(Image credit: Rolf Kaiser
CC BY-SA 3.0)
David "The Dandy" Millar was born on this day in 1977. The Malta-born British cyclist is the only British rider to have worn the race leader's jersey in all three Grand Tours; though he was subsequently stripped of his Tour de France on his own insistence during one of the most famous and dramatic doping cases in modern cycling.
At 20:25 on the 23rd of June, 2004 as Millar enjoyed dinner in a restaurant, three plain clothes officers from the anti-drugs squad approached him. He was arrested and the officers took his shoe laces, watch, keys, cellphone and other items before driving him back to his flat and beginning a search. Millar is still highly critical of their methods:
"They went in with a gun first, as if somebody was going to hit them with a back wheel or something. They sat me down and I wasn't allowed to move while they searched the house. They search while you're there. It took them four hours.
(image credit: Petit Brun CC BY-SA 2.0)
They humiliated me and were critiquing my lifestyle, using a classic good cop, bad cop thing. It was psychological warfare. The bad cop literally hated me. He was saying: 'You're not a good person – we know that.' He said: 'You take three paces and I will bring you down like you're resisting arrest.' It was deliberate. I felt completely violated."Eventually, the police found what they were looking for - empty phials that had once contained EPO and two used syringes. Precisely where they were found is a bit of a mystery - some reports say that they were lying on top of a book, others that they were concealed within a hollowed-out book. Millar was then taken to Biarritz and locked in a cell. It would later turn out that they had targeted Millar after Philippe Gaumont, arrested six months previously, told them that the British rider had encouraged Cofidis team doctor Jean-Jacques Menuet to provide them and Cedric Vasseur with the drug, which increases red blood cell population.
Millar denied the claims, telling police that Gaumont was "a lunatic" and that he was "talking absolute crap." However, by this time his phone had been tapped for some four months and, when faced with damning evidence against him, he took the sensible option and made a full confession the next day. Under international cyclings sanctioned by the UCI, a confession is considered equal grounds for suspension as a positive test and he was banned for two years by the British Cycling Federation in August. He was stripped of his 2003 World Time Trial Championship, his 3rd place Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré finish also from 2003 and his Stage 1 and 6 wins at the 2001 Vuelta a Espana. Cofidis, meanwhile, began to tear itself apart as Menuet resigned; sacking riders and team employees until it was left a hollow shell on the point of implosion.
An appeal to the Court for Arbitration in Sport failed to get the ban reduced, but it was backdated to begin from the day he'd made his confession. Then in 2006, he came under further investigation as part of a court hearing in Nanterres. That he had doped was not in any doubt, but the court ruled that since Menuet lived just over the Spanish border, it was impossible to prove whether the rider had taken the banned drug while in France or in Spain - and as such, criminal charges could not be sought. During the hearing, Millar opened himself up and told how he had been almost destroyed by the pressures of the sport; how he had despaired that he could never live up to the expectations of his fans and how, after spending every evening alone in his flat with only the television to take his mind off the stress, he had begun going to parties and drinking heavily. He had always found it difficult to make friends, he said; which suggests that, like many people who crave interaction with other human beings but for whatever reason cannot find friends, he filled the void with the temporary friendships that come so much easier with intoxication. He had broken a bone and been unable to cycle for four months, then split up with his girlfriend and entered a depression.
|Millar's return: the 2007 Tour|
(image credit: McSmit CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Tour de France began one week after his ban ended in 2006 and, slowly but surely, Millar began clawing his way back to the top echelon of cyclists. Since then, his intelligence and (sometimes abrasive but always interesting) personality has led to him becoming one of the sport's elder statesmen, frequently approached by journalists seeking his opinion on all sorts of matters.
Professional cycling was a poorer place without him and though many people initially felt that he should not return, he is now among the most popular figures on the ProTour circuit.
Born in Lëtzebuerg, the capital city of Luxembourg, on this day in 1976, Joachim rode in six Grand Tours - twice in the Tour de France (2000 and 2002), four times in the Vuelta a Espana (2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005) and once in the Giro d'Italia (2005). In the 2004 Vuelta, he became the first rider from Luxembourg to wear the race leader's jersey and kept it for two days. That same year, he won the National Time Trial title, having won the National Road Race Championship in 2003.
In 2000, Joachim returned a sample that revealed an unusually high level of 19-nortestosterone, which exists naturally in the human body in minute quantities but, as a metabolite of Nandralone, in larger quantities is indication of illegal anabolic steroid use. However, he was subsequently cleared on a technicality and continued riding for the Discovery team with whom he spent his entire professional career with the exception of his final two seasons from 2007 when he joined Astana.
Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych, born on this day in 1980, enjoyed enormous success as an amateur and won an Under-23 World Championship and Paris-Roubaix before turning professional with Discovery in 2005, where he was hailed as a potential successor to Lance Armstrong - whom he helped towards his historic seventh Tour de France victory that year, while winning the Youth Classification for himself.
|Popovych at the 2011 Tour de France|
(image credit: PB85 CC BY-SA 3.0)
When Discovery withdrew from cycling at the end of the 2007 season, Popovych moved to Silence-Lotto as a domestique to Cadel Evans who would come 2nd in the Tour that year. It proved to be a far quieter year for the Ukrainian, however, as he achieved just one podium finish - 3rd at Paris-Nice. At the end of the season, he signed up to Astana which had recently come under the aegis of ex-Discovery manager Johan Bruyneel, a man whose management style has earned him the eternal dislike and everlasting loyalty of riders in roughly equal amounts. Once again riding as a domestique for Contador, he helped to propel the Spaniard to 4th place overall while settling for 23rd himself. In 2010, when Bruyneel took on management duties at the new Team Radioshack co-owned by Lance Armstrong, Popovych once again went with him.
In January 2011, Popovych was implicated in the investigation into Floyd Landis. American magazine Sports Illustrated published a report claiming that Popovych's Tuscan home had been raided by police who had subsequently discovered doping products, medical supplies and documents linking him to the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari. Through his lawyer, Popovych strongly denied the claims and also stated that the magazine's claims that police had found proof of a continuing connection between Ferraro and Armstrong, who had previously insisted he no longer had any association with the controversial doctor. No charges have been brought against Popovych which, it seems, proves the allegations published by Sports Illustrated were indeed either incorrect or a deliberate falsification, and he will ride with the new Radioshack-Nissan-Trek team formed following the merger with Leopard Trek announced in 2011.
Marek Wesoły, born in Gostyń, Poland on this day in 1978, has ridden in all three Grand Tours. His best result to date came at the 2004 National Championships, where he won the Road Race title.
Wilf Waters, born on this day in 1923, became a household name as one of the most successful British cyclists during the 1940s when he won numerous titles. In 1948, he was selected to compete at the Olympic Games in London and, with David Ricketts, Tommy Godwin and Robert Geldard, won a bronze medal in the Team Pursuit. At the time of writing, Waters is still with us.
Dutch criterium cyclist Jan Schröder died on this day in 2007. He was born on the 16th of June 1941.
Other births: Frank Høj (Denmark, 1973); Jan Hruška (Czechoslovakia, 1975); Ernst Denifl (Father of Leopard Trek's Stefan Denifl, Austria, 1962); Károly Eisenkrammer (Hungary, 1969); Paul Maue (Germany, 1922); Tadashi Kato (Japan, 1935); Ramón Sáez (Spain, 1940); Heinz Imboden (Switzerland, 1962); Erik Schoefs (Belgium, 1967); Tsuyoshi Kawachi (Japan, 1945); Jimmi Madsen (Denmark, 1969); Ib Vagn Hansen (Denmark, 1926).
Tomorrow: Megan Hughes-Bäckstedt