In 2003 David Millar announced himself as one of Britain’s greatest ever road cyclists. He won the world Time Trial championship which is an achievement that only two or three Britons have ever hit par with and only Chris Boardman has won the same race. Millar was always a supremely talented and intelligent rider and was particularly able in the discipline of time trialling where the competitors pitch themselves alone against the clock.
Cycling is a sport that has always been plagued by cheats due to the colossal challenge of competing at the highest level. The human body has to be pushed to its outermost limits to win professional races. Millar joined the French team Cofidis in 1997 and a young, valued man was slowly corrupted into a doper. He began to turn ‘possible wins into probable wins’ although it has been discovered that many of his best victories were won clean. In fact the world time trial championship was the only major race he won illegitimately. He had always been an intelligent man on and of the bike and for several years he refused to boost his system but the pressure to lead his Cofidis team at such a young age (22) demanded results and he saw doping as a way to increase this possibility.
Millar was not perfect. He was taking erythropoietin (EPO) to increase his red blood cell count and therefore gain an unfair advantage over his competitors. Millar was caught and banned for 2 years in 2004 and as a Briton he received a lifetime ban from the Olympics.
During his ban from cycling Millar was a broken and lost man, he felt aimless. He received encouraging support from Dave Brailsford (director of British cycling) and eventually came round to the idea of competing again. However, this time was different: Millar had more than just winning aspirations; he wanted to clean up his sport. He built into a new team to combat doping that would protect young riders from experiencing similar pressures that he came under. This team has been running for a while and has shown that riders can achieve great things clean. Last year they won the team competition in the Tour de France and this year Ryder Hesjedal won the Overall competition at the Giro d’Italia.
Despite his fight against doping and his redemption one burden still weighed heavy on his shoulders: he could not race at the Olympics. Millar would not be racing to win but would be racing to help Mark Cavendish win in London. He is a great tactician and this would give him rights as team GB captain and help secure the gold Cavendish craves.
Britain has been, until this year, a different entity in terms of its Olympic association to any other nation. The British Olympic association (BOA) held its own rule over British athletes convicted of doping offences and that law was that these athletes held a lifetime ban from the Olympic games; the pinnacle of most athletes’ careers.
This law means that after a British athlete has been convicted of cheating he must fulfil all the other sanctions forced on them that all nationalities enforce but also, unlike other nations’ athletes who can return to Olympic competition after their punishments are seen out, they could never compete at the Olympics again.
However, this year the BOA’s bylaw was taken to the court of arbitration for sport (CAS) who found that the law did not comply with the world anti-doping agency’s (WADA) guideline so the rule was abolished as it was deemed unlawful. This means that now British athletes who previously could not compete at the Olympics can again and are available for selection.
Now he can race. But should he? He has been selected but it took him time to come round to the idea of racing for GB. He will now race and many think he deserves to and he has earned the right. Cavendish (current world champion and Green jersey winner at the Tour) has publically backed Millar throughout the saga while Sir Chris Hoy has said he should not compete and that there is no place for him.
Personally I think he should compete. If he were from any other country he would have ridden in Beijing also and he is now the antithesis of the man that earned him the ban. He can only have a positive effect on the team and as he can ride legitimately he should receive full support.