Today Maria Sharapova, the winner of five grand-slam tennis tournaments, received a two- year ban for failing a drugs test. It’s an old story, from hero to villain quicker than Honk Kong Phooey could do a karate chop. And he really was a super guy. What do I know about cycling? Not a lot. If I cycle along the cycle path to Clydebank, which is about a mile, I expect people to stand aside and applaud as I pass and to hold out bottles of water (or stronger stuff, wink, wink) to keep me going. That’s where David Miller went wrong.
It’s a familiar narrative told in simple short sentences that grind through the gears of story-telling. As Millar recalls, ‘I was born in Malta… I’ve always thought of myself as a Scot.’ Dad was a pilot in the RAF, retraining as a civilian pilot and relocating to Honk Kong. Mum was a housewife. They divorce. David goes to private school in Honk Kong, graduates from BMX bikes to proper racers, Junior World Championship, professional cyclist and becomes a star wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Well, it’s not quite that easy, but I’m giving the boring bits the karate chop.
David was one of the few British and English speaking cyclists. Miguel Indurain was the main man. David was expected to learn French and to learn about how far he could take his body and then turn it up a notch, then two, then ten. Suffering was his vocation. Bike riding was destroying yourself day after day after day and getting on your bike again to do it more and to do it better. David was nineteen. He didn’t catch on at first that other professional riders were going missing, had fridges in their rooms and were doping. He naively thought people talking about doping were jealous of other rider’s success and looking for an excuse to bring them down to more mortal level. That naivety didn’t go away. Millar’s autobiography published in 2011; he’s already been caught doping and is out of the sport. But he’s determined to be clean. One of the people he bumps into is Lance Armstrong. They’ve been in the same team, competed against each other, but Millar is appalled he’s made a drunken fool of himself with Armstrong.
Only the foolish get caught. For David it began with recovery injections at Tierenno. The drug authority, UCI, were testing for the use of EPO, and in a desperate attempt to race the erythropoietin out of their system the pre-race training, usually a stroll, turned into a gladiatorial contest. ‘The stages were all fast and crazy… I did everything I could to hold the wheel in front of me…Robbie Mc Ewan, the Australian sprinter screamed, ‘FUCKING JUST STOP! THIS IS NOT FUCKING BIKE RACING’.
But it was. Injections of iron vitamins. Trust the doctor. Recovery injections. They don’t work, but who cares, they might work. EPO, Amphetamines, Antibiotics, Cortisone, Testerone and pills to help you sleep, help you recover. These do work. Tried and tested. The end justifies the mean. If you want to win don’t leave yourself short, do what everyone else does.
Prize money and sponsorship money follows winners, not losers. Dopers like Sharapova lose their sponsor and lose their means of making a living. Millar had money in the bank. A partially completed home in Biarritz worth millions. Then he got hit with a tax bill which wiped him out. Here Millar makes claim to virtue. He was determined to pay back every cent he owed. He could have gone bankrupt but did not. Whoop-te-doo, he sure is a super guy. My sympathy lies with those hardheads at the French tax office. Guys making millions should be paying tax is the stance I’d support. I just wish some of the Tory supporters that ostensibly reside in Monaco were hunted down in the same way.
David comes back into the riding game. One of his team mates piss him off a bit – Bradley Wiggins plays mercenary and jumps ship from Millar’s new and improved clean team. I wonder whatever happened to that Wiggins fellow?