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I believe in second chances and reinvention. And if ever there were a cyclist who took those second chances and reinvented themselves for the greater good, it is David Millar. For that reason he is a personal hero and a Cycling Character.

I believe in second chances and reinvention.

And if ever there were a cyclist who took those second chances and reinvented themselves for the greater good, it is David Millar. For that reason he is a personal hero and a Cycling Character.

David Millar - Saunier Duval
David Millar, warming up in Saunier Duval colours in 2007, the year he returned from suspension.

Millar was born to a pilot in Malta, and spent most of his childhood in Hong Kong. He only moved to the UK aged 18, where he showed immediate and immense promise. Off he trotted straight to France, where he won eight races straight off the bat, and six top pro teams offered him contracts. He went with Cofidis, aged 20.

So to the Tour De France in 2000. Millar won in his debut kilometres, blitzing the prologue. He cried with shock and happiness and A Star Was Born. In the next few years he quickly gained the dreaded label of Next Greatest Tour Winner and the pressure mounted.

The path that lead to his taking EPO is a complicated one, and this blog is long enough. But suffice to say he was caught and was banned in 2004, months after he’d won the title he sought so badly, the World Time Trial Championship. He’d won it doped.

So why the forgiveness? I loathe many riders for taking drugs. But I love Millar. What gives?

It is his true-to-his-word response, attitude and above all his absolute determination to help cycling get over doping that make him a hero to me. It’s not easy to hit rock bottom (he spent his first year of suspension drunk, until Dave Brailsford took him under his wing) and and pull yourself up as best you can. There will be many who cast a suspicious and hateful eye over him, whatever he does. Speaking up against the ‘Omerta’ that existed (exists?) in pro cycling regards doping is not an easy thing for a rider to do. But Millar is no sociopath. He had to live with himself.

Millar is a highly intelligent, emotional and outspoken rider. He’s not afraid to say it as it is and not play to the accepted politics or correct PR twist of a situation. He’s perceptively fallible and totally open, and that is what makes him real and human, not just a press conference version of reality, as most pros are, or are trained to be. He is not obviously likeable. His seemingly confrontational style conflicts with the metered and watered down soundbites of many in cycling. But all this makes him a greater, realer person in my eyes. In life we all have made mistakes. Some small but cringing. Some dark and unsayable.

Never trust anyone who claims to have lead a blameless life.

David Millar, time -trialling, Garmin - Slipstream.
Millar Time Trialling, his forte, with Garmin, the strongly anti-doping team he owns with similarly outspoken personality Jonathan Vaughters.

If we are only ever judged on our mistakes, how can we get on in life? How can we improve the greater good with the knowledge and harsh lessons we’ve learnt? People who have made their mistakes and used them positively deserve our respect. They have matured and admitted to themselves their failings, and all the self-loathing that brings. For intrinsicly good people those misdeeds stays fresh in the memory for life and colour actions in the future. Denial brings evil.

To live in the public eye and be so coruscatingly honest about every stage and thought process when you do something wrong (of course, not even seen as wrong by a large part of the cycling community, and even many fans) shows great bravery, as Millar was about his use of EPO.

I was going to write this anyway, but Millar’s non-ghost-written autobiography, Racing Through The Dark is out in the 16th of June and promises more painful honesty, wit and intelligence.

Racing Through The Dark - David Millar
David Millar’s self-penned autobiography.

I’d like to leave you with this. No one put Wouter Weylandts’s recent death into perspective better than David Millar. The day he won the Maglia Rosa turned into a day of grief, not joy for Millar, and his statesman-like, emotional but controlled words show us where his future is heading. As a respected leader and spokesman for cycling and cyclists:

"I will wear the pink jersey tomorrow, but it will be in memory of Wouter, there is no celebration or glory, only sadness. I will discuss with Tyler [Farrar], Leopard and the family of Wouter what we as a peloton will do tomorrow. Farrar was a close friend of Weylandt and the American apparently dropped his bike at the finish when he was told of the news. Within our team we have one of Wouter’s best friends, Tyler, in a way he was Ty’s European brother. The next few days are going to be very difficult for us as racing cyclists, but for Tyler, and the friends and family of Wouter it is going to be a lifetime of loss.

I love cycling, and I’ve always been enchanted by the epic scale of it all, it was why I fell in love with it as a boy. Yet Wouter’s death today goes beyond anything that our sport is supposed to be about, it is a tragedy that we as sportsmen never expect, yet we live with it daily, completely oblivious to the dangers we put ourselves in. This is a sad reminder to us, the racers, what risks we take and what lives we lead.

Wouter was a sprinter, this means he was one of the most skilful bike handlers in the peloton, for this to have happened to him shows that we are all at risk every single kilometer we race. My wife was in tears when I spoke to her after the race because she couldn’t understand why the live television was showing him receiving medical attention when in such a horrific state. All she could imagine was that it was me. I haven’t told her yet, that like her, Wouter’s girlfriend is five months pregnant. I am trying to imagine what that would be like to see the person I love most in the world in those circumstances. I can’t, and in honesty, I don’t want to."


  1. Fantastic perspective. Nothing as straightforward asit seems at first. Few have emerged from a doping ban with any credit but DM is different – and is to be admired in many ways. I am not sure I can get comfortable with general principle of letting people back into the Olympics but if ever there was a justifiable argument it is here.

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