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Tour Down Under courts controversy with Stuart O'Grady appointment

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UPDATED: South Australian cyclist Stuart O’Grady, who confessed to doping at the infamous 1998 Tour de France, has been appointed the next race director of the Tour Down Under.

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O’Grady, who will replace retiring inaugural race director Mike Turtur from 2021, was announced as the new leader of Australia’s premier professional cycling race today.

The official announcement avoided mention of O’Grady’s July 2013 doping confession, which he made as a French Senate investigation was preparing to release the names of riders who returned suspicious or positive urine samples from the scandal-plagued 1998 Tour de France.

O’Grady insisted then – and since – that it was a one-off event and that he rode clean through the rest of his celebrated cycling career.

“Hopefully those people can put it behind them and move on,” he said yesterday of the inevitable criticism of his appointment.

“That was a very grey era back then and I made a bloody big mistake.

“Am I supposed to get a life sentence from my sport? I think I have a lot more goodwill in me and more to bring to the sport.

“I really believe I’ve done everything in my power to say I’m sorry and be a role model. I want to contribute.”

A multi-Olympic-medal-winner and one of Australia’s greatest cyclists, O’Grady admitted in 2013 he had personally sourced and self-administered the banned blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) ahead of the 1998 Tour de France.

The confession – which came after years of him denying any role in doping – resulted in his expulsion from the Australian Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission, but he was welcomed back into the fold and is now the president of the South Australian chapter of the Australian Olympic Committee.

“Leading into the Tour I made a decision, I sourced it (EPO) myself, there was no-one else involved, it didn’t involve the team in any way,” O’Grady told News Corp in 2013.

“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.”

Much of the professional cycling community – and parts of the media – closed ranks around O’Grady, and today the State Government added its vote of confidence.

Tourism Minister David Ridgway said O’Grady came to the role with “significant endorsements from the international cycling community”.

O’Grady, the inaugural winner of the Tour Down Under, described his appointment as “the pinnacle in my career”.

“I have lived my life and career with the international cycling community, so this is a defining professional and personal moment for me,” he said.

“I’m excited that I will be delivering a race in my home town, with one that I competed in, won and have watched grow its cycling participation and fan-base over the years.”

Events SA executive director Hitaf Rasheed said: “We ran a comprehensive process to ensure we got the right person for this important role and we believe Stuart is that person.”

Turtur, who will oversee his final Tour Down Under next month, said O’Grady had “terrific experience, networks and relationships globally, which will also bring new opportunities to the race and for South Australia.”

O’Grady will work alongside Turtur during the 2020 race before taking over in 2021.

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