Cycling: Millar faces a two-year ban in drugs saga

The Cofidis doping investigation makes Athens recede into the distance for Britain's top road cyclist
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The minimal information available this week on David Millar's website says it all: just like its owner's career, the site has ground to a dramatic and unplanned halt. "We are waiting [for] instructions from his lawyers," says the one three-line note, dated 25 June, which also states that Britain's top road cyclist was released after 48 hours in French police custody on Thursday evening.

No mention, then, of Friday's reports in the French sports newspaper L'Equipe of the Scot's alleged confession that he had used two syringes worth of Eprex, the commercial form of the performance-enhancing drug EPO.

Nor is there any reference to the police raid on the 27-year-old's Continental home in Biarritz, where the empty syringes were said to have been found.

In fact, up until Thursday's bleak communiqué, the website was very much an extension of Millar's articulate and outgoing character. Entitled "It's Millar Time", the catch-phrase borrowed from an advert when he burst on to the scene with a superb win in the opening time-trial stage of the 2000 Tour de France, it does not just feature the usual bland diet of racing pictures.

Instead, and just a couple of centimetres away from Thursday's statement, the site also shows shots of the grinning Scot drinking a cup of tea, of all things, and wearing a T-shirt bearing the irreverent logo "Pimp Daddy".

This offbeat, independent-minded attitude to his sport, and to life,led him once to abandon the Tour of Spain in protest at dangerous race conditions. He also warned the Tour's organisers that "if they really want to fight against doping, they'll stop having stages 220 kilometres long." But well before Tuesday, allegations that Millar could form part of the five-month doping inquiry into his team, Cofidis, had been made by a former team-mate, Phillipe Gaumont. Eight individuals are already under formal investigation for infringingFrench drugs laws.

Yet following the end of Cofidis's month-long period of suspension from racing, and after illness caused by an allergy to a skin cream, Millar appeared to have put the allegations behind him and be back on track for an ambitious hat-trick of objectives: stage wins in the Tour, a gold medal in the time trial in Athens and a repeat of his 2003 World Championships time-trial win.

Instead, it all went pearshaped: on Tuesday night, having been pulled in at a Biarritz restaurant, Millar found himself answering the French police's questions.

Earlier the same day, he had pulled out on the last stage of the Route du Sud stage-race. "I only quit because I was tired," he told The Independent over the phone while driving back to Biarritz, "but I'm still on for July." He now appears unlikely to be taking part at all: the Tour de France issued a grimly worded statement on Friday, saying they would not let any rider implicated in a doping scandal start the event.

There was no specific mention of Millar or his team-mate Cedric Vasseur, currently under investigation for trafficking but still racing, but reading between the lines was hardly a difficult process.

Cofidis are similarly determined to head off any signs of doping. A statement on Friday says Millar has been summoned "to explain his declarations", and that they will apply their "zero-tolerance policy on doping if necessary". Nor is Millar out of the legal woods. He is due for a meeting on 1 July with the judge responsible for the Cofidis investigation, Richard Pallain.

In the very worst case, Millar would not only be teamless and Tour-less. If confirmed, his declarations would be equi-valent to a positive dope test, his first, with a potential two-year ban and no chance of riding at the Olympics.

Small wonder that since Thursday he has remained closeted with lawyers, making no public comments. At least until he breaks that silence, Dave Brailsford, the director of Britain's World Class Performance Plan, who oversee Millar's Olympic bid, told The Independent: "For now, Dave continues to form part of the Athens squad. We are acting on the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise." Brailsford also said he has been in very recent contact with Millar, but refused to discuss any conversations.

He did add that he understood the Tour's actions in that "the sport needs to look after its image". but British Cycling's even-handed stance is a timely reminder that Millar could yet be given the all-clear by French police and find himself with battered credibility but still with a chance of riding the Tour.

However, until the rider himself goes beyond Thursday's three-line website statement, speculation that Britain's leading cyclist is facing his grimmest-ever summer will continue to mount.

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for 'Cycling Weekly'