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July 22, 2014, 7:22 am

Cycle champ writes of glory and shame

In 2004, David Millar longed for a fast-forward button that would catapault him away from his reality. He was a professional cyclist, an Olympic athlete, a Tour de France star, a world champion — and a drug cheat. After being arrested and questioned for 48 hours by French police, he was ultimately sentenced to a two-year ban from racing for his use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. He was certain in that dark time that he would never race again and had lost the respect of his family, fans and the cycling community forever. He was wrong on all counts.

Filled with descriptions of the world’s most spectacular courses, Millar’s memoir — “Racing Through the Dark” (Touchstone, $26) — captures the pure joy of cycling and includes some of the most vivid accounts of the sport ever written by a true insider.

By his 18th birthday Millar was living and racing in France, sleeping in rented rooms and tipped to be the next English-speaking Tour winner. A year later he’d realized the dream and signed a professional contract with the Cofidis team, which had one Lance Armstrong on its books. He perhaps lived the high life a little too enthusiastically — high on a roof after too much drink, he broke his heel in a fall, and before long the pressure to succeed had tipped over into doping. Here, in a full and frank autobiography, Millar recounts the story: He doped because “cycling's drug culture was like white noise,” and because of peer pressure.

“I doped for money and glory in order to guarantee the continuation of my status,” he explains. Five years on from his arrest, Millar is clean and reflective, and holds nothing back in this account of his dark years.

As a young Scottish expat living in Hong Kong with his father after his parents’ divorce, Millar showed early promise in mountain biking and BMX (stunt riding). Two wise local cyclists took him under their wings, encouraging him to concentrate on road racing. Millar proved a ready convert. “Racing Through the Dark” offers the winning account of his climb through the ranks—first as an amateur and then as a pro, riding for the French team Cofidis. Among his early triumphs were several stage wins in the Tour de France.

From the moment Millar turned pro in 1997, he began to see hints of the unethical measures that many — maybe most — of the other pros were taking in order to race at the very tops of their games, and beyond. At first, he felt he was immune to temptation, that he could win clean. But the ugly pervasiveness of performance-enhancing drugs and the seemingly universal attitude that condoned it began to corrode his willpower. “Racing Through the Dark” details his eventual capitulation, his subsequent arrest and two-year ban from cycling, and his remarkable comeback as a clean cyclist who is now doing his utmost to keep performance-enhancing drugs out of the sport he so loves.

 

Contact Staff Writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .