ANNONAY, France — David Millar, a reformed “ex-doper,” won a stage at the Tour de France on Friday, saying his victory is proof riders can win cleanly.
His British compatriot, Bradley Wiggins, is of like mind. Wiggins, who holds the overall lead, is looking to not only win the race when it ends July 22 but win over cycling fans troubled by the sport’s long history with drugs.
“I do want to start building bridges to prove that I’m doing this off bread and water. … So if I can be as open and as honest as possible, then hopefully that will go some way to gaining people’s trust,” he said.
Millar’s victory and Wiggins’ assertions came exactly 45 years after Tom Simpson, the first Briton to wear yellow, died on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux after using a lethal mix of amphetamines and alcohol.
“It’s particularly poignant that I win the day of this anniversary because I’m an ex-doper, I made mistakes,” Millar said. “It’s a nice kind of full circle that I’ve now won today a clean rider – after making the same mistakes that Tommy made.”
He added: “I hope that today I’ve shown where cycling has come in the last 45 years, and even in the last five years.”
Millar, who rides for the U.S. Garmin-Sharp team, has been cycling’s most vocal critic of doping for years. The 35-year-old Scotsman says he learned hard lessons after “making a mess” of his life through drugs.
He won the Tour’s 12th and longest stage Friday by leading a five-rider breakaway as the race left the Alps. The 140-mile ride from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay-Davezieux featured two big climbs, but did not change the top of the standings because Wiggins and his main rivals finished together.
Overall, Wiggins leads teammate Christopher Froome, in second, by 2:05. Vincenzo Nibali, of Italy, is third, 2:23 back. Defending champion Cadel Evans is fourth, 3:19 behind. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, of Belgium, is fifth, 4:48 off the pace.
The ranks continued to thin Friday.
Rabobank said Dutch team leader Robert Gesink, in 67th place and more than an hour behind Wiggins, quit to focus on the Spanish Vuelta. Rabobank has only four of its original nine riders remaining. Cofidis star David Moncoutie crashed after about 24 miles and dropped out.
The three-week race heads toward the Mediterranean on Saturday for France’s July 14 national holiday, Bastille Day. The 135-mile stage goes from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Le Cap d’Agde, a coastal resort known for its nudist colony.