By Agence France Presse
David Millar has been sacked by his Cofidis team and appears likely to be stripped of his world time-trial title after he confessed to French police Tuesday that he had taken the banned performance enhancer EPO.
On a bleak day for Britain’s top cyclist, Millar emerged from a courtroom in the Paris suburb of Nanterre after a two-hour grilling to discover that his Cofidis team had decided to wash their hands of him.
“The letter sacking David Millar left yesterday,” a spokesman for Cofidis confirmed to AFP.
In a transcript of an earlier confession to police investigating drug taking by riders of the Cofidis team and published by L’Equipe newspaper, Millar reportedly said he had taken the blood booster erythropoietin in 2001 and 2003.
That admission is virtually certain to mean the loss of the gold medal he won in Canada last October.
“Under normal circumstances we cannot use confidential testimony from a police inquiry,” an International Cycling Union official told AFP.
“But if Millar confirms what he said, either publicly or at a court hearing, it’s not necessary to wait for a verdict in the proceedings.”
If Millar is stripped of his gold medal, then Australian Michael Rogers, runner-up in 2003, would take the title. German Uwe Peschel would move from bronze to silver and countryman Michael Rich would move from fourth to bronze.
There have been cases of riders being banned or stripped of titles without a positive drugs test. Jerome Chiotti of France was stripped of his 1996 world mountain-bike title after he admitted to doping.
After the hearing, Millar’s lawyer, Paul-Albert Iweins, said: “My client was interviewed for two hours by the judge. Mr. Millar admitted to taking EPO. He accepts fully his actions. In one way that’s liberated him. I don’t think he took EPO happily. Now he’s waiting to be punished by the British cycling federation.”
The UCI cannot act on Millar’s gold medal until the British authorities have first opened their own investigation.
Iweins said part of the reason why Millar had taken EPO was the pressure he felt at being appointed captain of the Cofidis team.
“David Millar’s explained that he felt huge pressure as leader of a team confronted with the obligation to produce results,” said Iweins who then alluded to “an ostrich mentality” prevalent at Cofidis.
He said Millar had used different channels to obtain EPO than the other Cofidis riders implicated in the scandal, which has resurrected memories of the Festina doping affair that almost brought the 1998 Tour to its knees.
Millar was placed under judicial investigation for illegal possession of toxic products after police found empty capsules of Eprex, a commonly used form of EPO, in his flat in Biarritz.
In the L’Equipe transcript he allegedly told police: “I’d dreamed of becoming world champion, and I’d achieved it, but I cheated.”
He said he had kept the empty capsules to remind him of what he had done.
“I wasn’t proud of using drugs, I wasn’t happy. I’d become a prisoner of the person I’d become.”
Millar said he had found it difficult living up to expectations when he joined Cofidis in 1997 but his team management never tried to persuade him to use drugs.
He claims it was his former Cofidis teammate Massililiano Lelli of Italy and Euskaltel team doctor Jesus Losa who supplied him with EPO when he failed to cope with the demands of life on the road.
But he admitted his earnings had risen to 800,000 euros a year after his drug-fueled successes.
Cofidis has been under investigation since seven of its riders were charged with doping offenses. All the riders have either left or been sacked.
Meanwhile Rogers, who is now slated to inherit Millar’s gold medal, declined to comment, at least until he has been officially notified by the UCI.
“I don’t really want to say anything until it’s become official, out of respect for David and everybody else involved,” Rogers told AFP after completing the 15th stage on the Tour de France.