STUART O'Grady has admitted to doping before the 1998 Tour de France and says one horrible mistake will tarnish his entire career.
The South Australian cycling star tonight broke down as he told The Advertiser of his decision to take performance enhancing EPO in the two weeks before the `98 Tour.
He retired on Monday after riding a record 17th Tour de France amid speculation he would be named in a French Senate inquiry into doping in sport.
The inquiry listed one of his urine samples from the '98 Tour as "suspicious".
In an exclusive interview with The Advertiser, O'Grady admitted he sourced the EPO - a blood booster - and administered it without anyone knowing.
He then carried it with him during the `98 Tour, but never used it during the race.
MORE: CYCLISTS WHO TESTED POSITIVE FOR BANNED EPO
He said he felt he had no other option and had to use it to survive or be competitive in the race during the sport's dirtiest era.
O'Grady said he destroyed it (EPO) when the Festina Affair, where riders were booted off the Tour for alleged doping, blew up in the first week.
O'Grady is adamant he never used EPO, or any other banned substance again.
"Leading into the Tour I made a decision," he said.
"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.
"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.
"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."
O'Grady, an Olympic gold medallist and Paris-Roubaix champion, said the hardest thing was telling his parents in Paris on Monday.
"It was the worst moment of my life," he said.
"I just asked them to listen so I could paint a complete picture.
"All I've ever wanted in my career was to make mum and dad and my family proud.
"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 was 24 at the time and riding for French team GAN.
In the 1998 Tour de France he won Stage 14 and became the second Australian to ever wear the yellow jersey.
"I want to paint a picture why I chose this avenue and make people understand how different things were and how isolated I felt," he said.
"After my first Tour (in 1997) when I was dropped after 5km on a mountain day and you're questioning what the hell I am doing in this sport you're not anywhere near competitive at something you're supposed to be pretty good at.
"It wasn't systematic doping, I wasn't trying to deceive people, I was basically trying to survive in what was a very grey area.
"We're humans who make mistakes. It was a decision I made at the time which I thought would basically get me through the Tour."
O'Grady is adamant he never cheated after that.
"It was for an extremely small percentage of my entire life," he said.
"When you start seeing riders getting arrested around you, people being taken to jail, that's all I needed to scare me.
"I was lucky enough to win a lot of things, they can test my samples from Paris-Roubaix and my Olympic medals for the next thousand years, they're not going to find anything.
"There is nothing more to hide.
"I have done everything since then on natural ability and when people ask `why are you still racing?'
"I guess part of me deep down is to prove that you can do the Tour clean, win Olympic gold medals clean.
"You can do as much as your natural ability allows you to and I've been riding myself into the ground trying to help out young guys, to be the leader, and maybe a small part of that is to punish myself for my own guilt."
Despite his guilt, he never wanted to come forward.
"Who in their right mind and the environment we've been in the last couple of years would stand up and be crucified?
"I guess I just wanted this to go away and the only person I've cheated out of all this is myself, my family and friends.
"I've been the one living with it and trying to smash it out ever since."
O'Grady still has not been approached by any French government official but said he feared this day could be coming when he read a story about a list of failed drug tests from the 1998 Tour being released.
He said he knew it was time to retire after winning the teams time trial with Orica-GreenEDGE on Stage 4 of the Tour this month.
"I was standing up on the podium with the boys after winning the team time trial and I thought `this is it'," O'Grady said.
"I knew about what I'd done in the past, that the time to hang up my bike was coming, my family would be here and this was the final chapter I needed for closure."
O'Grady a six-time Olympian between 1992 and 2012 said he could have kept lying in the face of his `suspicious' test result.
"There is no B Sample, I could have kept lying, there is nothing but my confession right now," he said.
"I want to close this chapter of my life and have a fresh start. I realise there are going to be consequences but I don't want to stand in front of people anymore and lie."
He said he would take some comfort knowing two of his best mates, Australian Matt White and Scot David Millar, had been through similar circumstances and emerged on the other side.
"Deep down I knew I'd made a mistake, and if there's anyone on this planet who has never made a mistake come up and throw the first rock.
"I realise my situation is different to most people but we are human beings.
"I spent my whole childhood dreaming of racing for Australia and every moral gene in my body was anti-doping and anti-cheating, the whole time I was around the AIS helped me achieve that.
"Then all of a sudden I was on my own in Europe getting my arse kicked and knowing it was around you (which) opened the option for bad judgement."