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Stephens: The 90s were a complicated era

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Shayne Bannan and Neil Stephens are proud to part of this project.

Shayne Bannan and Neil Stephens are proud to part of this project. (Image credit: Mark Gunter)
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GreenEdge Sports Director Neil Stephens behind the wheel

GreenEdge Sports Director Neil Stephens behind the wheel (Image credit: Dan Jones - GreenEdge Cycling)
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Matt Goss (GreenEdge) and team director Neil Stephens await the start.

Matt Goss (GreenEdge) and team director Neil Stephens await the start. (Image credit: Sirotti)

Nearly six months on from when Orica GreenEdge announced an external review of the team's anti-doping policies, procedures as well as riders and staff, Cyclingnews has been informed that no specific comments will be made until the release of the final report.

On November 1, 2012, the team announced that sports director Matt White had been released and that Nicki Vance, a former director of WADA, would author a report. Speaking to Cyclingnews at the time, Vance indicated that her investigation would take "between six and eight months.

Cyclingnews spoke at length with sports director Neil Stephens on Thursday at the team's base for the Ardennes in Liège on a wide range of topics, however specifics regarding Stephens’ involvement within the Festina Affair and the Australian fallout from the USADA investigation were not something that he would elaborate on.

CN: The USADA investigation and the related fallout in Australia with Matthew White and Stephen Hodge cast a really dark shadow on that era for Australian cycling, have you been surprised with the public reaction to that?

NS: It's unfair and it's not really correct. Nicki Vance is doing an investigation and it's really good. Everyone's been really proactive in it. It's early days to say anything. Nicki's doing a great, thorough job as everyone within GreenEdge cycling is. We'll wait for that to come out before we draw any lines. 

CN: But in terms of the general reaction? There are now more question marks over the 80s and 90s... Does a line need to be drawn in the sand and say, we're moving on without answers?

NS: You've got to get on with life and move ahead. People who want to stick their head in the sand, they shouldn't be around. In the current climate there are some fantastic bike riders out there, there's some fantastic teams and they're doing a great job. Let's just enhance and let's grow with that current environment and enjoy it.

CN: Has the current generation suffered because of what happened before them?

NS: Riders, staff, management, sponsors, yeah.

CN: What were some of the things that you were most proud of throughout that era?

NS: Well, that era. When I was a bike rider? Your conversation is just starting to go down one channel here. The thing is I had a great career and it finished off with the Festina Affair and that was it. So I had some great moments. Just go through the files. The great moments in my career are the people that I've met.

CN: It couldn't have been the way you wanted to end your career?

NS: My career was going to end then anyway. I didn't neck myself did I? Thankfully.

Stephens has previously stated publicly that while he used EPO, he did not do so knowingly, believing instead that he was being injected with vitamin supplements. Cycling Australia accepted that defence when Stephens' inclusion in the 1998 Commonwealth Games team was challenged.

The Australian Anti-Doping Authority's investigation into Australian cycling remains on-going.

CN: Does it bother you that Festina was clouded by the Tour in 98?

NS: It was a shame and there was some good people there and some good workers... the thing I didn't like about Festina is that I was a foreigner and I felt like a foreigner in that team. In this team, that's one of the policies we have, we all speak English.

CN: Did the Festina Affair cast doubt over your career?

NS: Yeah. Shit yeah.

CN: Are you bitter about it?

NS: I've had a few things happen to me in life and that's one of them. But it's not the worst thing that's happened to me in life. And so there's bigger shit that's happened to me. I try to just get on with life. You look at it and you say it was a really hard period. It was a pretty complicated sort of an era. I just got on with it. 

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As a sports journalist and producer since 1997, Jane has covered Olympic and Commonwealth Games, rugby league, motorsport, cricket, surfing, triathlon, rugby union, and golf for print, radio, television and online. However her enduring passion has been cycling.


Jane is a former Australian Editor of Cyclingnews from 2011 to 2013 and continues to freelance within the cycling industry.