In 2004, Scottish pro-cyclist David Millar was arrested by French detectives investigating doping practices in his team, Cofidis.
On searching Millar’s house the police found two used syringes hidden within Millar’s beloved book collection. To cycling fans and observers everywhere Millar’s story was just like the others that they had grown uncomfortably used to – another cycling prospect was shown to be a weak willed cheat.
For Millar himself, the discovery did not spell disaster. It was a huge relief that the life that he had never intended for himself had come to an end. The transformation from doper, to anti-doping advocate had begun.
Published last year, Millar’s tale gives a viewpoint that is not readily accessible in the world of sport – that of a doper.
As interviews have shown, Millar is a witty and intelligent man, and his recounting of his life and a love of cycling reflects that entirely. He is candid and pragmatic, the description of the breakup of his parents’ marriage in particular is surprisingly open, and yet relatively unemotional. As a reader you are solidly on his side as he becomes infatuated with cycling, a youthful and wide eyed amateur concerned with pushing himself as hard as he can on the streets of Hong Kong.
And yet, as with a Shakespearean tragic hero, you know that with every page you turn, you are getting ever closer to the point where a person who you like is going to wholly fail. You know that as much as you like him, in the back of your mind, Millar is going to dope.
Millar describes his shock and awe at the ferocity of the pro-tour scene and his bafflement at the relative openness of doping within the sport, and how non dopers such as him were viewed as honourable, but stupid sportsmen. His gradual decline into recovery injections, and finally into doping itself is, although not justifiable, is perhaps understandable. Rather than being an unpalatable sordid affair, Millar’s description of his first time doping is a calm and relaxed one, again highlighting the extent of the laid back doping culture within professional cycling.
There are some highlights. The book is at its best when Millar describes individual stages in certain races. It really goes to great lengths to show the reader the romance, competitiveness, madness and suffering that makes up the psyche of a pro-cyclist.
Knowing what we now know, Millar’s descriptions of Lance Armstrong are fascinating. Millar is in a privileged position to be able to comment on Armstrong, due to spending his formative years around the now identified drug cheat. Armstrong is painted as a charismatic personality, exuding a brutal self confidence and an overwhelming desire to win, whilst somehow maintaining a closed off personal superiority. The highlight is the climax of one of Millar’s drunken benders, when he wades in on a dinner between Lance and cycling god Eddie Mercx.
Millar’s viewpoints on Bradley Wiggins and Dave Brailsford are also insightful, and say a lot about the two men. Millar’s praise of Brailsford could not be high enough – when Millar was first involved with British Cycling, Brailsford provided him with advice and guidance the likes of which he had never experienced at Cofidis, and when he was banned Brailsford believed in Millar and went to great lengths to make sure there was a place for Millar when he came back. The book has a foreword written by the Brailsford.
Wiggins is painted as a slightly more aloof character, as is his now well known persona, a sort of still-waters-run-deep man. Millar is critical of Wiggins at one point, particularly with regards his relative apathy towards Garmin Slipstream whilst Team Sky was being formed.
Racing Through The Dark is a wonderful read, a true page turner with an almost unique viewpoint at its centre. It is a must read for any cycling fan and probably for any sports fan too.