Thursday, 15 March 2012

David Millar Autobiography - Book Review

David Millar, if you didn’t know, is a professional cyclist who in 2004 got busted for taking drugs. He was then promptly banned for two years and given a lifetime Olympic ban. I have to say that now is the time to read this book, Millar is appealing his Olympic ban and has been back riding for quite a few years. My wife bought me this book as she felt he had a story to tell and he really has, one that I didn’t quite appreciate.

First of all lets get things clear, Millar cheated. He took a performance enhancing drug for his own personal gain, basically to improve his race performances and therefore an improved contract. However he served his time away from the sport, a punishment that the governing body felt was equal to the rule he had broken.

The book itself is easy to read and is one of the best if not the best autobiography on life inside professional cycling. Millar was a very good cyclist when he was clean and it is good to read which events he won clean and which were when he doped. Throughout the book he explains the institutional nature of drug taking, how it becomes expected that you dope, that it is your duty to yourself and to the team to dope. He also doesn’t pull any punches and while he doesn’t blow the whistle on certain individuals he does mention some names.

Millar actually tried to resist the lure of doping, trying instead to prove that you can make it without drugs. He was not alone but, according to Millar, he was in the minority. Through the book you begin to emphasise with Millar, he describes the situation well giving you a good understanding of the dark world of doping. I have to say it was a joy to read. I say this because I’m not a big fan of reading about drugs in cycling, I read The Death of Marco Pantani and it thoroughly depressed me. Paul Kimmage’s book Rough Ride is another good read however it is a book at the start of the doping saga, certainly not supported by the cycling community for having broken the code of silence within the peloton. Millar’s book however is refreshing, it makes you believe there is another way and that we are coming out from the dark cloud that is EPO. It does however make you realise that the tour was dominated by drug taking cyclists. I have just looked at the average speed of the Tour de France since it started and it reached a peak in 2005, the year after Millar was arrested. What is interesting is the top ten that year:

  1. Armstrong
  2. Basso (caught for drugs)
  3. Ullrich (caught for drugs)
  4. Mancebo (Linked to the famous Spanish doping case, not allowed to start the ’06 tour)
  5. Vinokourov (caught for drugs)
  6. Levi Leipheimer
  7. Rasmussen (retired from a later tour after missing out of competition drugs tests)
  8. Cadel Evans
  9. Floyd Landis (Caught for drugs)
  10. Oscar Pereiro
I think that says a lot. I don’t think it’s fair to comment on the others in the top ten who haven’t been caught for doping however if Millar wanted to compete and win a grand tour he must have thought he stood no chance without doping. The book puts across really well the pressures on Millar, what he lost by being caught and his reaction to all this is interesting, I would even say amazing.

A lot of cyclists when they’ve been caught have still denied it (Floyd) and yet Millar took his punishment and decided that he had a responsibility to the sport to help clean it up. Putting together a ‘clean’ team, Slipstream (AKA Garmin) and being proactive against doping including being part of WADA the World Anit-Doping Agency.

This book isn’t only about drugs though. Millar gives insights in to cycling and the individuals involved. There are little snippets about Mark Cavendish, Lance Armstrong (he briefly addresses his links to drugs), David Brailsford (head of Team Sky and British Cycling) and Bradley Wiggins.

With Wiggins it gets interesting, Millar is scathing about his input as a member of the Garmin team and says how he felt let down by Wiggins. He also claims Wiggins 4th place finish in the Tour was a fluke, something which Wiggins commented on in The Guardian recently following his win at Paris-Nice the 6 day stage race. He said “I’ve now won the two biggest stage races in France. There is no longer any question of my fourth place in the Tour in 2009 being a fluke”. Obviously referring to the comments in Millar’s book. Well there’s only one way to prove that Brad my boy, win the Tour this year.

The book is a great read and while I’m a bit of a Brad fan I have to say Millar’s book is a better read, Wiggin’s book is good but Millar just has more of a story to tell and very well told it is.