Stuart O’Grady admits EPO abuse on Tour
Armstrong says US government turned blind eye to drug allegations
Lance Armstrong posed for photographs with fans prior to the start of the third day of the RAGBRAI en route to West Des Moines on Monday. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Australian Tour de France stage-winner Stuart O’Grady has admitted using the banned blood-booster EPO before the notorious 1998 race.
O’Grady, who announced his retirement this week after helping his GreenEdge team to a team time-trial victory in this year’s Tour, became in 1998 only the second Australian to wear the race leader’s famous yellow jersey.
“Leading into the Tour I made a decision,” the 39-year-old told the Adelaide newspaper The Advertiser in an interview. “I sourced it (EPO) myself, there was no one else involved, it didn’t involve the team in any way. I just had to drive over the border and buy it at any pharmacy.”
O’Grady, a former track cyclist who won medals at three Olympics, including gold at the 2004 Athens Games, took the first of his four career Tour stage wins that year in a race that was overshadowed by the Festina doping scandal.
Festina were kicked off the race after a medical team member was arrested at the French border and customs officers seized banned substances, including EPO.
O’Grady has been named in a French Senate inquiry into sports doping which looked at the 1998 Tour and found the top three finishers, Italian Marco Pantani, Germany’s Jan Ullrich and American Bobby Julich, were taking EPO.
“The hardest part of all this is I did it for two weeks before the Tour de France,” added O’Grady who was riding for French team GAN at the time. “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. That’s the hardest thing to swallow out of all this - it was such a long time ago and one very bad judgement is going to taint a lot of things and people will have a lot of questions.”
Armstrong, who admitted doping earlier this year, has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. His legal team is now claiming the US government’s federal lawsuit against him be dismissed because the case is too old.
The government’s lawsuit argues the 41-year-old Texan committed fraud by insisting he was not using drugs while riding for the publicly funded US Postal Service team.
Armstrong’s motion to a US court questions why the government did nothing to look into doping allegations. “The government admits that prior to November 2000, it was aware that ‘French authorities had begun a preliminary investigation into allegations that the [Postal Service] cycling team used performance enhancing drugs’,” it says.
“The government was not merely aware of these allegations, ‘the Postal Service was concerned about them’. But, despite its knowledge and concern, the ‘official of the United States charged with responsibility to act’ did absolutely nothing.
“In fact, the only thing the government did was enter into a new four-year sponsorship agreement entitling it to special perks in connection with the Tour de France and insert provisions giving it certain rights in the event of ‘negative publicity associated with’ a failed drug test. The government wanted a winner and all the publicity, exposure and acclaim that goes along with being his sponsor.”
Armstrong’s legal team has now moved to have the lawsuit dismissed. His motion adds: “The government’s claims are time-barred. The face of the government’s complaint makes clear that all its claims occurred prior to the limitations period. Therefore the government’s False Claims Act, fraud, and unjust enrichment claims should be dismissed with prejudice.”