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Exclusive interview: David Millar reveals his vision of a drug-free future for cycling

HE has long ploughed a lone furrow, the outspoken former drugs cheat turned high profile anti-doping campaigner.

David Millar en route to victory on stage 12 of this year's Tour de France. Picture: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
David Millar en route to victory on stage 12 of this year's Tour de France. Picture: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

But in recent weeks David Millar has suddenly found himself with growing company as a raft of confessions have spewed forth from the cycling world. The furore surrounding the Lance Armstrong saga, which led to the US cyclist being stripped of his record seven Tour de France wins and banned for life by the UCI last month, has led to the sport's murky past being dredged up yet again.

In the last week, two key members of Team Sky's backroom staff – Bobby Julich and Steven de Jongh – have resigned in light of their own admissions to links with cycling's once rampant doping culture. While Millar views the copious skeletons tumbling from the closet as long overdue, he is less enamoured with the sport's reputation once more being dragged through the gutter.

"That's what is pissing me off no end," the Scot told Herald Sport. "The fact we are having to regurgitate all this stuff when the sport is actually clean now. When I say clean, it's not 100% clean, but you can win the biggest races clean now, which wasn't possible a few years ago. That's a massive leap forward .

"It's something we have been working really hard at, chipping away inch by inch to get to where we are today. It feels like the perception of our sport has been shot back 10 years, which isn't just."

Suspended from professional cycling between 2004 and 2006 after admitting to taking the banned blood boosting hormone erythropoietin (EPO), Millar, 35, now sits on the athletes' commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

In 2007, he joined US-based outfit Slipstream, currently known as Garmin-Sharp, which he co-owns alongside retired cyclist and fellow openly repentant ex-doper Jonathan Vaughters. The team has taken a staunch role in leading the charge to clean up pro-cycling.

Millar has previously made no secret of the fact he would liked to have been part of the Team Sky set-up: something team principal David Brailsford, in line with his "zero tolerance" policy, has always made clear was not an option.

Brailsford's much-vaunted ethos, however, was dealt a serious blow when Michael Barry – who retired in September after three years with Team Sky – admitted to doping between 2002-2006 in testimony contained in the US Anti-Doping Agency's damning report against Armstrong. Sky's subsequent insistence that all riders and staff sign an agreement stating they have no past or present involvement in doping led to the departures of Julich and de Jongh. Last weekend directeur sportif, Sean Yates, retired abruptly, citing "health reasons".

Curiously, given his past assertion that Sky's stance doesn't work, Millar appears reticent to go for the jugular when asked if it's a case of attempting to close the stable door after the horse has bolted, deftly batting away the suggestion that he himself must now feel vindicated. "They are in a position where they have a zero tolerance policy and have to fully enforce it," he said. "Their policy is different from everyone else's, but it's still good for the sport. They are a new team, they can act differently, but for most of us it's not as simple as that. We have to deal with the past and live with it.

"Two of the teams that are doing the most, albeit in completely different ways, are mine and Sky. The majority of teams aren't doing anything, they aren't even acknowledging what is going on. Our teams are in the firing line when we are probably two of the only ones working hard to make a difference.

"We stand together," he added. "We have different outlooks on it, but that doesn't mean we aren't following the same hymn sheet. We all have to adhere to a clean vision. Each team has a different culture and history, but as long as we have the same ultimate goal, that's what matters."

Like Barry, Millar's Garmin-Sharp team-mates, David Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson, provided testimony for the USADA report. The trio are each currently serving a six-month ban until March 1, 2013. Was Millar aware of their doping histories when they joined Slipstream in 2008?

"We were all aware of each other's pasts in some way," he said. "If you are above a certain age and have been on certain teams, it's not rocket science. It has always been like that within the sport, but it wasn't something you would talk about. They are mistakes, it's not something you are proud of.

"We didn't have deep and meaningful conversations, asking about each other's doping pasts. What I knew about them was that they had never been recognised from the peloton as being abusive, serial dopers. Within the peloton you know who's who and who does what. You know who the ring leaders, instigators and hardcore element are – and the guys who were the fringe, who made mistakes and regret it.

"I always knew those [Danielson, Vande Velde and Zabriskie] were the guys on the fringe, that they weren't the real bad guys, as many of us weren't. It wasn't a surprise, but they weren't details we had ever spoken about."

In a twist of irony, just as Millar is seeing the sport cleaned up, his own time in cycling is drawing to a close. When he spoke with Herald Sport last year, the rider admitted he quite fancied retiring at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 with "a block party – go out in style." It's a notion he's still toying with. "That's at the back of my mind," he said. "I will have to see how next year goes. I'm getting to that point where I'm starting to have to make decisions about what to do afterwards.

"It's up in the air about how much longer I'll do as a pro, but I'll definitely still go on until then. After that I'll make the decision about how much further I'll go and if I do [continue riding]. The Commonwealth Games is something I can't wait for. I think it will be great fun, especially after the Olympics this year. It will be a similar sort of feeling in Glasgow."

Millar is famously known as a poetic soul in the peloton: who does he recognise as sharing that romanticism? "Michael Barry, for sure," he said. "Christian Vande Velde. I reckon Taylor Phinney. He's young, but a funny, charismatic guy who is passionate about it all. Mark Cavendish, too. All my friends, really."

Does he believe that young riders coming into cycling fully respect and understand the unspoken gentleman's rules of the sport? "I think they do," said Millar, before pausing and catching himself. "Well, I say that. Some do – most don't. The sport is becoming more and more ruthless: harder, faster and with more at stake. It's cleaner now, but ironically less friendly. It was much more respectful in the old days: it's a dog-eat-dog world now."

French was always the traditional language of the peloton, but even that is changing, said Millar. "It's mostly English now," he said ruefully. "Even the Italians and the French try to speak English. Perhaps that is why it has become more dog-eat-dog, as things have become more anglicised. I guess it's all part and parcel of the progression of the sport."

He is sanguine when asked where cycling goes from here. "We have to survive this essentially," he said. "What is being regurgitated is not representative of the sport today. We have to keep trying to get that point across.

"It's not going to be easy. There have been so many scandals it feels like Groundhog Day. What people have to remember is that this the big one we were waiting for, so that finally, once and for all, we can move forward."

Calls for the resignation of former UCI chief, Hein Verbruggen, as honourary president in the wake of the Armstrong affair . . .

"The UCI has to act in a manner that is going to give us confidence and part of that is dealing with their past and acknowledging that mistakes were made. I don't think that has been done yet. They are at a crossroads and they need to choose the right direction, because they haven't got much margin for error."

Whether UCI president, Pat McQuaid, should have fallen on his sword . . .

"You have to understand, if we are being pragmatic about the sport's politics, if Pat goes who takes over? Although he has incredibly strong ties to Hein [Verbruggen], the bottom line is that, under his watch as UCI president, the sport has got a lot cleaner, so we can't take that away either. Pat has got to restore our faith in him, which I think he can do, but he has to figure out how, because, at the moment, we are all very disillusioned."

Those who chose not to admit to doping . . .

"That's up to them, isn't it,? If they chose to live a lie. This is the easiest time they will ever have to come out. I would recommend coming out now and being part of the storm."

How many others have still to come forward and confess their doping pasts?

"Oh f***, there's dozens. The thing never stops."

His and Jonathan Vaughters' chosen path of penance . . .

"It's gone beyond personal atonement or redemption – it's something we truly believe in. We love our sport and want to be part of its future. We are proud to have made a difference."

His thoughts on next year's Tour de France route . . .

"There is no doubt it's going to be a magic edition. They are going to have to pull out all the stops to rectify the damage that has been done. L'Alpe d'Huez twice in one day? That's going to be spectacular."

Mark Cavendish's move from Sky to Omega Pharma-QuickStep . . .

"It's a great step for him. Sky was a brilliant experience for him – and he made the right decision at the time – but the bottom line is Mark needs to have a whole team dedicated to him. Every other team expects him to control the race and is racing to beat him.

He needs a team defending him – and I think he will have one of the best in the world doing that next year."

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