Racing Through the Dark by David Millar is an honest self-written account of his descent from an extremely talented young rider to a two-year ban for admitting to using various proscribed substances and through to something like redemption.
A confession; I have been a fan of David Millar more or less since the beginning of his career. Apart from his obvious talent, he always came across as being more interesting than the average cyclist. His answers to journalist’s questions were always a bit less bland.
I was there in 2001, wearing my “It’s Millar Time” t-shirt, in Dunkirk, when he crashed (and as the book tells started his burn) in the prologue. He may have heard my shouts of encouragement as he struggled up Cap Griz Nez, swathed in bandages, just about hanging on to the back of the peleton. I was as surprised and shocked as anyone when he admitted to doping in 2004. I was at the top of the hill at Southborough when he took the King of the Mountains points on the stage from London to Canterbury. So to the book.
The opening two short contrasting chapters set the tone for the book. The overture if it was an opera. The first chapter is his telling of his arrest and interrogation by the French Police that led to his confession of having used performance enhancing drugs.
The second chapter, set five years later, is his story of a magnificent, thrilling, but ultimately futile attempt to win the Tour de France stage from Girona (where he now lives) to Barcelona. Through his words you can capture the renewed joy that he has in the sport of cycling.
Tracing his path from an idealistic neo-pro to his eventual downfall is a fascinating psychological journey. While never excusing himself from responsibility, he shows clearly that unless you were a far more stable and emotionally mature person than he was then, the culture around you drew you into doping. The point at which he finally gives in and agrees to dope is strangely and chillingly banal and matter of fact.
His path back from the depths of 2004 in Biarritz, sitting on the steps to the beach with his sister Francis, wishing he had a fast forward button, to the closing paragraphs, the morning after celebrating his Gold Medal at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, is neither smooth nor straightforward, but it is ultimately an uplifting story. He has problems with the French Justice system and the French Tax authority. His new team, Saunier Duval seemed to have similar problems to those he met at Cofidis, with riders notably Ricardo Ricco appearing to use EPO and other banned substances, and the management turning a blind eye to the goings on. Joining Jonathan Vaughters’ Slipstream team, with its anti-doping ethos, finally gave him something to believe in.
The book is about as far removed from the bland hack written “autobiographies” of sportsmen and women that we normally expect as can be. It is an open, honest and at times raw account of the pressures and strains that a top sportsman encounters. I think that it is a book that everyone should read, not just cycling fans. And if it does not win this years William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, then I will definitely read the book that beats it.