results after [right] until the end. I know what I did and didn't do. I am completely comfortable with that. You are always going to have – which I am learning – people, especially on social media and so on [who] want to voice their opinion. You can't get stuck in the mud over a couple of quotes or Tweets or whatever.
Q: You chose not to become a sports director, but instead take the path you have with your new cycling business. How did this come about?
SO: Believe it or not I did have job opportunities to stay in Europe and became a 'DS.' But I didn't want to be a 'DS'. A 'DS' spends more time on the road than a bike rider. [I thought that] if I retire I [will] want to spent time with my family. I don't want to retire and be lying in a hotel room in Belgium or Spain, watching TV and wondering what am I doing, [and just] saying goodbye to my kids. Now, it's my turn to give my family the time they missed out on. It's all about them. It's a really important to be at home and be a dad. I read it somewhere, that the hardest part of being a dad is actually being there. I definitely hadn't been there for the last 11 years.
Q: After your doping confession, you said it was hard for your family. What was that like? Did you have to repair relations and earn back your family's trust?
SO: I hadn't told them a single beat of all of that [doping story] because I wasn't going to blurt it all out … Most people I have come across understood the times. The majority of people said, 'Fine, if I was in your shoes at that time of life …' There is a fair chance they would have done the same because that [was] the pressure of life at that stage. There has been no drama at all. Everyone has been really good.
Q: How are you feeling then?
SO: It's been a really strange last 18 months. There has been nothing to get up for except the kids and wife. But I needed that [rest]. I needed to take the foot off the gas pedal and just chill out, take a few deep breaths. There were things coming from everywhere and people saying, 'You should be doing this, and should be doing that.' I thought, 'You know what? I'm going to chill out for a while and then when I'm ready I'll start making decisions about the next phase.' All this hasn't happened overnight. It's been a work in progress and [his wife] Anne-Marie has been unbelievable again.
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)