The doping-tainted world of professional cycling can become clean, according to Scottish rider David Millar, himself once banned for taking EPO but now back racing with the Slipstream team.
Speaking at the Tour of Qatar, Millar said he believed cycling could eventually become clean of blood-booster EPO, blood transfusions and other illegal aids to performance.
“These are not just mere words. I believe at Slipstream there really is a new way to compete in cycling,” Millar said.
These optimistic comments come from a rider who was banned for two years in August 2004 for using EPO when riding with Cofidis and who was stripped of his 2003 world time-trial victory.
Millar has since repented and has become a torchbearer for a new wave of professional cyclists who are fighting to bring about a new era in the peloton without doping.
Former American rider Jonathan Vaughters, now the general manager of Slipstream, has an approach which rests on the principle of trying to make sure cyclists are not left to their own devices too much to try and stem any outside temptations to doping.
That means that outside race days, the riders live together at Gerona, Spain, for as often as possible where Slipstream has its training base.
“All members of the team, mechanics, doctors, coaches, nutritionists and physiotherapists live together at the same place. This creates bonds which allow us to train with a family atmosphere. It’s incredible,” Millar told AFP.
Millar, 30, did not seem to worry about the downside — riders must always be contactable, are compelled to live far from family, have restricted freedom and must undergo lots of blood tests.
Millar, a former yellow jersey wearer of the Tour de France, said: “The pleasure of doing our chosen profession means that you are happy to forget about certain things.
“Jonathan reminds us often to do our job in an extremely professional manner but without taking ourselves too seriously.”
Slipstream has set up strict anti-doping conditions, via a laboratory which analyses riders’ blood every two weeks. “A laboratory which is completely independent of the team is unique in the peloton,” Millar said.
Vaughters said he had no desire to be a saint or shining white knight. He said instead it was fashionable to be staunchly anti-doping and that it would be a shame not to make the most of it.
“We have decided to specifically talk about our anti-doping practices to try and get people talking about us,” adds Vaughters, who is supported financially by New York billionaire Doug Ellis who is dreaming of having a new American team at the forefront of a Tour de France.
Slipstream’s entrance into the Tour de France this year could perhaps be reality for Millar and his team-mates — among others Magnus Backstedt, David Zabriskie and Christian Vandevelde.
Millar added with a smile: “We have just celebrated our invitation into the Tour of Italy and now we are only waiting for the green light to race in the Grand Boucle where he hope to do great things.”