Nathan O'Neill is set to make his return to competition with the new Bahati Foundation professional team in 2010. The 34-year-old Australian is excited to get back to racing his bike after serving a two-year suspension on a doping positive for an appetite suppressant.
The eight-time Australian time trial champion will join three former teammates, Rahsaan Bahati, whose foundation the team benefits, Hilton Clarke and Cesar Grajales, on the new squad thanks to the work of his coach Rick Crawford of Colorado Premier Training.
"Rick was given the opportunity to work with the team, and that included recommending riders," O'Neill told Cyclingnews. "Knowing I didn't have anything on the table for next year, he put my name in.
"I'm really happy with how the team is shaping up - I rode with Rahsaan on Saturn in 2003, and Hilton and Cesar were teammates of mine on the Navigators team in 2005... but I'm excited to get to know everybody - I believe Rick when he says he's put together a great roster."
So far, O'Neill doesn't have plans to get together with his new squad before the team training camp in January. The Georgia resident hopes to have a chance to meet the other riders before the end of the year, but can already train with one teammate, Grajales, who lives in nearby Athens.
O'Neill said he has a bit of work to do to get back to top speed after two full years out of competition. He tested positive for the appetite suppressant phenteramine at the Tour of Elk Grove in August, 2007. He quickly admitted to taking the drug, insisting that he took it legally outside of competition, but explained that a trace amount remained in his system by the time he won the prologue and overall title in the Chicago event.
While the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) found that O'Neill was at "no significant fault" for the doping positive and attempted to levy a 15-month reduced ban, which would have allowed him to race the 2009 season, an appeal by ASADA, the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency resulted in a full two-year ban with an effective end-date of June 13, 2010.
But O'Neill revealed that this decision had been overturned this summer, putting the end of his suspension at an amorphous date sometime two years after a point between the date of his positive test and the date he was notified.
"The anti-doping authority recognized that the June 13 date was wrong and rectified the situation, but they didn't actually give me a firm date the suspension would end - but the latest date, that of my notification on September 23, means I am actually eligible to race now."
Despite being cleared to race, O'Neill said he would not race the Australian National Championships in Ballarat this January.
"I've been training, but am a little behind where I should be for racing in January. I've thought about it a lot, actually, and I just don't want to go there when I'm not feeling good.
"After two years out of the sport, it is going to take me most of the year to really hit full stride - I'm hoping it will come sooner, but it will take time to get my confidence back."
O'Neill said he was comfortable with the idea that his role on the new team might include domestique duties, but he is fine with that. "I'm just keyed up to contribute," he said.
"The two years off were a kind of a blessing in a way - there was a while there when I was going pretty stale, but now I'm excited to get back to racing my bike."
When asked if he is concerned that other riders will look down on him for his doping case, O'Neill said he was more nervous about his form going into the season than what other people might say.
"There will always be people who have bad things to say - they probably did before all this, so I don't worry about them. I know I made an honest mistake, and I paid the maximum penalty for it. I should be allowed to move on - I never hid behind any lies or crazy stories to explain it, so I'm at ease with everything."
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