David Millar: 'Britain must find the next Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish'
Scot says not enough is being done to prolong the UK's golden era. He tells Alasdair Fotheringham about his vision for cycling's future
For a vision of cycling's past and future, few riders are better positioned than David Millar. So, when the Scot claims British Cycling should be doing more to ensure a legacy from its golden generation, the governing body would do well to take note.
The 36-year-old has seen the nation move from having a handful of professionals to the point where Team Sky and riders from these islands dominate the sport.
"After what Cav [Mark Cavendish] and Wiggo [Bradley Wiggins] and Sky have done, we need to start focusing on creating more of our own racing scene," he says.
"Probably the next step is to bring the racing to Britain on a bigger scale, give more opportunities to juniors, the under-23 level and schoolkids to race their bikes on home roads or closed circuits.
"We need to start looking at the base of the pyramid because nobody knows if Sky and the Cavs and Wiggos might be gone a few years from now. And then what happens? Then it could all disappear again. We have to think long-term."
Millar's professional career began 16 years ago, cycling's equivalent of the Dark Ages both for the current crop of neo-pros – he has new team-mates in his Garmin-Sharp squad who could barely ride a bike then – and in terms of its fight against doping.
He has won stages and led in all three major Tours, and has also turned his career around after a two-year drugs suspension in 2004 to become one of the sport's most articulate anti-doping crusaders.
Millar's will be a mixed legacy when he one day leaves the sport, but he is in no doubt Britain is in a position to lay unequivocally impressive foundations for his successors. There is enough interest now, he says, as a result of recent success and the Sky sponsorship story, for another GB World Tour team.
"It's sort of ridiculous that we wouldn't have another one, even if there has been tons of negative press around cycling recently," Millar says. "It's proven that the long-term benefits of sponsorship are there, and it's a bit of a no-brainer [because] what you get back no other sport can offer you in levels of exposure. The opportunity is there."
In the short-term, the rivalry at Sky between Wiggins and Chris Froome has brought a bit of spice to this season and helped prolong the heightened interest in the team's fortunes.
In 1997, Millar's first professional year, the Tour was marked, much as this year's will be, by a rivalry between an up-and-coming talent, in Telekom's Jan Ullrich, who went on to win that year, and an older team-mate who was the defending champion, Bjarne Riis.
But the Briton expects Sky will avoid having to endure any internal strife. "They're in a situation which most teams would love to have with two general classification contenders for the overall [title]," says Millar. "As long as it's handled well, and in the last year, from the outside, the signs were they did, they should be fine. Look at last year's Tour result: first and second. You can't do better than that."
Sky will not suffer from a shortage of external rivals, anyway. Millar's team-mate Ryder Hesjdal, Garmin-Sharp's defending Giro d'Italia champion, will be Wiggins's biggest threat in the race in Italy in May, while Millar warns that cycling's greatest stage racer, Alberto Contador, who was not present on the 2012 Tour, will make life far harder for everyone in the premier event this time around.
"Contador can be a man possessed," Millar says. "If there's one guy that they should fear, it's him, because he's the one who never gives up. It'll be a spectacular race."
The doping issues which have tainted cycling have not hit Sky directly in any major way, although rumours and innuendo around the sport recently provoked Sir Dave Brailsford, Sky's team principal, into an angry outburst underlining his continued commitment to the team riding clean.
Further success will only bring more questions and the doping cloud which hangs over cycling looks set to stay. Millar's solution would be a truth and reconciliation-type committee which could deliver a decisive blow in the battle against drugs.
He also cites the US Anti-Doping Agency's strategy of meting out six-month bans to team-mates of the disgraced Lance Armstrong, who confessed in a Usada investigation, as one way forward. "The whole point about reconciliation is to be able to draw a line in the sand, have a new starting point," says Millar. "Until we know everything that happened in the past, face those facts and get it out now, only then can we move forward.
"We can't have these stories coming out in the middle of the Tour de France, that such-and-such a rider from such-and-such a year did drugs and so on ad infinitum. The bottom line is: if you did something in the past you should be punished for it, but that punishment should be realistic. We don't need lifetime bans for what people admit to having done 10 years ago.
"Take the example of what Usada did with the Armstrong file. If we hadn't had six-month bans, then the riders [Armstrong's team-mates] wouldn't have spoken out and then we'd have been nowhere again. It's a fine line we've got to walk.
"We have to be pragmatic about this. Even if some guys get six-month bans when they probably deserve much more, it helps us in the long run to clean up the sport and move on."
The way to manage that approach? "A totally independent commission that looks into the last 15 or 20 years and tells us where the responsibilities [for its past] lie," says Millar.
"That's something we're still not confronting. There are a lot of unanswered questions and conspiracy theories. Without a commission like that we will not move forward."
Wiggins still in the hunt in Catalonia
After a solid opening day in the Tour of Catalonia, Bradley Wiggins stayed in contention for overall victory as Belgium's Gianni Meersman won a mass sprint finish for his second successive stage triumph.
Meersman beat Italian rider Daniele Ratto and Brett Lancaster of Australia to the line at the end of a 160.7km stage from Girona to Banyoles. The Belgian, riding for Omega Pharm-Quick Step, made a break from the bunch sprint with 200m remaining, to match his entire 2012 tally for stage victories. He now stands 14 seconds ahead of second-placed Valerio Agnoli in the general classification, with Wiggins, who finished in the bunch, in eighth, 20sec behind Meersman.
* Olympic silver medallist Rolf Sorensen has admitted to doping during his successful years in the 1990s. "It is time that I too – long overdue – admit to having been part of the EPO era that was a part of the Nineties," said Sorensen, who won silver at the Olympic Games road race in Atlanta in 1996.
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