Racing Through the Dark - The Rise and Fall of David Millar
Orion Books, 2011
Doping, dopers, cheaters, EPO, transfusions, recuperation, blood levels, hematocrit, electronic assist, Floyd, Lance, tainted meat, fairness, sport. Cycling has a long list of dirty words. I wonder sometimes if sunlight is the best disinfectant as the saying goes, or if we, as fans and participants in the sport, spend too much time dwelling on these words. Millar's autobiography is very cathartic in this sense. We spend a great deal of time speculating, and reading half-hearted admissions of some kind of guilt, and here is our chance to get the first hand account of an admitted, rehabilitated doper, with all the gory details. Well, some gory details, anyway. I don't imagine this will satisfy everyone, perhaps some think his ban should have been longer, and perhaps others will question whether he should have told more, both to the authorities and to his audience. Omerta. That's another of those words. Whatever one may think of the particulars, Millar's not your ordinary cyclist. His story makes for a fascinating read, and it is difficult to not feel sympathy for him. By his account, he was adamantly anti-doping and, while taking responsibility for his own actions, feels strongly that the culture of professional cycling, the pressure put on riders to get results, and the widespread use of performance enhancers created an environment where even he, once among the most vehement anti dopers in the peloton, started injecting vitamins intravenously for recuperation, and continued down that slippery slope until he was a full fledged syringe hiding doper, designing training regimens around his injection calendar. He is, of course, found out, dragged through the dirt, has everything taken away, and is forced to take a long, hard look at his life, and at what defines him as a person. He regains his love for the bike, and for the sport, and becomes passionate about cleaning it up.
Millar writes well, in a conversational tone, and does come across as "one of the good guys." His background is interesting, and he is very generous with the details of his personal life, as well as his professional life, and the book chugs along at a good clip. Obviously, the meat of the matter is his downfall and his recovery, and while I am not so sure it sheds any new light on the matter, it is satisfying to not make do with conjecture for a change. His work with Vaughters and Slipstream is given a good deal of attention and strikes a nice, uplifting, inspirational note even with curmudgeonly cynics like myself. Accountability and transparency seem to be the cornerstones of the Slipstream/Vaughters/Millar philosophy, and while there is no denying their importance, I would have liked to hear a little more detail about how the culture can change.
The olympics come to London in 2012 and it would obviously mean the world to Millar to be there. Last year's MLB mvp tested positive in the off season and won his appeal on a flimsy technicality. Football players test positive and barely miss a game. It is wonderful and uplifting to read such a warmly told first hand account of someone competing on the highest level and I applaud his efforts to use his experience to educate riders as well as the general populace. Perhaps it will be a building block towards some frank and open discussion about what we expect from our athletes, and what is acceptable from our athletes, from our heroes.
"Racing Through the Dark" will be available in the US on June 26, 2012, published by Touchstone Books.
edit - Millar's ban was lifted, along with British track star Chambers, on Apr. 29th. He will be eligible to compete in London 2012.
You know that old box of bike parts you've put in your closet?
Recorded inside the press room at Grenoble Velodrome, we bring you Episode #8 of the Insider from the 2011 Tour de France, our final podcast.
Recorded 1,850 metres above sea level atop the famed Alpe d'Huez, we bring you Episode #7 of the Insider podcast from the 2011 Tour de France.