Britain's David Millar believes his return to cycling's top echelons after serving a career-threatening doping ban can serve as an example to the embattled sport of cycling.
Millar, who rides for the Saunier Duval team, completed his second Tour de France here Sunday since returning from a doping ban in June 2006 after admitting to using the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin). Gradually refinding his feet in the peloton, Millar has since emerged as one of the most outspoken riders against the doping which, as this year's race has shown, is far from gone.
The 94th edition was marked by two positive doping cases, the eviction of two entire teams and the controversial ejection of Denmark's Michael Rasmussen despite him not testing positive.
Alexandre Vinokourov, one of Millar's "heroes", tested positive for blood-doping - news that hit the Scot particularly hard. A day later, Millar's former team Cofidis were, like Vinokourov's Astana outfit, forced out after their Italian rider Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone.
After three weeks of racing which left Spaniard Alberto Contador on the top step of the podium on the Champs Elysees, the reputation of the race was left blackened. And despite cycling having upped the ante in their fight against the cheats with increased and more targeted tests, Tour bosses are already considering reforms to the race for next year.
Millar says however that radical reforms are badly needed. The 30-year-old Scot says it will take time, but believes cycling needs to suffer for a few years before emerging with a future to look forward to.
"It's going to take five or ten years to change the mentalities," Millar told Le Journal Du Dimanche. "We have to start bringing in real, professional managers (for teams), not ex-cyclists who are incapable of running a business which has 50 employees.
"Teams are professionals, yet some riders are allowed to simply train all year on their own (...) The result is that there is no loyalty, and no responsibility. We need a total culture change. The sport will suffer and lose out in the popularity stakes, but it has to hit the bottom before it can bounce back up."
Despite positive signs that things are changing, and a widespread belief that only a minority of riders are involved in doping, Millar is still unsure exactly how clean this year's Tour was.
"That's the question. A few guys were snared during the Tour, but there must be more, surely," he added. "But to be honest, the way it is now is nothing to do with what it (the doping) was like in the past. I can't suspect all the performances - anyone can have the legs to have the best day of their life on the bike.
"I think there has definitely been progress. It's becoming a lot more difficult to get away with cheating, but there are still a few things that need refining."
Millar cited the Rasmussen affair, which led to the ejection of the race leader who was suspected of doping after it was revealed he had missed four random doping controls in the past two years.
Rasmussen missed the tests by two separate bodies, the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the Danish Anti-Doping Agency, but despite those warnings Rasmussen could still legally race and was allowed to do so despite his Rabobank team being aware of his errors.
Millar added: "The Rasmussen affair demonstrated that when it comes to beating doping, there's just no cohesion between the federations, the organisers and the teams. And in the end, it's cycling that suffers."
He said his own admission to doping could serve as an example.
"After my experience, I never thought I would bounce back to where I am now. But if I can do it, cycling can as well."
© AFP 2007