20110709

Millar's tale the race leader among clutch of popular cycling books

by Jon Culley


Cycling is enjoying a boom in popularity, on the printed page at least. The current best sellers among sports books include a clutch of cycling titles, and not only because curiosity has been stirred by media coverage of the Tour de France.

One or two deserve their recognition on literary merit, rather than for the subject matter, not least David Millar’s compelling and at times harrowing account of his fall into the murky world of doping, Racing Through the Dark, which currently leads the best-sellers list across all sports.

Millar is the Scottish rider and world time trial champion who was banned for two years after being arrested in 2004 and admitting that he had taken the blood-boosting hormone, Erythropoietin -- better known as EPO. He returned to racing and rebuilt his career, determined not only to compete without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs but to campaign against them.

A stage winner in the Tour de France for the first time in 2000, Millar demonstrated his enduring prowess at 34 years old with a time trial win in this year’s Giro d’Italia and already has a stage win under his belt -- his first since his tainted performance in 2003 -- at this year’s Tour for the Garmin-Cervélo team.

Racing Through the Dark begins in June 2004 in a police cell in Biarritz, where Millar had been detained following his arrest in an upmarket restaurant.  French police were investigating an alleged doping ring within the Cofidis team and suspected Millar of being involved.  Later, a search of Millar‘s nearby home -- he was based in the luxurious resort at the time -- found syringes he had used to administer EPO and he confessed.

In what reviewers have acknowledged as a powerful narrative, Millar describes the complexity of the circumstances in which he allowed himself to be drawn into a doping culture that dominated cycling to the extent that he believed it was almost impossible to win without being party to it.  He also describes with considerable insight how drugs turned his sport rotten in a way that surpassed even the incidence of cheating in athletics.

The tipping point for him had come in 2001.  Burdened by the pressures on him as leader of his team, for whom his success could mean the difference between staying competitive or folding, he decided he would dope himself for the three-week Tour of Spain, where longer endurance powers and quicker recovery times enabled him to win two stages.   In the months that followed, he rose to the top 15 in the world rankings and collected a €400,000 performance-related bonus.

By 2003, however, with friends and family aware of effect that drug use was having on him, he knew he could not maintain the charade and while he has admitted that he would have found it difficult to own up had he not been caught he now regards his arrest and subsequent confession as liberating.

Since his comeback, he has rekindled his love of cycling and has become the peloton’s unofficial spokesman on many aspects of the sport but in particular to use his own experience to underpin his campaign against doping.

"I've been purging myself – and emptying it all out,” he said in a recent interview with the Guardian‘s Donald McRae. “I wanted to stay in this game and help the sport. I think any doper who is caught has a duty to assume responsibility for speaking out against it. This should be part of the rehabilitation process. It's only right we should be considered first as ex-dopers. We should be border-line vigilantes when it comes to education against doping."

Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar is published by Orion. Click on the link to buy.

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