Former World Anti-Doping Agency director and author of Orica GreenEdge's review of the team's anti-doping policies and procedures, Nicki Vance, says that Stuart O'Grady did not disclose his EPO use during her investigation. Vance has also told Cyclingnews that the fallout from the French Senate report is more evidence that cycling's governing body the UCI, has failed to adequately deal with the past in the wake of the investigation into Lance Armstrong and US Postal.
On Wednesday, O'Grady revealed that he used EPO in the lead-up to the 1998 Tour de France.
"I sourced it [EPO] myself. There was no one else involved. It didn't involve the team in any way," he told The Herald Sun.
"I just had to drive over the border and buy it at any pharmacy. The hardest part of all this is I did it for two weeks before the Tour de France. I used extremely cautious amounts because I'd heard a lot of horror stories and did the absolute minimum of what I hoped would get me through. When the Festina Affair happened, I smashed it, got rid of it and that was the last I ever touched it."
Following a record 17th Tour de France, O'Grady had announced his retirement from the sport on Monday, having months earlier signed on for a final season in 2014 with Orica GreenEdge.
Vance told Cyclingnews that she was left with mixed feelings following the revelations of the past 24 hours.
"I was not aware of any doping by Stuart O'Grady.
"I'm disappointed for him that his career is now going to be tainted by what I regard as a poor decision made at the time in a very poor environment to be in," Vance explained.
Upon the release of her report into Orica GreenEdge, Vance openly suggested that given the way the team had dealt with sports director Matt White after he was stood down following the publication of the United States Anti-Doping Agency's Reason Decision documentation, that there may have been some apprehension from staff to be fully transparent during her interviews.
"This is not to say that anyone necessarily had something to hide, however, if they had doped or assisted others to dope in the past they would most likely have remained silent," wrote Vance.
That sentiment proved to be correct, Vance explained to Cyclingnews on Thursday. Vance also warned that caution should be used when it came to the way O'Grady is dealt with by both the cycling community and the media. Vance admits that what is now known about O'Grady is not ideal for her report, but says that the four-time Tour de France stage winner should be taken at face-value when he says that 1998 was an isolated incident.
"I think we've got to be careful with the sort of language that we use," she explained. "While there's no doubt that I asked questions of Stuart O'Grady and he told me he didn't use drugs, I acknowledge that I had a gut feeling, and this is not reflective of Stuart O'Grady at all, that people weren't necessarily telling me the truth. Those riders that were racing at that time had to be exceptional not to be using the drugs.
"There's no evidence anecdotally or other that he was a risk-taking, drug-taking cyclist before that time when he was back in Australia. My recollections of the time was that I did have quite a few cyclists testing positive in the Australian cycling team back in the early 90s," Vance explained, referring to her time with the Australian Sports Drug Agency (now the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority) in the late 1980s and early 1990s when track cyclists Carey Hall, Stephen Pate, and Martin Vinnicombe tested positive for banned substances.
Sign of the times
Vance is adamant that O'Grady was a victim of circumstance, having begun his career on the road at a time when anti-doping practices were not as strict as the present. The 39-year-old said that his drug use was a matter of survival.
"Particularly in the age group that Stuart's in and environment that they were in, it was not surprising for them to be using drugs and without a full investigation there was no absolute guarantee that they were telling the truth," Vance said.
"While I'm disappointed, I'm disappointed for Stuart as much as anything. But all it does for me is make me more angry with the UCI."
In her report, Vance noted that it had been the work of the national anti-doping bodies rather than the UCI to take affirmative action against the fight against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in past eras. The case of O'Grady, said Vance, was evidence of that inaction.
"The UCI has done a poor job since the Lance Armstrong case to deal in a constructive way for the sport to move forward. This is another example again of where individuals are sort of having to pay – and I'm not condoning their drug use – they have to pay for this lack of leadership from the UCI.
"I hope that they now try and do something," Vance, who is now working UCI Presidential candidate Brian Cookson to unseat incumbent Pat McQuaid.
"There is no evidence that the UCI has taken steps to deal with the past, they might be doing better with dealing with the current time but they still have not dealt with the past."
The Orica GreenEdge dilemma
O'Grady's team of the last 18 months, Orica GreenEdge, has been supportive of his decision to acknowledge his use of EPO, with general manager Shayne Bannan saying the Paris-Roubaix winner was "an advocate for a clean sport."
Vance has not be in contact with the team since the announcement but is due to meet with Bannan at the end of the year to ensure her recommendations are being implemented. Among them, will be to formally ask new recruits about any previous anti-doping rule violations; a more clearly defined strategy regarding supplement use; increased publicity about Orica GreenEdge being a clean team and continue membership and participation with MPCC.
As it stands, Orica GreenEdge is yet to make a public statement acknowledging Neil Stephens' admissions from the past and outlining the team's decision not to sanction the now sports director, as specified on June 11 when it was announced that Vance's recommendations would be implemented.
"I certainly will be asking that question if they don't do something in the meantime," Vance told Cyclingnews.