Title: Racing Through The Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar
Author: David Millar (with Jeremy Whittle, foreword by David Brailsford)
Publisher: Orion Books
What it is: The autobiography of David Millar, bike racer and reformed doper: a tale of the triumph of hype over adversity.
Strengths: Has the potential to become this generation's version of Paul Kimmage's A Rough Ride.
Weaknesses: The story really needs to pull back from just Millar's story every now and then. Characters like Frank Vandenbroucke get big intros, but simply disappear from the tale. David Moncoutié hardly features. In short, the book lacks perspective.
David Millar was born in Malta in 1977, an RAF brat. Before his first birthday, his parents returned to Scotland. His father served in the Falklands ("He just disappeared one day and we didn't see him again for what seemed like for ever. It's the only time I can remember my mum telling my sister and me to pray at night.").
When Millar was eleven, his parents' marriage ended ("I certainly don't remember being tearful, but I remember being incredibly fucking angry. My childhood had come to an abrupt end."). Soon came a choice: continue to live with his mum or follow his father to Hong Kong. Millar chose the FILTH - Failed In London, Try Hong-Kong - option ("I was a selfish, damaged thirteen-year-old determined to take his life into his own hands. It changed me, hardened me, and laid the foundation for the person I was to become.").
In 1996, Millar moved to France, joining VC St Quentin, who had only recently seen Jeremy Hunt graduate to Miguel Induráin's Banesto squad. Martial Gayant - who once wore the yellow jumper in the Tour, once wore the pink jumper in the Giro and once finished second to Sean Kelly in Lombardia - was his directeur sportif.
Millar's performances began to get noticed. Cyrille Guimard and Alain Bondue got to him first. Bondue had been a team-mate of Paul Sherwen's and those two had been instrumental in Millar getting a ride with VC St Quentin. Guimard was cycling aristocracy ("Guimard was a legendary figure in the sport and had been one of the main characters in a lot of my reading material in Hong Kong. He was a kingmaker."). Millar became Guimard's new dauphin. Sherwen - who would commentate on Millar's Tour rides - was there when Millar signed the contract. Millar's other option - a place at art school - would now never be taken up. The kid was a pro cyclist. A member of the 1997 Cofidis squad.
Millar's new team-mates included the American contingent of Lance Armstrong. Frankie Andreu, Kevin Livingston and Bobby Julich. They also included Philippe Gaumont and Laurent Desbiens, both just back from a few months on the naughty step, having been bad boys in '96 at the Côte Picardie. And the Tour de l'Oise. And the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque. Oh, and for Desbiens, the Vendée International Classic also. They were very naughty boys indeed.
From the beginning, Millar was introduced to doping, principally through the use by others of cortisone ("Cortisone was the drug of choice in French cycling. Back then it was undetectable in doping controls, and [...] wasn't exactly hard to get hold of."). He turned to his mum for advice. "Just make sure you stand by what you believe in," she told him, "and remember, you can pack it in tomorrow and come home and go to art college. You have options David - don't forget that." He also turned to a team-mate, Tony Rominger. When he sat down with Swiss Tony in Manchester's vélodrome, they were joined by Rominger's coach, Michele Ferrari. Rominger gave Millar the benefit of his wisdom: Classics could be won clean, Grand Tours couldn't.
With another team-mate, Millar resolved to screw them all, they'd do it their way, clean. That other rider was David Moncoutié. They wouldn't even use injected recuperation products. Millar's resolve made it as far as the Vuelta a Asturias before he gave in to the needle and accepted his first récup injections: prefolic acid, vitamin B and iron ("And that was that. A line had been crossed. I now did 'recovery'.").
When Festina happened, mid-way through Millar's second year with Cofidis, he was happy ("for young clean riders the grand exposé was wonderful news. Watching riders get arrested, hearing about the dope-dumping from the ferry and imagining the panic that most of the riders would be feeling at the prospect of three weeks without their usual medical stock, tickled us.").
But by the start of 1999, it was clear how little Festina had changed the sport. How little Festina had changed Cofidis. Philippe Gaumont was part of a "clique" focused around Frank Vandenbroucke, who joined the team in 1999. Stories of VDB and Gaumont's hearty partying were an open secret ("Those of us racing on the French programme had already been hearing stories of their shenanigans in Spain."). VDB and his "cabal" began to dominate wherever they rode ("There were suspicions about those successes and Cofidis was getting a reputation within the peloton, especially the French peloton, which, in the aftermath of the Festina affair, was doing everything it could to eradicate doping.").
VDB was eventually busted - shortly after winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1999 - in connection with an investigation into the legendary Bernard Sainz but got away with it. Cofidis suspended him, briefly, but things quickly returned to normal. Millar was outraged at what was happening within Cofidis and decided to speak to the sponsor himself, François Migraine (Guimard is by now ancient history in this story, his ... ahem ... accounting difficulties glossed over by Millar). Migraine listened. Feigned interest. Did fuck all. (Actually, he commissioned Jean-Christophe Seznec to conduct a psychiatric analysis of the team, which revealed a deep-rooted doping culture, both sporting and recreational.)
Millar wasn't selected for the 1999 Tour de France. He spent the race in the Pyrénées, at a training camp. And partied hearty. When Millar broke his heel, his team told the world he'd fallen down some stairs and crocked his ankle (Millar himself repeated this version of his injury when forced to finally come clean and admit his doping). He'd actually jumped off a roof, pissed on vodka and Stilnox, the party popper of choice within Cofidis ("I learned that the ticket to getting maximum 'side effects' was to take more than one pill and have a couple of alcoholic drinks with it. Within an hour or so you could find yourself acting and feeling the same as if you were completely drunk.").
At his début Tour in 2000, Millar won the prologue time trial and donned the maillot jaune. He held the jersey for three days. At the end of it all, he partied hearty and returned, alone, to Biarritz, where by now he'd set up home ("Everything had changed, yet nothing had changed. It was a rude awakening. I'd just made my boyhood dream a reality, yet I felt lonelier than ever."). At the Sydney Olympics later that year his new-found dependency on Stilnox became known to Team GB. His behaviour throughout his time in Australia - which included a forty-eight hour bender after the ITT - was hard not to notice ("I was wobbling, melting down, becoming a problem [...] I think it is quite obvious that I was a little unhinged.").
By the early part of the 2001 season, Millar was already questioning his own desire to ride à l'eau. When the Tour came round Millar - by now the team leader, VDB having left the stage without Millar mentioning his departure at the end of 2000 - was over-raced and under-rested ("I was blaming the team for not having seen what was happening and telling me to rest and relax. This had become a vicious circle, as I'd then blame myself for being so easily manipulated by the team's needs."). He targeted the Tour's prologue time trial but, knowing he didn't have the top end speed, decided to throw caution to the wind and shave time on the corners. He almost made it, but over-cooked it on the last corner ("I'd known what the risks were. But I hadn't thought about the consequences. Falling off in a time-trial is often bad. [...] the next ten days were to prove what a dire mistake I'd made.").
Millar made it as far as the stage to l'Alpe d'Huez before climbing off and into the sag wagon. His world had changed ("I'd let the team down, and, although there was a part of me that thought they should have been more caring, I also finally accepted I was a professional. It was a job to race; they weren't my family, they weren't my friends. They didn't worry about me - I was paid to do a job. It was my responsibility to fulfil that expectation and to get results.") That night, as the Alpe settled down to a post-race stillness, Millar, a Cofidis directeur - identified only as 'le Boss' - and a team-mate identified only as 'l'Équipier' sat down in a hotel room and discussed Millar's 'preparation' for the Vuelta a España ("I knew what that meant."). Millar accepted what was being proposed ("The background white noise of the struggle to fight doping finally subsided. I walked into that hotel room an anti-doper; I walked out of it a seasoned professional ready to do what was required of me.")
'L'Équipier' is never named in Racing Through The Dark. He is Massimiliano Lelli. His name was known to the authorities before Millar was busted and he was one of the two names Millar gave to the authorities after he finally saw the light and confessed his sins (Jesús Losa being the other). That Millar is now protecting Lelli can only be down to British libel law - what other reason could Millar have for not naming him?
Similarly, 'le Boss' is not named. In confessing his crimes in 2004, Millar offered only a limited confession, naming only those already known to the inquiry team. Heretofore, that hotel conversation at the Tour 2001 involved only Millar and Lelli. Now there's a Third Man - a Cofidis directeur sportif - involved in the story: but which one? Well it's not Alain Bondue. Which leaves Bernard Quilfen, Alain Deloeuil, or Francis Van Londersele. Quilfen DS'ed the 2001 Cofidis Tour squad, alongside Bondue.
This throws up a question: if Millar lied before his arrest, and now it's clear that - as most sensible people suspected at the time - he continued to lie after his arrest, why should anyone believe he's telling the complete truth now?
Millar went to Lelli's home in Tuscany and used EPO in preparation for the Vuelta. He won the prologue ("In contrast to my Tour win the previous year, all I felt was relief - unadulterated pure relief. I'd fulfilled my professional obligations - I couldn't have imagined doping and not winning."). At the Worlds, still hopped up on EPO, Millar finished second to Jan Ullrich in the ITT and felt the German cheated when he caught a rider in front of him and the two passed and re-passed one and other several times approaching the finish ("I was devastated. I couldn't believe that his could be allowed to happen and wanted the commissaires to act. But the result stood."). David Millar still holds that silver medal.
In the new year, Millar approached Jesús Losa, the Euskaltel Euskadi team doctor, for a training programme. Losa was paid a base rate of €12k a year, plus medical expenses, plus bonuses based on Millar's UCI ranking. Millar could well afford the money. His first contract, back in 1997, had been worth €80k pa basic to him. When that was renewed in 1999 ("Despite everything I was happy to stay with Cofidis. I was growing up with the team and François Migraine's promises that things would change reassured me.") his agents - Marc and Tony Biver at IMG Suisse - doubled that deal to €160k pa basic. Bonuses were on top of that, based on UCI points. At the start of 2002, Millar had just received the performance-related part of his pay for 2001: an additional €400k. €12k was chump change to him.
After the 2002 Tour - at which Millar won a road stage - he and Losa set about a pre-Vuelta training camp that would involve EPO, cortisone and testosterone ("I had bought into the belief that doping was the only way of being a player in a Grand Tour. That's what the programme was all about: seeing if I could manage it in the Vuelta and, if I could, who knows - then maybe I could also do it at the Tour."). But Millar failed to gain the results that would activate his bonus payment and he ended the year with, he says, just his basic salary ("This made me resentful. After all, I had missed the first half of the 2002 season because of glandular fever. Yes, I'd then flopped at the Vuelta - yet I'd won a stage at the Tour and been a player at almost every other race I competed in.").
Millar doped a third time in preparation for the 2003 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, and again after that race for the Tour. His Tour prologue ride was ruined by a mechanical he could have avoided ("Stubbornly I refused. I didn't want anybody tinkering with my bike so close to the start, but also I decided if it [his chain] was going to come off, then so be it. [Alain] Bondue's head would roll for it.") but he won a time trial later in the race.
Despite all his problems with Cofidis, Millar again re-signed with the team for another two years ("It was the big money contract I had wanted. I had been in protracted negotiations with Bjarne Riis and his team, but now that Bondue was out of the picture, I was sure I'd be able to steer things more myself. In truth, my loyalty towards the team was based more on longevity of our relationship than anything else.").
After the Vuelta, Millar doped for a fifth time - EPO, testosterone and cortisone again - this time in Manchester, where he was testing bikes with Team GB. He won the ITT at the Worlds ("I achieved a crushing victory. I was so much quicker that I realised that I could win at the halfway point. In fact, I spent the last ten kilometres trying to save energy, so that I'd be good for the road race three days later."). That medal the UCI did eventually revoke.
Things began to go tits up from the first Cofidis get-together for the 2004 season. Millar discovered that Philippe Gaumont had stayed with Massimiliano Lelli in Tuscany and blew a fuse ("I was panicking, terrified of what could happen. Gaumont knew all about omertà, but he had trouble keeping his mouth shut."). Then the shit started to hit the fan. The Cofidis affaire had begun. Marek Rutkiewicz - a former Cofidis rider being mentored by a Cofidis soigneur, Boguslaw 'Bob' Madejak - was busted at Paris Charles de Gaulle, caught in possession of doping products. Madejak was arrested next ("He was of the Eastern bloc old school. In the 1980s, as part of the Polish national cycling team, he had escaped the country and been forced to leave his family behind in Poland for two years until he could get them out. A few months in jail weren't a big deal for Bob.").
Then Gaumont was arrested, along with Cedric Vasseur. Gaumont had sense enough to know when to stop believing in omertà and sang like a canary. Millar and Lelli were named, along with Jesús Losa. L'Équipe got hold of the story. Cofidis voluntarily grounded themselves for a month and tried to set their house in order ("It was all more of a publicity stunt than anything else, because Cofidis had fundamentally failed when it came to preventing doping. But the last thing they wanted was to admit it.").
The taxman also began to take an interest in Millar's affairs ("I got in touch with a UK firm to try and piece together the previous four years of accounts, but it was a gargantuan task and one that had no prospect of a happy outcome. Now I faced the very real threat of losing my house.").
Ten days before the start of the Tour, Millar was arrested. After sweating it out for two days, Millar finally confessed ("I admitted everything.").
After Millar's release, David Brailsford paid to send Steve Peters down to Biarritz to talk to his Team GB rider ("It was an eye-opening experience. It became clear that I still had a fairly adolescent mentality, relied heavily on father figures and had created behavioural patterns that were destructive and self-perpetuating. He made me understand that most of the decisions I'd made were unavoidable, considering the personality and upbringing I'd had. I then understood that my history, combined with the situations I had found myself in, gave a certain inevitability to everything that had happened.") It must be nice being David Millar, never having to accept personal responsibility.
As well as the law and the taxman, Millar also had to face the cycling authorities. He could have been handed a four-year ban. He expected to receive a one year ban. He got two. (A Belgian rider, Dave Bruylandts (Chocolade Jacques), who was busted for EPO around the same time, faced a four year ban and ended up with eighteen months, even after insisting he'd accidentally ingested EPO in contaminated supplements.). Millar appealed to the CAS, looking for at least a six month reduction ("I had succumbed to Paul-Albert [Iweins]'s sagesse and the advice of others and given the go ahead for an appeal."). He got the date of the commencement of his ban brought forward a couple of months, shaving a Tour off his time away from the peloton.
At this stage, between back taxes, penalties, professional fees (accountants to sort out his tax, lawyers to silence his critics) and other debts, Millar was in hock to the tune of £800k. He had, he says, little or no money in the bank and his only substantive asset was a house in Biarritz, which he eventually lost, covering, he reckoned, half his debts. A lot of people have sympathy for this and think he was hard done by. But pause.
Look at his basic salary: €160k pa for the four years to the end of 2003. He tells us he trousered another €400k in 2001 in bonuses. He does tell us that he pocketed just his basic salary in 2002, because he won so little, but in his confession to Judge Pallain he said he'd actually earned €250k in 2002, suggesting a bonus of €90k of top of his €160k basic. He doesn't tell us how much he trousered in bonuses in 2003, on the back of his best year yet, which was topped by his EPO-induced ITT World Champs victory. Nor does he tell us how much the new 2004-5 contract with Cofidis was worth, just that it made him one of the top paid cyclists out there. In his testimony to Judge Pallain, Millar did put a figure on his expected 2004 earnings: €800k.
On top of all this there are appearance fees and other income to be taken into account. There was an awful lot of money flowing through David Millar's bank accounts in those years. Much of it earned by his use of EPO. But when his creditors knocked on his door and asked for their debts to be paid, all the money had disappeared, except for the house in Biarritz. Millar had to enter into an Individual Voluntary Agreement - a personal form of Chapter 11 - which would see him paying off his debts over a period of four years.
A large chunk of his debt was owed to the French fiscal authorities, in unpaid taxes. Millar wasn't just avoiding paying tax, by having some of his income paid to him in Luxembourg in the form of image rights, which is wholly legal. He was evading tax, which is totally illegal. (Accountancy joke: What's the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion? About five years.). And then, when the taxman caught up with him and asked for his pound of flesh (a hefty pound I'll accept, but once again, Millar demonstrates his numerate illiteracy, not grasping the difference between a marginal rate of tax of 50% and half of everything earned - or if he does he feigns ignorance for the extra sympathy such fudging brings) he also imposed penalties. Which were penal. But that's the point of penalties, they're there to discourage you from breaking the law. What did Millar expect the taxman to do? Slap him on the wrist, send him on his way and tell him not to be such a naughty boy in the future?
Well yes, that's just what Millar expected - because it wasn't his fault. It was IMG's fault. They were his agents and meant to sort all this stuff out for him. When you're David Millar and down in your cups, there's always somebody else to blame. (If it was IMG's fault, why didn't Millar sue them for negligence? Any lawyer worth their salt would take such a slam-dunk case on a no-win no-fee basis.)
Millar spent the first year of his downfall acting out the life of one of Evelyn Waugh's Bright Young Things, flitting about Europe's trendiest hot spots and living off the largesse and patience of friends and acquaintances. He became a drunk, anaesthetising himself with alcohol. He became a pain in the arse. Eventually friends - including Lance Armstrong - forced him to wise up. He began to plan his return to the sport.
Why did he want to return? Why nor simply walk away? Well for one, he had no money. And for two, he had a score to settle ("I wanted to try and right the wrongs, to set the record straight - to prove myself without any doubts.").
Millar's time in the wilderness did not diminish his sense of entitlement, and he expected to be allowed return not just to the sport, but to the top of the sport: the Tour de France. The only problem was there was only one team willing to take him: Saunier Duval, run by Mauro Gianetti, a former pro with a reputation. The rep of having nearly died pumped up on PFC. Millar signed on the dotted line.
That Millar ended up with Saunier Duval ... well it's forgivable. How about his hitching up with Luigi Cecchini upon his return? Millar knew well who he was ("The Italian was one of the most famous coaches in professional cycling, but also one of the most controversial. His clientele was a who's who of famous cyclists. Some, like Bjarne Riis, Tyler Hamilton and Jan Ullrich, are probably better described as infamous."). But Millar saw no problem. He was only looking for a training programme. And he never paid Cecchini anything for his services ("There was never any money involved and it was never even discussed. I'm sure I'm probably the only professional rider he has ever trained for free."). What was Millar thinking? ("In hindsight, despite everything, I was still naïve. [...] But I felt that Max [Sciandri]'s opinion of him was enough reason for me to give him the benefit of the doubt.").
Quite how Millar's relationship with Cecchini became public knowledge and quite why he ended it has various versions. One involves David Brailsford. That would be David Brailsford's version, the version which overlooks how Brailsford and British Cycling were happy to work with Max Sciandri and send young riders to train with him in Tuscany, but were horrified to be directly linked to Sciandri's mentor.
Millar's version of how his relationship with Cecchini ended is that he did it of his own volition soon after Operación Puerto broke and the Spanish gynaecologist Eufemiano Fuentes, the AIGCP president Manolo Saíz and various others were taken into custody ("At first Operación Puerto shocked me. Then it worried me, especially when I began to notice that some of the cyclists implicated had connections to Luigi Cecchini. I had realised, given my history and the media cynicism towards cycling, how my contact with him would be seen.").
Millar returned to the Tour and picked up where he left off, by blowing up in the Pyrénées and completing the race on his knees. It was an epiphanic affair for him ("I'd never consider myself to be that ambitious or driven before, yet I stood there waiting for us to roll out through the start line [of the final stage] knowing that taking part wasn't enough. I wanted to be a racer, not just a finisher. I also knew that nothing I said or claimed about my sport or myself mattered if I didn't show myself to be a winner once again; a clean winner.")
At the Vuelta, he won an ITT stage ("It was the moment I'd been waiting for, certainly since my ban and perhaps since the butterfly récup needle first dropped into my vein all those years before."). Millar won clean, without even recourse to injected recuperation products. Millar wasn't just taking a stand against doping, he was taking a stand against the needle itself, making this clear in his post race press conference: "I want everybody to understand something, even my fellow professional cyclists and the fans who love cycling: I am doing this on nothing, only bread and water. I do not believe in any injections of any sort for recuperation. We can perform at the highest level in cycling without medical help."
When the Cofidis case finally came before a judge at the end of 2006, Millar was acquitted: it could not be proved that he had used EPO within France's borders. Others received suspended sentences. Boguslaw Madejak, the soigneur, got a year in the big house, nine months of it suspended. It's always the soigneurs who take the fall.
Life at Saunier Duval was not going well. At the 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen one team-mate 'delayed' his appearance for the H-test by thirty minutes ("His thirty-minute disappearing act led me to the inevitable conclusion."). Among his team-mates was the young Riccardo Riccó, who "had run amok in Tirreno-Adriatico" and topped that by announcing he would attack on the Poggio at Milan-Sanremo, which he then did. Riccó "had failed haematocrit tests as an amateur" and "was renowned for constantly grazing the upper limit of the blood controls." There was also Iban Mayo, who was target-tested by the UCI at the Tour and eventually had his B-sample shopped around the world's laboratories before an EPO positive could be confirmed.
After the Ronde, Millar spoke to Mauro Gianetti. As at Cofidis, he was ignored. He contacted the UCI. They said they were looking into the matter. But the UCI's chief medical officer, Mario Zorzoli, was friends with Gianetti ("I am not suggesting that this affected Zorzoli's work, but it was indicative of a wider conflict of interests. The UCI's positioning, as both promoters of cycling and guardians of its ethics, has always been controversial."). Millar then wrote to Pat McQuaid, calling on the UCI to ban all needles ("Remove injections of any sort and half the battle is won, in my opinion. We do not need to inject ourselves with vitamins and sugar and amino acids to finish a three-week stage race, that is bullshit. [...] It should be considered a bad thing to inject oneself, not a necessity.").
Then he wrote to the new Tour de France director, Christian Prudhomme as well as McQuaid, asking them both to intervene ("I fear that there is simply a calm before the storm for the moment. If fundamental cultural changes do not take place, I see it all flaring up again in two to three years, and then we're all at the end of the road."). The UCI and ASO were at this stage lost in their petty little feud ("Lost in the midst of all this was the struggle to combat doping.").
Millar decided the only thing now to do was to keep his head down, in order to ensure he made the Saunier Duval Tour squad, as the 2007 grand départ was happening in London. Instead, Gianetti called him in to his office one day and told him he'd heard he'd been talking to the UCI and ASO.
Despite everything that had happened to Millar, it wasn't until the 2007 Tour de France - three years after his fall - that the realisation of what he had actually done to our sport finally hit home. On the race's second rest day, news broke that Alexandre Vinokourov, well known client of Michele Ferrari, had been busted ("I collapsed inside. Vino had been one of my heroes. I loved his attacking style and truly believed if anybody could do it clean, then he could."). Millar broke down in tears. In the Sunday Times, Paul Kimmage, in a coruscating article, condemned Millar and his "tears for a cheat." ("He was wrong. They were not tears for a cheat, nor were they tears of self pity, desperation or fatigue. I wept because suddenly, definitively, I fully understood the gravity of what I'd done to my sport and to everybody who had believed in me, cheered for me, defended me and trusted in me. I'd broken their hearts the way that Vino had broken mine.")
At a post Tour party in Paris, Millar confronted Lance Armstrong, former team-mate, friend and father figure ("I felt he could have done more and should have done more against doping; he was in a position to make a difference and to help his sport, but I never saw any evidence of that.") The previous year, he'd emailed Armstrong to take him to task over Discovery's signing of Ivan Basso ("Basso was still at the centre of the Operación Puerto storm and, due to the tacit agreement between most teams not to sign or race those under investigation, their pursuit of Basso had seemed deliberately provocative. I believed that to be particularly irresponsible and of no help to the state of cycling at the time.").
While all his problems with Saunier Duval were on-going, Millar had been in discussion with Jonathan Vaughters and Doug Ellis to join their new team for the 2008 season onwards. He signed for Slipstream in November 2007, also becoming a part owner of the team. Here he was forced him to come face to face with Paul Kimmage ("Kimmage and I had history."). Millar thought Kimmage was "anti-cycling" and "bitter, small-minded and unforgiving." Kimmage had his own views on David Millar, and what he represented.
Two weeks before the start of the 2008 Tour de France, Kimmage attended the Slipstream training camp in the Pyrénées. He showed Millar some excepts from Jeremy Whittle's newly published Bad Blood in which Kimmage was quoted condemning Millar: "I find it hard to accept that [Millar] is now being heralded as a whistle-blower. He didn't blow any whistles, didn't do any favours to cycling. [...] When I see Millar welcomed back like a hero ... I mean - I tried to do the sport a service. But he hasn't shat on any of his pals, he's still playing the game, still respecting the omertà. [...] Millar should not have been let back into the sport. He should have been banned for life. Until the sport does that, there's no chance."
Millar's take? "I didn't think Paul was objective about cycling." Millar is particularly put out by an article Kimmage wrote about the Etape du Tour in 2006 ("In the piece, he had belittled all those who took part, making them sound like complete imbeciles for wanting to emulate professional cyclists."). The topic of the Etape we'll return to in a few weeks when we turn to Bella Bathurst's The Bicycle Book - Bathurst is even more down on the Etape than Kimmage was. Millar's point though was that, in his mind, Kimmage was - and continues to be - just "an embittered fanatic" who "had never forgiven cycling for what he perceived it had done to him."
There's a story I should tell from Miller's first year at Cofidis. At the team presentation he sidles up to "a small clique of British journalists." He asks if any of them know Stephen Farrand: "Well you can tell him I haven't forgotten about the slagging he gave us after the Junior Worlds in San Marino. The bastard. I hope he remembers, because I won't forget." Farrand stepped forward and Millar was silenced. But Millar never forgot. Millar is a man who settles his debts. No matter how long it takes.
What is the difference between Kimmage and Millar? I think this is an important question, for in many ways Racing Through The Dark is this generation's version of Kimmage's seminal A Rough Ride. At the heart of it, I guess the difference is that Kimmage blamed the UCI. While Millar does have some criticism for the UCI, mostly he blames the management of Cofidis and Saunier Duval (even there he retains sympathy for Gianetti). For Kimmage, nothing changed, the UCI only got worse in the two decades after A Rough Ride was published. For Millar, things have changed, he's now at a team which takes an approach radically different to those taken at his previous teams.
The biggest difference I suppose is that, toward the end of Racing Through The Dark, the Gone With The Whinge element (© William Fotheringham) that characterises Kimmage's book - and Millar's - disappears and Millar is able to talk about cycling with a passion previously absent. Throughout the first part of the book - the Fall - cycling hardly ever seems to make Millar happy, not even when he's winning. Millar seems like Graeme Obree, each win just opening up more pain as it needs to be repeated, to be bettered. But toward the end - the Rise - that changes. Little things matter. Millar becomes joyous, not about winning, just about surviving, just about riding. Millar finally earns your respect.
* * * * *
Racing Through The Dark then is David Millar's story, the current version of that story. That 'current version' bit needs to be stressed, Millar has flexed his story down through the years. He claimed to have told the authorities everything after they sweated a confession out of him, but it was clear then - and is even more clear now - that this was a lie. He has offered excuses for his doping that I wonder if even he really believes. I find it very hard to accept that a man as intelligent as David Millar does not accept personal responsibility for his own actions, even while I acknowledge the pressures of the environment he existed in.
What Racing Through The Dark is not is the story of the past fifteen years of this sport. It lacks the perspective to be that. Look at just two men who were on that Cofidis squad with David Millar back at the end of the nineties: David Moncoutié and Frank Vandenbroucke. They hardly feature in Racing Through The Dark but they are the men who put Millar's story into perspective. They each represent what Millar could have been: clean, or dead. Is Millar a bigger hero than Moncoutié? Not in my book. Does he deserve more sympathy that Vandenbroucke? Not in my book.
David Millar chose to dope and got a second chance. In that second life he has begun to atone for some of the damage he did to our sport first time round. We will be a long time yet repairing that damage.