With the impending release of his book, Battle Scars, former Australian cyclist Stuart O’Grady has embarked on a media tour and sat down with Cycling Fanboys for his first major interview since his retirement and dished on his experiences with drugs in the pro peloton.
Fanboys: Why the name?
SO: “Battle Scars” is a name that is very appropriate to my career because there were so many battles. Battles all the time, every day. And you know, because of those battles I had scars. So, battles and scars, and then “Battle Scars.” The scars of battles. Get it? Bities, bitzles, bingles,the whole shebang.
Fanboys: After announcing your retirement on the first Monday after the 2013 Tour de France, you admitted to using epo ahead of the 1998 Tour, just before the French Senate released its report on doping in the Tour in 1998. Why the timing?
SO: Well, I sure as hell wasn’t gonna admit it during me career, was I? Maybe I’m Ozzie, but I’m not as dumb as all that.
Fanboys: And that’s the only time you doped?
SO: Oh, yeah. Just the day before the ’98 Tour. A tiny little pinch. Itsy bitsy amount, actually. Hardly enough to even see, much less make me ride faster. It was kind of a joke, really.
Fanboys: Wow. Because 1998 was the year, you know, that teams were supplying it in gross to their riders, everyone walking around with his own personal thermos of epo.
SO: Really? What a bunch o’ cheaters, eh?
Fanboys: So you didn’t really ever hear about other riders using drugs?
SO: Lord, no. The French guys, sure, and maybe some of the lower class riders, the donkeys, the guys who were never gonna be any good, maybe they did it, but the big teams, the legit teams, I can honestly say I never heard of anyone using drugs to gain an unfair advantage. It’s just not how we thought at the time.
Fanboys: Where did you obtain the drugs?
SO: Oh, I don’t remember. You know, it was just a very small amount, not more than a couple of thermoses. I think I got it from some gal in a bar. We was talking about the Tour and she said, “Try this,” and gave me a couple of thermoses. I only used it the month leading up to the Tour, kind of on a training plan I made up meself.
Fanboys: Did you notice any difference in your riding?
SO: From the epo? Blimey, no sir. It was like drinkin’ orange juice. Made me kind of drowsy, in fact, which is why I quit taking it right after the ’99 Tour, the year Lance won his first yellow jersey.
Fanboys: When did you quit using drugs?
SO: Immediately, right away, as soon as I heard about the Festina affair in ’98. I smashed me thermoses, got rid of it and that was the last I ever touched it.
Fanboys: Except for ’99, right?
SO: Right. And 2000. We used a spot of it in 2000, me and the boys, but just before the Tour. It didn’t help us at all, though, so we quit immediately.
Fanboys: “The boys?”
SO: Oh, sure, you know, the boys on the team. It wasn’t organized by the team, it was all individualized, but we did it together. There was a big cooler on the bus, we had ten thermoses for each rider along with the other usual supplements, and just used them. I believe they made us slower, actually.
Fanboys: What were the other “usual supplements”?
SO: Test, corticos, clen, a blood bag ‘ere and there for when you was gettin’ a bit woozy after the big mountain stages. And before the big mountain stages. And the long flat days, too, and time trials, a pinch before and maybe a spot after. But that’s all we did, and after the 2001 Tour, Bjarne told us “no more drugs because drugs is bad.” You know he was tough about drugs like that and wouldn’t tolerate it. “It’s just cheatin’,” is what he told us all the time. So we just quit, and I’ll tell you that they didn’t make you any faster. They made you slower. That’s a proven fact.
Fanboys: Your admission of doping cast into doubt your subsequent results, particularly your 2007 win at Paris-Roubaix.
SO: Sure, I can see how people might think that, but Roubaix is a strongman’s race and drugs was gone completely from the peloton after the Tour wrapped up in ’02, I think it was. We just all kind of reached an agreement that cheatin’ wasn’t worth it. It was the right thing to do, so we did it. Simple as that.
Fanboys: How did you feel during all those years when you were denying drug use even though you were plugged to the bunghole with PED’s of every kind?
SO: I felt awful, actually. I just kind of buried it so far back in my mind because it was just one of those things that I hoped would never surface. It was the darkest period of my career. It was the darkest period of cycling in general until things got cleaned up for good in 2003, right after the Tour.
Fanboys: How did that come about?
SO: Well, we was using blood transfusions, and transfusions from our family, and from our pets, and of course there was always a bit of androstenediol, androstenedione, androstene, bolandiol, bolasterone, boldenone, boldione, calusterone, clostebol, danazol, dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, desoxymethyltestosterone, drostanolone, ethylestrenol, fluoxymesterone, formebolone, furazabolgestrinone, hydroxytestosteronemestanolone, mesterolone, metandienone, metenolone, methandriol, methasterone, methyldienolone, methylnortestosterone, methyltestosterone, metribolone, mibolerone, nandrolone, norandrostenedione, norboletone, norclostebol, norethandrolone, oxabolone, oxandrolone, oxymesterone, oxymetholone, prostanozol, norandrostenedione, norboletone, norclostebol, norethandrolone, oxabolone, oxandrolone, oxymesterone, oxymetholone, and maybe a spot o’ noretiocholanolone, stuff like that. None of it worked for shite, though, I can promise you.
And one day we just all said, “Hey, mates, enough’s enough. HTFU.” And that was it. I personally threw all my stuff away, broke it with a hammer, tossed it in the toilet. Remember it just like it was yesterday, felt a enormous burden off me shoulders, day after the 2004 Tour finished we was all like, hey, it’s a new day. Right?
Fanboys: Since your doping admission you’ve not been seen a lot in public. What’s Stuey O’Grady doing to occupy himself?
SO: Oh, you know, just bein’ a regular dad, playin’ with me 10-year-old, tryin’ to forget about all those battle scars, the ones from the battles. Epic battles. And scars, too. Epic battles, epic scars. Battle scars.
Fanboys: Any thoughts of returning for one last hurrah?
SO: Lordy, no. Twenty years as a pro, it’s enough. It was black times a lot of them times, black times for cycling, but we’ve turned a corner. Things is better now than they was.
Fanboys: Can you pinpoint when the change happened?
SO: Blimey, just like it was yesterday. It was right after the Tour, 2005 if memory serves, and we all decided on a new direction. Smartest thing we ever did, ’cause doping was killing us and people just couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Fanboys: But didn’t you say that the drugs didn’t actually help?
SO: Oh, they didn’t. They made you slower, mate. But it’s the thinkin’ that they’re makin’ you faster that makes you go faster. Hard to explain, y’know? But Bjarne helped us change the game. It was right after the 2006 Tour, we dumped all of our stocks and investments in Big Pharma, just did everything pan y agua. That’s Polish for “bread and water.” And I’m glad it happened then, couldn’t have come at a better time because all that winter and then the spring of ’07 I trained pan y agua and HTFU and I won Roubaix that year, clean as a whistle. I can look back on me career and that day in particular with nothin’ but pride.
Fanboys: Thanks for your time, Stuey. We here at Cycling Fanboys really believe in you.
SO: You gonna buy a copy of me book, then?
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