Cycling: Millar out to turn wheel of history in new cycle of existence

Britain's former world time trial champion talks to Alasdair Fotheringham about his two-year drugs ban and unique ambition for the Tour de France
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The Independent Online

The last time you could look at David Millar's website - before his drugs confessions and two-year ban from professional cycling, that is - the Briton's favourite film was, he said, Requiem for A Dream. Said by the Radio Times Guide to Films to "portray the highs and lows of drug-taking to chilling effect", it would be fair to apply that description to the world Millar used to inhabit.

Drugs, after all, had helped him to become world time trial champion by a country mile in September 2003. But, in June 2004, armed gendarmes burst into his flat in Biarritz where he was caught with two used syringes - later discovered to have contained the banned drug erythropoietin (EPO).

The two-year ban he was given expired a week ago, and this spring a wafer-thin, almost two-metre tall figure kitted out in the bright yellow colours of the Spanish team Saunier Duval-Prodir has often been spotted by motorists on the roads around Manchester.

Meet David Millar mark two, repentant, but determined to prove that his druggy days are behind him. He is now planning to defy conventional wisdom by winning the prologue of the Tour de France, which takes place today in Strasbourg, with no previous racing at all. No one in cycling history has ever tried to do that.

If he has changed, however, shedding his old skin has not been a pretty process: "I spent nine months after getting banned from cycling drunk, smoking and partying," he admits. "I just wanted to forget. But then I realised that I still loved the sport, that I still wanted to be part of it. And to prove that I can win clean."

Millar has been accused, of having "failed to be sorry enough" and blaming everybody else bar himself for his banned drugs use, something the Scot disputes.

"I never once blamed anybody," he argues. "Not the team, and not the guy I got the stuff from in the first place... In 48 hours of interrogation I've never said it was the system's fault.

"If I wanted to blame everybody, I could get a shit-list together of people to point the finger at from when I was 16, 10 or 12 people... But I was the one who said 'yes', at every single fork in the road. There are a thousand other people who wouldn't have. I did it. I took the EPO, so it was 100 per cent my fault."

Millar has quickly settled into a new life in a small village in - compared to Biarritz - relatively staid rural North-west England. He is close to where a former team-mate from his time at Cofidis, Rob Hayles, is now living. His mentor, Mike Taylor, one of those unsung heroes of sport who has spent countless unpaid hours helping cyclists through tough times, is also in nearby Chapel-le-Frith.

"It's a cycling heartland up there, so in a sense I've gone back to the roots I never had. When I lost everything, and went back to the UK, I realised I do fit in there as well as anywhere else and I actually like it."

"Those two syringes that the police found were not lying around for nothing. There was a reason for that. I needed to get out, it was an extreme thing to do, but it had to happen." He claims that there was, in fact, a part of him that actually wanted to be found out.

Millar has had some huge support on his return to the straight and narrow, with British Cycling, the UK's federation, being one key collaborator, providing advice, support and the use of their facilities in Manchester.

Millar has returned the favour by offering to work with young riders to make them see that doping is not a practical way forward.

"I won big races doing gear and not doing gear and I almost lost everything in the process." Having all the information, rather than just one side - he calls it "giving the real picture" - is, Millar believes, a much more powerful weapon in the battle against doping than just preaching, "Don't do drugs". "It's less boring, too," he concludes with a grin.

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