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SYDNEY (AFP) – Newly-retired Australian cycling great Stuart O'Grady has admitted to using the banned blood-booster EPO before the 1998 Tour de France, reports said Thursday.
The confession comes just three days after the 39-year-old Olympic gold medallist and 17-time Tour rider announced his retirement from the sport.
"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 Limited newspapers.
"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."
O'Grady, a former track cyclist who won medals at three Olympics, including gold in the Madison 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 was kicked off the race after a medical team member was arrested at the French border and customs officers seized banned substances, including EPO.
News Limited newspapers said O'Grady had 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.
"When the Festina affair happened, I smashed it, got rid of it and that was the last I ever touched it," O'Grady said.
"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.
"You win Olympics, Paris-Roubaix and now all of that is going to be tainted by this action and I wish it could be changed but it can't."
O'Grady's most recent team, Orica GreenEDGE, released a statement supporting his decision, saying that one mistake should not tarnish an exceptional career.
"Orica GreenEDGE supports Stuart O'Grady's decision to step forward and place the findings of the French Senate report of today into perspective regarding his own past," general manager Shayne Bannan said.