ANNONAY, France – David Millar, a reformed “ex-doper,” won a stage at the Tour de France on Friday, saying his victory is proof riders can win cleanly.
His British compatriot, Bradley Wiggins, is of like mind. Wiggins, who holds the overall lead, is looking to not only win the race when it ends July 22 but win over cycling fans troubled by the sport’s long history with drugs.
“I do want to start building bridges to prove that I’m doing this off bread and water. … So if I can be as open and as honest as possible, then hopefully that will go some way to gaining people’s trust,” Wiggins said.
Millar’s victory and Wiggins’ assertions came exactly 45 years after Tom Simpson, the first Briton to wear yellow, died on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux after using a lethal mix of amphetamines and alcohol.
“It’s particularly poignant that I win the day of this anniversary because I’m an ex-doper, I made mistakes,” Millar said. “It’s a nice kind of full circle that I’ve now won today a clean rider – after making the same mistakes that Tommy made.
“I hope that today I’ve shown where cycling has come in the last 45 years, and even in the last five years.”
Millar, who rides for the U.S. Garmin-Sharp team, has been cycling’s most vocal critic of doping for years. The 35-year-old Scotsman said he learned hard lessons after “making a mess” of his life through drugs.
He won the Tour’s 12th and longest stage Friday by leading a five-rider breakaway as the race left the Alps. The 140-mile ride from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay-Davezieux featured two big climbs, but did not change the top of the standings because Wiggins and his main rivals finished together.
Wiggins, a three-time Olympic track gold medalist, is trying to become Britain’s first Tour winner. His Team Sky has controlled the Tour in a style reminiscent of Lance Armstrong’s former squad. Armstrong, a seven-time Tour champion, is battling charges from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs. He denies the charges.
Millar, while riding for the French team Cofidis, was banned from cycling for two years in 2004 after using the banned blood booster EPO – once the drug of choice for cycling cheats.
Wiggins also rode for Cofidis. He has said he threw his jersey into the trash and swore never to wear it again after Cofidis pulled out of the 2007 Tour following Italian rider Christian Moreni’s positive test for testosterone.
This year, the French team has been at the center of a doping case. Remy Di Gregorio, a Cofidis rider, was placed under investigation Thursday following his arrest two days earlier as part of a French doping inquiry. He is suspected of illegal possession of doping products or equipment.