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17 October 2014

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David Millar's fall from grace

David Millar in 2000

© Empics

It seems incredible to be looking at the career of a fit 28-year-old cyclist and wondering what might have been. But it seems it has been only realised in retrospect that David Millar could have been this country's greatest road cyclist.

Even if Millar's current ban for taking the illegal blood doping product EPO is reduced to one year, it is difficult to see how he can return to the level of World Champion again, never mind become a Tour de France winner, which commentators predicted for him at the start of his career.

When he broke through in the millennium Tour de France, winning the prologue and then retaining the yellow jersey at the age of 23, many thought the tall Scot had a long future challenging for his sport's greatest honours. Good placings in the Vuelta de Espana and the Dauphine Libre showed he could also perform away from the tour. Back in 2001, he was ranked the 16th best cyclist in the world.

Now, if Millar wants a reminder of where he could be in the sport, he only needs to look at the career of the Italian rider Ivan Basso. Both 28, Millar and Basso have been strong contenders for the white jersey of best young rider in the Tour de France, with Basso winning the jersey in 2002.

Last year the CSC rider finished third in the Tour and for long periods was considered the only credible challenger to Lance Armstrong's dominance.

Unlike his namesake Robert, David Millar was more of an all-round cyclist in the Armstrong mould. He could climb, time trial and has the stamina for the longer tours. If there was a weakness in Millar's armoury, it was his mental strength. It was wondered if his easy-going nature meant he lacked the will to win.

But Millar's independent spirit caused many to wonder if he had the siege mentality to be a true champion. After crashing twice in one mountain stage of the Vuelta de Espana, one fall being caused by the team car of another rider, he climbed the final mountain of the stage and then stepped off his bike without crossing the line, in protest at the lack of protection the riders were receiving from the organisers.

David Millar

© Empics

And when he didn't win his speciality, the prologue in the centenary tour, he blamed his team manager Alain Bondue for his faulty chain ring which sabotaged his chances of wearing yellow.

"He's the one who manages the contracts and the choice of equipment," Millar explained at the time. "To me it's clear, the equipment does not perform well enough."

Ironically, by taking the highly dangerous blood booster EPO, which has been linked indirectly to the deaths of many cyclists, Millar finally proved he had a winner's mentality.

Millar was first implicated in illegal drug taking at the beginning of 2004, when the Cofidis scandal broke.

In June, French police brought Millar in for questioning. His apartment in Biarritz was searched and two used syringes of EPO were discovered, which Millar claimed he kept as a reminder of what he had done to win the World Championships.

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