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Robert Millar: Silence won't stop the doping stories

By:
Robert Millar
Published:
June 28, 2013, 17:01,
Updated:
June 28, 2013, 18:06
Race:
Tour de France

At this point, all excuses are futile

Robert MIllar pulls on the polka-dot jersey

Robert MIllar pulls on the polka-dot jersey

  • Robert MIllar pulls on the polka-dot jersey
  • Panasonic teammates Phil Anderson, left, and Robert Millar await team introductions at the 1987 Giro d'Italia.

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The 100th Tour de France promises to be a spectacular celebration of cycling, from Corsica to Paris via some of greatest sights and mountains, as the organisers ASO haven't lacked ambition in putting together a route which showcases some of France's greatest sights.

And yet despite all the careful planning and tweaking of the route to take in the chosen shiny bits, the 18th of July, the day of THE stage of this year's contest, risks not being remembered for making the riders toil up the 21 bends to Alpe d'Huez twice but for something even more spiteful – the French Senate inquiry into past doping in cycling is set to publish the list of riders who returned positive drug tests fifteen years ago.

As if the 18th day of racing won't be hard enough physically, the decision is a cruel mental punishment that doesn't really need to be saved up for the day most likely to confirm who will win this Tour de France. It smacks of political show-boating so don’t be surprised if they wait for the 18th kilometre or minute of racing to reveal the accused. This is going to hurt pro cycling as a business, a sport and a culture, and they can't blame anyone but themselves.

I don't have any problem with that list being published, although the timing is crap. The doctors, team management, cyclists and chemists involved know the Festina Affair could have been any of the squads – Virenque and Co. were just the ones unfortunate enough to be caught red-handed at the time and now the judges are going to tell us the whole ugly truth of that era.

The high-profile withdrawal of Laurent Jalabert is just one step of a necessary process which is going to hang heavily over this year's event and it doesn't matter if guys like Bernard Hinault stand up and say things have changed or not. That's exactly the kind of attitude that allowed the deceptions to continue for as long as they have. At this point, all excuses are futile. Judgement day is coming for the class of 98 and it's going to be very uncomfortable for some people.

Before ONCE and the Spanish teams ran away from that fateful Tour Jaja put himself in the spotlight by taking on the role of spokesman when a rider strike was organised in protest at the police searches of buses, cars and hotel rooms, but the culprits still involved with bike racing can't scuttle off now and the former world number one has missed his chance to tell the truth before he's forced to do so.

You might think Lance Armstrong should be keeping quiet about EPO, cortisone and blood doping, but he's right when he says that he didn't invent those medical products and I doubt very much that at the beginning of his pro career he had the idea of using them for performance enhancement. If you want to understand why shame hangs over cycling and why politicians and campaigners continue to use the sport in a detrimental way to promote their own causes, then riders like Jalabert need to start talking. They need to be explaining what they were expected, persuaded or taught to do by their peers and helpers. Silence on the other hand won't stop these same old stories being dragged up and it won't make them go away.

I started writing my explanation back in February and to my shame it has sat in a folder unfinished. I think I wanted it to be a story of sorts but I now know it doesn't need to be entertaining – facts, names and places will do, and then a basic conclusion. It's not my place to suggest how to use the information, just to provide it. This latest affair has reminded me I really need to get on with it and send it to someone who I think will use it wisely. I'm not seeking to be a hero or a martyr for doing so. I have no agenda or a position to defend and I certainly don't think it'll win me any brownie points but if it helps understand why the culture got as bad as it did or why the Omertà dominated then so be it.

Why didn't I say anything before, I hear you ask. Well who would have really listened? Who was interested other than those wishing to punish or humiliate? Would you have brought that crap to your doorstep when you knew it would have changed nothing?

Think back not too far, when everyone who dared to say anything was called an idiot, twisted or bitter by people who ought to have known better too. I might do stupid things occasionally, but I'm not bitter, twisted or needing revenge on cycling and I like it too much to want to damage it but therein lay the dilemma. I couldn’t spit in the soup even though it was bad. That's pretty shameful too.

I do have sympathy for the majority of the riders who will be named but none for the people who put them in that situation. Jalabert had his chance to say something, he could have chosen to give his evidence in private to the inquiry and maybe be useful, as that's what Didier Deschamps did when asked about doping in football. Jalabert didn't take that chance. Instead he fudged the questions and now he just looks like a fool.

The obvious questions are, if this info has been available since 2004 why hasn't the issue been raised before? Did the UCI of Verbruggen know? Did Pat McQuaid know? If they didn't, then why not?

The present day riders can rightly say this has nothing to do with them and I'd agree: their mentality has moved on. So many other things in life have improved but cycling seems stuck with a mentality of cover-ups and deceptions and they always get dragged out at Tour de France time when they'll get the most coverage. Isn't it time that stopped and stuff like this is sorted out quickly ?

I'd go as far as saying don't bother asking the riders at the 100th Tour for a sound-bite on the subject ask someone who was there instead. Someone like Virenque because we may well be needing an ironic laugh before St. Frederick's big day. I still think this year's race can be one of the great Tours but it doesn't need rubbish like this to liven up the suspense.

 

rainwatrs More than 1 year ago
With all due respect, a zit don't pop till it comes to ahead young man.
dickmarl More than 1 year ago
What a brilliant piece of writing. Of course many will be along shortly to slaughter Robert and the article - but they will have missed the point spectacularly.
TShame More than 1 year ago
The new tests of 98 , will they help us pick a new winner of the Tour? Like Armstrong said, it ain't nobody in the top 20.
BigJonny More than 1 year ago
It is not about picking a new winner. That is a distraction from the issue.
dsotherby More than 1 year ago
The first one to miss the point was TShame -- congratulations! :)
Greg Khan More than 1 year ago
he has a point which you seem to miss
ToreBear More than 1 year ago
Great article! The past needs to come out for the sake of the future. As for what you write about your situation. I hope you can include the why. The feelings you had at the time, the fear of the consequences of either of your decisions. A lot of your fears might feel silly in hindsight, but at that time those fears and ideas influenced your decision. It might give good guidance for others facing similar decisions in the future. God luck! And keep blogging!
ceramiccyclist More than 1 year ago
I'm at the moment re-reading Bjarne Riis book in which he tells of a time when Soigneur Jef D'Hont came in the room while he was on the massage table and said "Bjarne, you just need to take this injection". Riis wanted to know what was in it to which the response of D'Hont was on the lines of "How dare you question me, you're just a domestique - do what you're told". Riis held his ground that time but it wasn't too long before he made the pragmatic decision to dope, particularly when EPO came into the peloton. In such an environment, who could hold out? Even Lemond has said that had his career begun in the 90's instead of the 80's he is not sure he would have refused to dope. Robert Millar has been hinting that he had something to tell us for a while. The culture goes a lot deeper than the riders. Francois Migraine, the CEO of Cofidis commissioned a study into his own team which revealed a culture of PED and Recreational drug abuse. His response? He buried it.
TShame More than 1 year ago
I would have said no, Riis chose to dope. He shouldn't be allowed in cycling.
runny hunny More than 1 year ago
Saying ' No ' trips so easily off the tongue. Would you have said no if you did not have mortgages to pay, perhaps family to support, other households bills to be met, another alternative career to return to or start, reasons to be proferred to friends, family, colleagues and the media as to why you are giving up your pro cycling career ? I do not think it is all as easy as that. And I sympathise greatly with any cyclist finding themselves faced with that dilemma back in the late 80's & 90's.
veganpotter More than 1 year ago
Thats a terrible argument. There are bottom rung pros that will never even get a chance to pay a mortgage with cycling money because they won't dope. Surely there were non-dopers in the past as well but they very likely didn't get anywhere. Who's the one being treated unfairly here?
BigJonny More than 1 year ago
It isn't a "terrible argument." Rather, it is a pretty clean picture of what happened to a lot of these young men.
ceramiccyclist More than 1 year ago
He did indeed, and states that several times in the book. My point, is that who would hold out? Very few as time has proven. In Riis case it was a business decision, pure and simple. It's easy for you or me to sit in our living rooms and comment on these issues and say "I would never have doped" when we haven't been in that environment, but I doubt many of us would have refused. I don't think I would have held out.
veganpotter More than 1 year ago
I agree that very few wouldn't dope if they felt they had to do so. However...that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be a consequence either.
BigJonny More than 1 year ago
I agree as well. Understanding the realities these men faced and the choices they then took speaks to their intent, and it helps to shape the future by saving future riders from the same hard choices. But it does not excuse the wrongdoing, nor does it mitigate their liabilities. They deserve to be punished.
Kingsley A More than 1 year ago
Indeed, numerous psychological experiments have been carried out that show whilst most people, highly principled or not, say they would "never do that", under the right (wrong?) set of circumstances that most of them would. The Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment are two of the most famous but many others have been conducted. It is for these reasons that anti-doping should mostly focus on sanctioning the enablers: coaches, managers, DSs, doctors, etc. Frequently, especially at the lower levels of sport, the athletes taking doping products are more the victims than the villains. Two year suspensions for doping athletes and five year jail sentences for enablers sounds about the right balance to me.
Bossbiker More than 1 year ago
Off course you would have said no. In the environment in the nineties you probably would have said yes. You were a young struggling biker and by a little needle you suddenly were able to follow the best or even ride faster than the best. Nobody would ever know. The choice is not that easy as it may sound. I believe that the riders back then had no other choice if they wanted to compete. I don´t think Riis should be punished for doping in his active career. He admitted a long time ago, we all knew beforehand, and that´s that. But if there is any truth to the ongoing talk and rumors about the doped riders on his team and his suggested knowledge or participation in such, he must leave the sport we all love.
weller123 More than 1 year ago
Makes the vitriol directed at Wiggins in during the giro all the more unnecessary...
whitejazz More than 1 year ago
What vitriol? An assessment of where BW was at? RW's right to do so - there's a very good chance BW won't be at Sky next season.
weller123 More than 1 year ago
wasn't questioning anyone's right to express an opinion. merely exercised my right to express one,...the giro article was written in terms that would suggest RM had never had a bad day in the saddle and that he is/was 'hoilier than thou'. admire RM a great deal. indeed, it was watching his 1st win in TDF that cemented my love for cycling. so, I have no axe to grind but I was disappointed with the 'snark' in the giro article - thought it was unnecessary.
Jeff Parry More than 1 year ago
This is a great article. What annoys me is that the UCI have done nothing to put this to bed. It only drags on because Overwritten and McQuaid have allowed it to. If they had started to clamp down after Festina, and not pretended that everything was solved, then cycling would not be in this mess. We still have active dopers today because the UCI have been so ineffective and impotent.
Matthew Franks More than 1 year ago
It is not ineffective because of the UCI, it is ineffective because all the other sports do nothing against doping. Soccer players recieve only urine tests...pretty wierd huh? As lonmg as there is a market on the pro sports level you will never stop it. Period. Don't just blame cycling
BigJonny More than 1 year ago
The major sports in the U.S. (NFL, NBA, MLB) don't look and don't tell. It's a bad joke.
nickcalv More than 1 year ago
Great article and thank you for telling your story and the truth.
ellenbrook2001 More than 1 year ago
what the hell the French senate making enquirer from 15 years ago or was doping or net we knew all was doping why now why such stupid inquiry his more problems in the French peoples employment,health etc why spend money ant time for nothing just too make a bad name too certain riders grrrr they crazy.
SprocketDoc More than 1 year ago
Well done Mr. Millar, by doing this you are becoming part of the solution, and no longer part of the probelm. Here's hoping others are brave enough to follow.
gilgamesh1971 More than 1 year ago
Bravo Robert, well written & presented as always!!
Author
Robert Millar

Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.

Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.

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