David Millar tries to clean up cycling from inside the peloton
The Scottish rider, once banned from the sport for two years for doping, now competes with a team pioneering a new drug-testing model.
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Millar had to endure the worst before he could climb out of his own slough. When the drug agents came to his house on the fateful day in 2004, he wasn’t home. He was dining out. They hauled him home to conduct the search. The agents had been investigating a doping ring involving some of Millar’s teammates. The two syringes they found were left over from a time when the cyclist had used the endurance-boosting drug erythropoeitin.Skip to next paragraph
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“I realized I was going to lose everything – the house I’d built the expensive car I’d ordered – all this material stuff was gone,” recalls Millar. “But when I was lying there, I realized it didn’t matter. To be free and able to get out of that was almost a relief.”
For the next few months, Millar indulged in “pure escapism.” He wanted to get as far away from cycling as possible. “I was sleeping on my sister’s floor,” he says. “I had my head in the sand.” Eventually, he realized how fortunate he had been to be an athlete and decided to stage a comeback – clean. He’d also come to sympathize with the disillusionment fans were feeling about cycling. “It became my role to be a voice that’s seen both sides,” he says.
When Millar finished his two-year ban, he wasn’t the only one that needed a resurrection. Cycling was reeling. Revelations of doping were rampant, and major European TV stations were pulling coverage of races.
Former rider Jonathan Vaughters thought it was time to clean up the sport from the inside. In 2007, his team, Slipstream Sports, launched an aggressive antidoping program administered independently by the Agency for Cycling Ethics in Los Angeles. Each athlete was tested with no advance notice at least every two weeks – 20 times more often than required under cycling rules. It yields a physiological profile that would make any drug-induced spike readily apparent.
Several other teams followed suit, and sponsors began to flock to this audacious cadre of riders who declared the importance of competing clean over winning. Last year, Millar signed on, bringing new clout to the group.
“We’re not afraid to fail,” says Steven Cozza, a member of the team, now called Garmin-Chipotle. “It’s 100 percent of you and nothing else that’s achieving. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.” Riders feel a shift on tour as well. “The whole attitude and talk in the peloton has changed,” says Mr. Cozza. “Everyone is believing you can win clean.”
Still, some critics believe Millar has cast the sport as too dirty and himself as savior. “There are some who say he’s spitting in the soup,” says Guy Andrews, editor of Rouleur, a British cycling magazine. “But I don’t think he’s pious about it. He’s very blunt and very honest.”
Actually, Millar believes that dopers represent a “minority” of riders. Yet he thinks it will take five to 10 years to clean up the sport’s image.
“It has lost a little bit of magic,” he says. “They [the young riders] don’t deserve to pay for the errors I made or the errors my generation made. We’ve got to get back to the stories of individuals and that epicness.”
• The next installment in this series runs July 28. The first part ran July 14.