By Andrew Hood
David Millar is poised to return to the professional ranks this summer in what’s sure to be one of the most-watched and controversial comebacks in recent cycling history.
Nearly two years after admitting he used the banned blood-booster EPO, Millar has signed a deal with the Spanish team Saunier Duval and is expected to start to the 2006 Tour de France just days after his two-year ban concludes June 23.
Speaking to The Times, Millar said he wants his comeback to prove a point.
“I want my comeback to be credible and inspiring, for me and for others and for younger kids. I owe that to cycling and my friends,” he said in an interview with the London newspaper. “I want it to be unquestionable and good to watch, because it is possible to win without doping.”
Once the golden boy of English cycling, Millar’s life spiraled out of control in June 2004 after he confessed to taking EPO. Authorities stripped him of his 2003 world time trial title, kicked him off the British national team and slapped him with a two-year racing ban, leaving the humiliated Millar to contemplate life out of the fast lane.
Millar was caught up in a lengthy investigation into the so-called Cofidis affair in early 2004. Several riders and staff were implicated in charges of supplying and using of banned performance-enhancing products.
While Millar actually never failed a doping test, he eventually admitted to authorities, while being held in a French jail, that he used banned products to earn some of his biggest results.
The flamboyant Scot – who was born in Hong Kong and turned pro at 19 – was eventually handed a two-year racing ban (reduced from four years) and stripped of some of his biggest wins, including the 2003 world time trial championship.
“It was terrifying the whole bloody time,” he said. “You’re 27 and you think you’ve got everything and then suddenly you have nothing — in fact, less than nothing. I came back to England and started from scratch. I had to reinvent myself. I had no choice because I’d lost everything.”
Millar said he started training again last summer and is committed to coming back as a clean rider.
“I had a long time off the bike, when I just didn’t even touch it,” he said. “Last summer I started riding again, around the Peak District. I loved it and within a month felt like I was flying. It reminded me that actually I am quite good at it.”
With the date of the ban being pegged to the date of his confession in June 2004, it opens the door for Millar’s return to the Tour. If he’s named to the Tour squad as expected, he’ll line up as one of the favorites to win the prologue on the streets of Strasbourg.
Yus in a doping noose
French team Bouygues Telecom is accusing former rider Unai Yus of possessing banned human-growth hormones during this year’s Vuelta a España.
Team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau told the French sports daily L’Equipe that lab results demonstrate that items taken from Yus’s hotel room during the Vuelta included illegal performance-enhancing products.
Yus, a former Spanish cyclo-cross national champion, didn’t start the 10th stage of the Vuelta and was later fired by the team. Yus insisted the products were vitamins and other recovery drugs allowed by the Spanish cycling federation.
Team officials, however, conducted its own tests and found Somatropin, a growth human used for recovery that’s banned by the UCI, in one of the samples.
Bernaudeau said Yus was fired because products were not properly registered with team doctors and that he broke internal team rules about having unregistered products in his possession.
Yus can’t be charged by the UCI because the samples were collected and lab tests conducted by the team. Yus continues to insist the products – including injectable vitamins C and B12, Samet 200, Thiotaie, Taionil 600, glutamine and Felixit – are allowed under Spanish cycling rules.
Gerdemann ready for more
Linus Gerdemann, the promising young German rider who switched from Team CSC to T-Mobile last month, said he’s excited about what lies in store for the 2006 season.
Just 23, Gerdemann is hailed by some as the best young German rider since Jan Ullrich. A winner of a stage at the Tour de Suisse this year, Gerdemann couldn’t resist a three-year deal to join Germany’s top pro team and ride alongside Ullrich.
“I am all curious about what awaits me at the T-Mobile Team and happy about this big challenge,” Gerdemann said on the team’s web page. “I want to learn a lot in my first year and mix it at the front in one-day-races or smaller tours.”
The team is set to have its first meeting ahead of the 2006 season in Vienna next week. Gerdemann will join other new faces such as Jörg Ludewig, Lorenzo Bernucci, Patrik Sinkewitz and Michael Rogers to get their first impression of T-Mobile.