x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Millar looks for redemption

The Scot wants to be a world champion again, only this time without the aid of taking drugs.

David Millar, center, from Great Britain, celebrates his victory with silver medallist Michael Rogers, left, from Australia, and bronze medallist Uwe Peschelt, from Germany, at the men's time trials at the World Road Cycling Championships in Hamilton, Ontario, Oct 9 2003.
David Millar, center, from Great Britain, celebrates his victory with silver medallist Michael Rogers, left, from Australia, and bronze medallist Uwe Peschelt, from Germany, at the men's time trials at the World Road Cycling Championships in Hamilton, Ontario, Oct 9 2003.

On Oct 9 2003, Britain's David Millar stood on top of the winner's podium as the world time-trial champion but barely managed a smile. The lack of cheer was down to the fact that Millar had not won clean. He later admitted to having taken a course of the blood-boosting drug erythropoeitin and duly served a two-year suspension.

Five years on, Millar is looking for the final chapter in his redemption as he attempts to be crowned world champion - this time legitimately - in Varese, Italy, today. He starts as one of the favourites for the title and has made winning gold and the rainbow jersey of the world champion his sole goal for the season. "It's a big thing for me," he said. "The World Championships was the true face of what I'd done wrong - the final nail in the coffin if you like. And as a result, the event has a far bigger hold over me than any other. I'd like to get the title of world champion back - and cleanly. That would be the final closure for me as a cyclist and that would be great to be finally able to move on."

The Scot has certainly served his penance. As well as the mandatory two-year suspension, he has worked as an outspoken anti-doping advocate and is now heading up Team Garmin Chipotle, whose overriding message is "ride clean". The riders are subject to 10 times the doping tests of many other leading tests and the team have been credited with helping to clean up cycling's tarnished image. Millar readily admitted he enjoyed his new role. He said: "It's odd as this season has been more about setting up the team and spreading the message and that's been great. I've worked with Jonathan Vaughters [his team boss] to get the message that you can win clean.

"I think we're doing that. Yeah, there are idiots that don't listen, as we saw at this year's Tour de France, and sadly there will always be idiots, not just in cycling but in every sport. Thankfully, though, cycling's cleaner than it's been for a long, long time. "And having done all that, my focus is now on my cycling and that starts with going for victory at the World Championships." And Millar, 31, is one of the leading favourites for the title, especially with the absence of Fabian Cancellara, who has won the past two time trial events at the world championships.

He added: "The hope is that the Olympics will have taken its toll on a lot of the other riders. "They will have spent their seasons solely focusing on that while I didn't and instead was sitting at home on the sofa watching it and relaxing. That means I'll be peaking at just the right time and I'm confident that will give me the edge." The reason for Millar's Beijing absence was again down to his doping past. Under Team GB rulings, any athlete failing drugs tests is forbidden from competing at an Olympics.

And he admitted it was a bitter pill to swallow. He said: "I was still spent after the Tour de France. I felt worse after that race than any in my life before. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I was depressed and in a complete mess. I had no motivation to do anything at all. "It wasn't helped by the fact that I watched friends of mine from Team GB riding in an Olympics and regularly winning gold. I couldn't help but think 'I should be there'. But I wasn't because of what I'd done. That was a hard one to swallow - I didn't realise how much the Olympics meant to me until that point."

In his absence, his countrymen dominated the cycling, winning eight golds, four silvers and two bronze on the road and the track, achievements which Millar says will help inspire him during today's time trial. "That was great as a lot of those guys are my mates," he said. "I can't say what they did was unexpected but their level of domination in virtually every event was breahtaking. And it helped me get my buzz back after the Tour de France. They deserve every celebration and moment of adulation."

To prepare for the World Championships, he rode in his final event on home soil - the Tour of Britain - earlier this month alongside the likes of the double gold medallist Bradley Wiggins. mmajendie@thenational.ae