Millar: UCI should own up to cycling’s doping past

Scot roasts the UCI and Hein Verbruggen and says the USADA-Armstrong case could be 'the best thing' for cycling

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VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) – David Millar says the UCI should own up to its role in cycling’s doping past and said that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation into Lance Armstrong is the “best thing for cycling.”

Speaking to a group of journalists after attending a press conference with UCI president Pat McQuaid, the Garmin-Sharp captain had harsh words for the UCI’s reluctance to take its share of responsibility for what happened during what he characterized as cycling’s “dark period.”

“They’re going down the line that they did everything they could within the system, when we all know it was easy to beat the system. I was one of the people who easily beat the system,” said Millar, who served a two-year doping ban in 2004-06. “The reason the UCI brought in a hematocrit limit in 1997, my first year as a pro, because they knew (EPO) was rife within the sport, yet they denied it publicly, and they allowed certain team managers and doctors remain in the sport, and almost helped them.”

Millar’s words came during a tense, one-hour press conference with McQuaid when doping questions dominated the proceedings. The majority of questions were about USADA’s lifetime ban against Lance Armstrong and the UCI’s posture on the anti-doping issue.

McQuaid staunchly defended the UCI’s current anti-doping efforts, which includes the biological passport and longer bans against confirmed dopers, but he largely washed his hands of the UCI’s responsibilities during the EPO era.

Millar, who is not racing this weekend at the UCI Road World Championships, attended the press conference as a commentator for BBC.

During the press conference, Millar asked McQuaid directly if the UCI should take more responsibility for what happened during the EPO era.

“I don’t think so. I don’t see why we should be apologetic. We do more testing than anyone else. If we got information at any point in time, we would act on that information. You did what you did, and you didn’t rush to inform that to the UCI. Others doped and then spent small fortunes to tell the UCI and the world they didn’t dope, only to later say they did,” McQuaid said testily. “UCI is not to blame for the culture of doping in the sport.”

Millar was later approached by a handful of journalists after the press conference and the Garmin-Sharp rider insisted that cycling would be better off if the UCI acknowledged its own errors in managing the sport in the past.

“If it is apparent there was a black period, I think it’s time for the UCI to say, ‘maybe we didn’t do everything we could have done, and we’re sorry for that.’ Now they’re just saying, ‘oh, we did everything we could, we have no regrets,’” Millar said. “I think (former UCI president) Hein Verbruggen has a lot to answer for… He was at the helm when this got to its worse. Pat (McQuaid) came in in 2005. Hein Verbruggen seems to be pretending that nothing ever happened and it would be very annoying that he would never apologize for what happened… It doesn’t give them (UCI) any credibility. It’s like the Lance argument that he passed 500 tests. The UCI is saying we did everything we could have within the system. Is that true?”

Millar, of course, has been one of the most outspoken riders on the doping issue since his comeback in 2006. He described his two-year ban as a personal liberation and insists that he and today’s peloton are racing clean. When asked about cycling’s continued perception problem, he said the peloton today is radically different than what it was a half-decade ago.

“The sport’s changed incredibly. The peloton believes Bradley Wiggins is clean. I trust him implicitly. And Ryder Hesjedal winning the Giro, which is perhaps physically the most demanding grand tour, that gives us confidence to the peloton,” he said. “The bottom line is now, you’re a young guy coming into the sport today, you can win the biggest races clean. That was something unimaginable even a few years ago. Credit to where credit is due.”

Millar insists that it’s not only the UCI and the peloton that must share responsibility, but also pointed toward the media and even the fans.

“I think we were all blinkered in certain ways. People talk about the omerta, but the media were as well. The fans were, too. We’re all to blame slightly for what happened,” he said. “It was an era in the sport when doping was prevalent. It’s something we all have to admit now. It’s not that we can just pretend it didn’t happen. We’re seeing now there are repercussions and that’s a good thing.”

Millar also said the enormity of the USADA case against Armstrong will act to further bury the ghosts of the sport’s past and help let it move forward with a new future.

“It could end up being the best thing for cycling. I really do believe that. It’s a positive in the long run,” Millar said. “We will no longer have these shadows lurking in the background and this confusion. I think we can all try to be on the same page now moving forward, which we would have never been without the USADA case.”

When asked later by VeloNews about the Armstrong case, Millar said he didn’t expect Armstrong to ever publicly admit to using banned substances. USADA handed Armstrong a lifetime ban in August when the Texan declined arbitration against the agency’s charges that he used, trafficked and distributed doping products between 1998 and 2010.

“It’s unfortunate for him. He’s too far in. Just the scale of him, the legal problems would be massive,” Millar said. “That’s sad, he’s a phenomenal athlete, no matter what happened. And now he has to live with this for the rest of his life without having it very clarified. That’s how the cookie crumbles, I suppose.”