Millar tours the media

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Racing Through The Dark

Having completed the Giro d’Italia with a stage win in Milan, David Millar is now touring the media in Britain to promote a book, “Racing Through The Dark“. Millar’s tale is perhaps a mirror for the whole sport itself. He comes from outside of the traditional European cycling nations, wins with ease at a young age before succumbing to doping and then getting mired in police investigations, a lengthy ban and plenty of soul-searching. Then there’s a come back, he joins the same squad as Riccardo Riccò and then moves on to help build the squad that is today Garmin-Cervélo. The full circle.

When ever a book comes out the publishing house, or a specialist agency, arranges a series of interviews in order to generate publicity. These set piece manoeuvres are often a PR concoction, a dreary procession of radio shows to explain the book. But this time things seem very different. There’s a good interview with Jack Thurston of the Bike Show Podcast and fast forward to 2h33m for an interview with the BBC. Book or no book, the interviews are a good listen if you have the time as he’s telling his tale rather than saying buy the book.

One thing that stands out is that riding the bike is a pure pleasure, something that is not always the case with some riders and not always recognised by others. Another thing is the reminder of just how articulate David Millar is, he is certainly one of the more interesting voices of the peloton.

If he can talk, it also seems he can write. Millar has written it himself, albeit with editorial help. His slow start to the season was because he spent a lot of the winter working on the manuscript when he could have been training. This is a big change as most riders employ ghost writers to tell their tale.

I’m wary of sports biographies as they all seem to follow a formulaic path. There’s a tale or two from childhood, the discover of sporting talent, the flashes of brilliance, then come some success and the individual has the world at their feet. Then we get the inevitable obstacle, in the form of injury, addiction, the problems of easy money or another personal problem – in Millar’s case, a doping bust – before we end on a note of redemption and often renewed success, usually with a “I don’t regret a moment” closing paragraph.

But this looks worth a read given he’s penned the book himself and his career has spanned so many events and stories, plus he seems to have found a voice to express his personal experiences.

David Millar

His nickname in the early days was "Le Dandy"

These days in pro cycling, the line “he’s got a book coming out” can warn of score-settling accounts. It’s certainly been a defence tactic of Lance Armstrong’s disastrous public relations to undermine those making accusations to claim they’re sensationalising a story in order to publicise a book deal.

But this seems quite different,  Millar is working the publicity angle right now because he’s got a tale to tell, this isn’t J’Accuse. Indeed when it comes to le dopage team mates like Massimiliano Lelli aren’t named but simply referred to anonymously. This is partly because of Britain’s strong libel laws but also because naming some of the people involved doesn’t matter because many teams had the same kind of rider or manager, to name one is to put the focus on an individual when the story is as much about the system that is pro racing.

A review of the book will appear on the blog soon.

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{ 15 comments }

Owen June 7, 2011 at 11:29 am

I pre ordered it from Amazon, especially as it was due to come out on the 16th – my birthday!
Is it out early?

Alex June 7, 2011 at 11:37 am

That’s a sports biography I’m looking forward to. As you I don’t fancy most of them as they all are bland. Laurent Fignon’s book stands out and I’m sure Millars will too.
I agree Millar stands out as a guy of a maturity and intelligence many of his colleagues lack. I’ve been impressed by the guy since his comeback, especially since he left Saunier-Duval critizing the team for their indifferent if not encouraging position on doping. Recently he showed great personality when handling the death of Wouter Weylandt as the race leader. He took responsibility for the peloton, his colleagues in Leopard-Trek and his teammate Tyler Farrar.

Alex Murray June 7, 2011 at 11:41 am

It’s a really good read. And I totally agree with your perspective on why he doesn’t name Lelli. It works for me as rather than focus on the individual, it allows that aspect of the book to fall on the endemic nature of that role in teams at the time.

There’s lots in there that I think should change perceptions of Millar, and answers to a few things that people have gossiped about previously.

Cam Austin June 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm

I Look forward to reading Millar’s book, and echo Alex’s thoughts on Fignon’s “We were Young and Carefree”… The Prof is Gallic flair epitomised.

The Inner Ring June 7, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Owen: I think that’s still the date but there are some embargoed copies in circulation.

Alex + Cam Austin: yes, Fignon’s book was a good read for the sheer pleasure he seems to have taken from life and racing, able to realise his luck and to savour the good times. Millar seems to say the same, to appreciate his luck these days.

Alex Murray: glad to hear you enjoyed it. As I say, some sports bios are boring and you know what you’re going to get but this is different/

SlapshotJC June 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Looking forward to this one as much as I did that other Scottish Miller’s book that was written by Richard Moore. He’s got his detractors but I think there’s more to respect in David than to denigrate these days.
His comments on Armstrong are good to hear coming from the peloton rather than someone with “no credibility and an axeto gring!!!!”

Jack June 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed the interview on the radio show. I could have focussed the whole interview on the issue of doping but I felt that would be unfair. I wasn’t in Jeremy Paxman ‘why is this lying bastard lying to me’ mode, I felt it was best just to let Millar speak for himself and give the listeners the chance to come to their own conclusions. Unfortunately I had just a short half hour to conduct the interview and wasn’t able to delve deeper on a few points where I think it might have helped.

I would have liked him to explain why he joined Saunier Duval, as it was already clear that there was an issue with doping via Ricco (and others). I suspect it was a case of ‘any port in a storm’ / ‘beggars can’t be choosers’. Or why he paid training visits to Luigi Cecchini. This latter connection was terminated in no uncertain terms by Dave Brailsford when Millar was working with Team GB.

One of the reason Millar still has many detractors out there (apart from his slightly haughty persona, which I think has mellowed over time) is that he is seen to advance the ‘more sinned against than sinning’ to his doping, while railing against the doping by others. He saw himself as a good apple in a rotten barrel. He says he was impressionable and easily manipulated, yet he was clearly driven, strong-willed and full of confidence in his own abilities.

Moreover, it is said that he told all only when he was forced to by a judicial process (hmm, just like Hamilton and Hincapie, one might say).

Millar still harbours a grudge against Philippe Gaumont, whose own confessions led to Millar’s arrest. Gaumont looks like he suffered far more damage from doping (and the recreational use of drugs) than Millar – one might expect a more positive, sympathetic attitude to a fellow victim. Millar draws such a clear line between ‘the bad guys who doped because were bad’ and ‘the good guys who were forced to dope by the bad guys’. I don’t think this distinction is really tenable.

The reality is that in most of the 1990s and the 2000s you had to embrace doping in order to win the greatest prizes in cycling, particularly the stage races. The cycling hierarchy (teams, media, UCI, even fans) overwhelmingly looked the other way. Riders who were really ambitious and wanted to succeed in their profession were faced with little alternative. There are always riders like Millar’s Cofidis team-mate David Moncoutie, nicely profiled on this blog earlier in the year, who chose not to. But I think it was probably less about Moncoutie being a saint but rather that he was not as single-mindedly driven and ambitious as most of his colleagues.

On one level, it’s great when liars are revealed as liars and cheats as cheats. But professional cycling will continue to churn through athletes – with all the waste of talent and simple human misery that is documented in Millar’s book – unless the underlying structures that are so permissive towards doping are fundamentally reformed. This means clean teams have to wear their anti-doping on their sleeve, creating an expectation of virtue and transparency, and clear rules must be enforced without delay and without regard for the status of the individuals concerned. That’s now the line that Millar is arguing for, and I think he should be respected for it.

ColoradoGoat June 8, 2011 at 12:52 am

If Millar would actually tell all, I think he is a jerk and looking to exploit the “look at me – I am a reformed sinner” crap. Same with J. Vaughters. They want some sort of gold star, when all they are doing is continuing to remain silent about all of the facts.

Owen June 8, 2011 at 10:04 am

Colorado Goat, I don’t think he will never tell all as that may well undermine professional relationships he has and needs to maintain.
I have never met the bloke and am yet to read his book, so I will not condemn him as a ‘jerk’ or raise him on a pedestal, but I naturally like him, though maybe because we’re both British.
The single-mindedness which got him to the top and in trouble will still be part of his persona, so it is not surprising that this shows.
Finally, he’s nearing the end of his career, why shouldn’t he exploit the character we all perceive of him; he’ll need a job soon.

bikecellar June 8, 2011 at 10:57 am

Jerk ? Miller? Your a poor judge of character, and of course to “tell all” would have financial and legal implications, innocent parties could suffer.

Chuffy June 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm

@ Jack – one of the best comments/analyses on Millar that I’ve read.

I think he deserves a good deal of credit for the way he has conducted himself post-bust and put himself at the forefront of the anti-doping movement with Slipstream. With his talent and class it would have been so, so easy to just slink back, keep his head down and quietly take the money.

There are some valid criticisms to be made of him but the vast majority of the flak he gets is the kind of sweeping yah-boo rubbish exemplified by the comment below yours (and don’t even think about the Clinic section of the Cycling News forum).

ColoradoGoat June 8, 2011 at 5:12 pm

@Chuffy:

Yah-boo rubbish? Please. My criticism is fair. If you want credit for being a reformed person, but continue to hold onto the “Omerta” within the peloton, then you do not deserve the public’s time of day.

Alex Murray - Chasing Wheels blog June 8, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Colorado Goat, he’s not though. Lelli’s guilt is a matter of public and judicial record, as is everyone else involved at Cofidis. He’s perfectly entitled to use a literary device of an archetype if he feels that tells the story better (it does and stops people focusing on the individual in the system).

He’s also perfectly entitled to tell his story and not anyone else’s. That’s not Omerta, that’s being truthful about the things you know, not speculating on everyone else.

grolby June 8, 2011 at 8:15 pm

There are criticisms to be made Millar and JV, but I don’t find the argument that either of them has trod the path they have solely for the sake of aggrandizement to be a particularly strong one. Either of them could have gone an easier way. It’s easy to take a view of Millar (or JV, but the post is about Millar) as either a saint or a villain, either way with simple, even singular motivations. I think that neither view is correct. The guy is a valid target for criticism, but I don’t think it’s possible to impugn his conviction; he’s a straight talker. What he believes could well be wrong or misguided, and criticism there is good; his defense of Contador, for example, is puzzling and strange. But he does say what he honestly thinks, and when what he thinks is that doping is a scourge on cycling, that’s an attitude and outspokenness to be encouraged, IMO.

Dave June 8, 2011 at 11:42 pm

@Jack

I really enjoyed your interview with Millar , I’ll definitely listen to some more
of your stuff

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