Stephen Hodge in his heyday. Photo: Richard Briggs
With his confession for doping behind him, Canberra's Stephen Hodge is readying for the challenge of facing a new world where he knows he will no longer be lauded as a Tour de France rider.
He knows that instead of praise, his branding will be as one – of so many – who doped to race. Add to that, one of the prospects he dreads the most: when a child on a bike – not knowing of his doping history for the last six years of his career – which he admitted to yesterday, stops, looks up to him and asks what was it like to race in the world's biggest race, and if, "I can be like you".
Asked what he would say, Hodge, who admitted to doping in a Cycling Australia statement announcing his resignation from CA as its vice-president and as a board member, told Fairfax yesterday he didn't know how he would react, but added: "That's one of the most painful things for me — the loss of belief in what I did and the reaction among my family, friends, colleagues."
Hodge, who raced as a professional from 1987 to 1996, said his doping went on for the last six years of his career when he rode for the ONCE team (1990-94) and Festina-Lotus team (1994-96).
He said the drug he used the most was erythropoietin or EPO. Asked if he used human growth hormones or had blood transfusions, he said: "I don't believe so." But he said that while there was no "overt" pressure put on him to dope, the doping programs he followed were run by his teams.
"In terms of pressures to make a decision, I did not have any overt pressure. No one said you must take this or you must take that," Hodge said. "I made the decision [to dope] because it became clear that to stay competitive and be selected for the big races you had to take performance-enhancing drugs. It's not something I am proud of. It was a team system, not something I went off and embarked on by myself."
Hodge said he had kept his doping a secret, even from his wife Adrienne.
"Doping is inherently an illegal and a private activity," he said. "Generally speaking, you don't talk about it to anyone."
That was the punitive and bad thing about drugs in sport, he added. Hodge said he came to make his confession amid the fallout from the US Anti-Doping Agency investigation into Lance Armstrong and five former associates that led to the decision by former Armstrong teammate Matt White to confess to doping last Saturday after he was named as a drug user by American Floyd Landis in the report.
Rabobank will stop sponsoring professional cycling at the end of this year, in light of the USADA report on the use of banned substances in the sport, the Dutch bank announced yesterday.
"We no longer have confidence that the international professional cycling world is in a state to make a clean and honest sport possible," board member Bert Bruggink said.
Hodge, while conceding that his admission came because the doping crisis had made his position untenable, said he hoped it would deter other riders from using drugs.
"They are certainly choices that I really don't want any other riders to have to make," he said. "It is a terrible thought for me and something that has driven me for the last 14 years — a terrible thought to have young riders believe that to be successful they have to take drugs.
"That is something I feel very strongly about and through this period I had on the [CA] board."
Despite his doping, Hodge said he did compete in some races drug-free. But he did not say that included the Tour. When asked if it were possible to race the event on "bread and water", he said: "I think so, and I did some major tours on bread and water in my career. You only have to look to Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins now to see the clear evidence of that."
Asked what that evidence was, Hodge said: "The average speed of riders going uphill has dropped substantially. With that, has the spectacle of the Tour diminished? No."