June 22, 2004, Biarritz
It is early morning.
I have been dozing. I open my eyes.
For a moment, I don’t know where I am.
Then I remember the night before, the hands on my shoulders, pushing me, shoving me, the rage and the abuse, my heart racing, my palms sweating.
And then, my guts in sudden free fall, I recognize where I am, the bare walls, the rough blanket, the hanging lightbulb.
I am in a French police cell, below Biarritz town hall, in an empty basement. A smell of piss and disinfectant hangs in the air. A drunken man shouts relentlessly in a cell somewhere down the corridor.
It is six in the morning. The morning of a new life. Only I don’t know what kind of life it will be. What do I feel? Relief, shame, terror, emptiness, loneliness.
And tired, I am so tired.
Outside, the sun is already up, warming the rooftops. The dawn surfers will be heading down to the beach, the patisserie near my flat opening for business, the nightclubs emptying. This place has been my home. They liked me here. Not anymore. Now they will look the other way. Now I don’t belong.
I don’t belong here, in France, where they have arrested me and where they will shame me and break me, nor in Britain where they will disown me for whom I have become. Now I don’t belong anywhere. Now I float, cast adrift, out to sea, a speck in the distance.
Now I know it is finished.
There are no good reasons, no easy excuses. There is no redemption. Instead, I am blinded now, dirty, unshaven, red-eyed; they took my phone, my belt, my shoelaces—just in case, they said.
Just in case.
I bury my head in the hood of my sweatshirt, understanding that I’ve lost everything I had once dreamed of, but feeling nothing but acceptance. There is no sadness—simply the recognition that I have been unhappy for a long time.
I close my eyes, pull the hood over my head, and turn toward the wall. I want darkness, but here the lights never go out. The opposite wall, the one with the locked door, is made of Perspex. Privacy is a thing of the past.
I can’t sleep.
I can’t sleep because I am guilty, and I am all the more awake because of it. All I can do is think of ways to explain myself, to justify myself, but I know I can’t. It doesn’t stop me trying for hours and hours on end.
I lie there on the wooden bench, motionless, wondering when it’s all going to start again, when will they come for me with more questions. Four- teen hours in this cell, no food, no company.
There is a bang on the door. Finally. A bolt turns, and the one with the gun, the one who laughed at me, comes in.
“Bon. On y va.”
The walk upstairs to the interview room is humiliating. I know some of the policemen who work here. They treated me as somebody special, asked for my autograph. I’m being looked at differently now. They are embarrassed for me. I can sense pity.
For twenty-four hours the questions continue, in and out of the interview room. The good cop, the man in charge, seems reasonable. He plays his role.
“David, I understand the stresses you’re under,” he says. “This is all the fault of Cofidis and François Migraine. Not you. You know that? They’re the ones responsible for us being here—you must remember that.”
After a while he leaves. I am on my own with the one with the sneer and the gun. And, in turn, he plays his role. He knows how to hurt me.
“I know the type of person you are, David. It’s disgusting that you trick people who admire and respect you.” He moves across the room, leans in closer. “All you are is a cheat and liar.”
By the end of the second day, I’ve barely slept for forty-eight hours.
I know I’m going to lose everything, my career and my sport, the house, the car, the prestige, the money, the lifestyle.
I do not care if I lose everything, even though I thought that it was all that mattered. It is a relief. I am going to be free. It is an epiphany.
They take me back to the interview room. I ask if I can talk to the other policeman, the third guy, the one who has never spoken to me.
He has remained in the background, seemingly the lowest ranked of this elite drugs squad. He enters the room.
“You must be tired,” he says, pouring me a glass of water. “Yes,” I say. “I am.”
I look down for a moment, studying my hands, tanned and wiry from the hours spent gripping the handlebars, training and racing with my Cofidis teammates, for thousands upon thousands of kilometers.
I lift my head and look at him. He is watching me.
“You know, David, this is not going to go away,” he tells me. “We’re not going to stop.”
“I know,” I say.
Now, at last, I am ready.
“I want to tell you first. I don’t want to give them—the others—the satisfaction.”
And so I begin.
Let me tell you who I am.
My name is David Millar.
I am a professional cyclist, an Olympic athlete, a Tour de France star, a world champion—and a drugs cheat.
And I want to start again.
RACING THROUGH THE DARK is a new book by champion cyclist DAVID MILLAR. In 2004, Millar was caught for taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Unlike just about every other athlete similarly charged, Millar immediately came clean. Doping may have boosted his results, but it had an extremely caustic effect on his soul. In RACING THROUGH THE DARK (Touchstone, on sale June 26), the memoir he wrote himself, Millar takes a hard, unflinching look at his journey through the world of professional cycling—from starting as a neo-pro determined never to cheat, to becoming a battered veteran who finally succumbed to the ubiquitous temptation of PEDs, to serving a two-year ban and returning to competition full of renewed optimism and a firm resolve not only not to cheat, but to create a team in which doping is not an option. This is a tale of idealism soured but also of a spirit re-engaged. Millar’s phoenix-like return to the sport he so clearly loves will leave you heartened, and cheering.
Unfortunately doping is still a very pressing issue. Recently, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency brought formal doping charges against former cyclist Lance Armstrong in an action that could cost him his seven Tour de France titles. RACING THROUGH THE DARK sheds light on the destructive culture of doping and offers Millar’s keen insight on how to turn the sport around.
Millar takes readers inside the peloton vividly describing both the beauty and the pain of cycling in riveting detail. RACING THROUGH THE DARK also transcends the sport, and speaks to the choices we make and the power that comes from owning up to mistakes—and refusing to be defined by them.
**The British Olympic Association recently announced that David Millar has been shortlisted for one of the five spots on the men’s road cycling team for the London Games. As a result of his doping charge Millar was banned from the Olympics for life under BOA rules, but the bylaw was revoked last month after being rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. **