Tour de France: 'I became world champion on dope,' Millar tells French police

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The British cyclist David Millar has confessed to French police about his regular use of the banned drug erythropoietin (EPO), admitting he had "become world champion on dope".

The British cyclist David Millar has confessed to French police about his regular use of the banned drug erythropoietin (EPO), admitting he had "become world champion on dope".

The French newspaper L'Equipe yesterday published extensive extracts of the statements the Scottish rider made to the police when he was taken into custody at the beginning of this month. They revealed that Millar had made crucial use of EPO - a drug which raises the level of red blood cell production, increasing the body's oxygen-carrying capacity - in 2001 and 2003 as part of his preparation for those years' key autumn events.

It was the discovery by French police of two syringes containing EPO, which Millar had used in the run-up to last year's world championship, that led to his period in custody and subsequent confession.

"I had taken the syringes back home as an aide-mémoire, a way of reminding myself that I had become world champion on dope," Millar told police. "You take drugs because you are trapped by yourself, by glory, by money. I believe that those two syringes were the witnesses of how ashamed I felt to have used drugs. I wasn't proud of doing it, I wasn't happy. I was the prisoner of the person I had become."

Millar had begun using EPO, he claimed, because of the pressure to produce results following a near-disastrous Tour de France in 2001 when he crashed in the prologue. "I knew I wasn't at a good level, but that I had a chance to get a good result by taking risks," he said. "I ended up hitting the barriers, and I went through 10 days of atrocious suffering physically and psychologically before abandoning."

That proved the turning point, Millar claimed, and he decided to start taking illegal drugs. It was during that Tour, and seeing that he was going so badly, that another rider in the peloton - an individual whom Millar named in his statement - told him that he should prepare really well for the Tour of Spain. Millar said: "I understood what he meant."

The Scot made a trip to Italy with the same person to try to stage a comeback, "buying EPO from different suppliers. I would wait in the car for him and then pay 400 francs for each syringe I took."

Millar blamed his decision to use EPO on the pressure of achieving in the sport, particularly after being made Cofidis team leader in 1999.

He said: "In 1999 I was very tired and I did not feel like cycling anymore. I started partying all the time during the summer and that's when I broke my heel and was forced out for four months until the start of 2000.

"I had a lot of problems resuming training and I was not happy in my professional life.

"There was also the pressure from Cofidis. I felt as the leader I knew I had to participate in the Tour de France. I resumed training, won the prologue (at the Poitiers Futuroscope) and I had three great weeks.

"I took EPO because I knew that the Cofidis team was going to Spain for La Vuelta on the condition that I would do it and get a result. I could feel the pressure.

"As I was not happy in my personal life I had based everything on my sporting career. I felt people only saw me as a cyclist.

"After taking EPO for the 2001 Vuelta I was not well. I was a cheater. I had crossed the line and I did not feel good about it. I drugged myself up because my job was to be well ranked. There were the magazines in England, the sports papers, the television, who were expecting my good results, and I did not want to be criticised."

Britain's most successful male cyclist of his generation, Millar took a silver medal in the World Championships time trial event, held in October, in 2001, and a gold in 2003. He also won the prologue and a stage of the Tour of Spain in September 2001. The statements, which for the first time give specific dates for the Cofidis professional's drug consumption, are set to cost Millar his world titles. According to the regulations of cycling's governing body, the UCI, the 27-year-old Scot's statements to police can be treated as a positive dope test if confirmed as accurate.

"Normally, one cannot use declarations of a penal instruction which are confidential", a UCI member said yesterday.

"But if Millar recognises what he has said, either publicly or before a disciplinary committee, then it's not necessary to wait for the end of the penal procedure."

Millar is on the point of becoming team-less as well as medal-less. A Cofidis official has said that a letter confirming his expulsion from the squad is in the post to the Scot.

Millar's sister and agent, Fran, confirmed the veracity of the declarations published in L'Equipe. "What it says is a word-for-word account of what David told police," she said. Miller has also admitted taking EPO on his personal website. Her statement will further increase the likelihood of the UCI awarding the 2003 World Championships time trial event to the Australian Michael Rogers, second behind Millar last year.

Millar then regularised his supply of EPO by, he claimed, working with the Spanish doctor Jesus Losa, the team medic for leading Tour squad Euskaltel-Euskadi. Following Millar's detention, Losa did not come to France with his squad and he was then suspended by Euskaltel after a limited form of Millar's declarations was leaked to the press three weeks ago.

The latest version of Millar's statements will increase the pressure on Losa with Millar alleging bluntly: "I put my life and career in his hands, and I paid him 12,000 euros a year. It was me that asked Losa to give me EPO, I took two doses in May and August of 2003." Losa is not available for comment.

Part of the attraction, to judge from Millar's confession, was undoubtedly financial: "I was earning 250,000 euros a year as a fixed salary, and that year I would make 800,000."

Yesterday Millar had a face-to-face confrontation with former Cofidis rider Phillipe Gaumont in Paris as part of the ongoing investigation into the Scot's team. Gaumont had already accused Millar of doping during the 2003 Tour in his own declarations to French police, something the Scot has categorically denied up until now. In the meeting, neither side changed their version.

Millar is not due to have another meeting with the French authorities though he remains under formal investigation for the possession of banned substances, which is a criminal offence in France.

Millar also faces a disciplinary hearing with the British Cycling Federation in Manchester, where he will be given a penalty of anything up to a life suspension.

Dave Brailsford, a British Cycling official, said: "A decision will be made in due course after the hearing has taken place in the very near future, probably within the next 10 days." Whatever happens the sporting career of a rider who in late June was considered major Olympic contender and well en route to take the yellow jersey in the early part of the Tour de France appears to be over. In just five weeks, his world has collapsed completely.