Engagingly straightforward recollections of a champion athlete who succumbed to the dark side of illegal performance enhancement.
Cyclist Millar was a contender for the British Olympic team when he was arrested in 2004 by French authorities as part of their investigation into the Cofidis racing team. Unlike many athletes, the author chose to cooperate and was forthright about his disgrace. While accepting responsibility for his actions, he notes a willful blindness throughout the cycling establishment—“Cofidis had fundamentally failed when it came to preventing doping”—and he tries to convey the enormous pressures faced by neophyte athletes. Millar rose quickly as a young amateur cyclist, and his passion is evident in the focus on the technical side of racing. He portrays competitive cycling as a macho, closed society under close scrutiny. However, he writes, cycling officials tolerated an insidious culture of performance boosting and "recovery" that started with obscure, quasi-legal measures. After a few physically tortuous years of high-stakes races, the use of illegal substances came to seem inevitable, though the guilt and stress destroyed the happiness he’d found in riding. After he came clean to a French judge and the British Cycling governing body, he was banned from competition for two years (and banned from the Olympics for life). His forthright tone makes his downfall seem relatable: “I had become completely removed from my sport…I wasn’t an athlete anymore.” He ultimately received an opportunity to redeem himself with a smaller team, Saunier Duval, making his comeback at 29 in the 2006 Tour de France, just as the event was roiled by yet another doping scandal. Such events support Millar’s core argument that only candor about the seamy aspects of high-stakes athletics might allow problems like doping to be addressed.
Will appeal to cycling enthusiasts and readers who seek an honest explanation of the scandals sullying the sport.