(Australian Associated Press)
New Tour Down Under race director Stuart O’Grady knows the doping barbs are coming and has called for critics to acknowledge his efforts to make amends.
The winner of the first Tour in 1999 will succeed Mike Turtur as race boss, with the handover to start on Wednesday and carry through to the 2021 edition.
Turtur is retiring from the role after creating the Adelaide Tour and overseeing its growth into Australia’s biggest bike race.
There is no doubt O’Grady has plenty of credentials to take over the plum role.
But in 2013 he said he took banned blood booster EPO once, in 1998, and immediately regretted cheating.
O’Grady has said repeatedly it was the only time he doped in his glittering track and road career.
“Hopefully those people can put it behind them and move on,” he said 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.”
O’Grady is the latest prominent cycling figure to be revealed as a doper and then assume an official role.
He also has the backing of UCI president David Lappartient.
The 46-year-old said he thought about becoming the Tour’s race director even before retiring from competition.
He is a popular and well-connected figure in the sport.
O’Grady and Turtur are long-time friends – Turtur was his first coach at 15 and they raced each other on Adelaide’s old Hanson Reserve velodrome.
The O’Grady family also have longstanding connections with the Tour – apart from Stuart’s two overall wins, his sister Leslie once worked on the event.
His father Brian drives the motorbike that gives time checks to race leaders.
Asked if he was ready to give him orders over race radio, O’Grady said his dad “might get a bit excited” but that there would be a lot of strange things to deal with.
He is well aware taking over from Turtur will mean a steep learning curve.
“There’s a lot of uncharted territory I’ve never really had to use my brain for,” he said.
“I’m really proud to have had the opportunity to have a go.”
O’Grady regularly takes cycling tour groups to Europe and said he had met with Chris Froome, who is recovering from serious race injuries.
“He would love to be here but the race would probably be too difficult for him at this stage,” O’Grady said.