ANNONAY, France – David Millar, who describes himself as a reformed “ex-doper,” won the longest stage of the Tour de France on Friday while British countryman Bradley Wiggins kept the yellow jersey as the race left the Alps.
Millar led a five-man breakaway in the 12th stage and said he hopes his ride helps fans believe that cyclists can win cleanly. His victory came exactly 45 years after Tom Simpson, the first Briton to wear the yellow jersey, died on the slopes of daunting Mont Ventoux after using a lethal mix of amphetamines and alcohol.
Millar, who rides for the U.S. Garmin-Sharp team, has for years been cycling’s most vocal critic of doping. The 35-year-old Scotsman says he learned hard lessons after “making a mess” of his life through drug use.
The 140-mile ride from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay-Davezieux featured two big climbs, but it did not change the top of the standings because Wiggins and his main rivals finished together.
Millar punched the air as he edged Frenchman Jean-Christophe Peraud at the line in a two-man sprint – five seconds ahead of three others also in the breakaway on the Granier pass.
This was Millar’s fourth stage victory of his career but first since 2003. He also became the fourth Briton to win a Tour stage this year, after Mark Cavendish, Christopher Froome and Wiggins.
The victory was also a vindication for Garmin-Sharp, which had a terrible first week when it lost two top riders to crashes: Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal of Canada and Tom Danielson of the U.S.
“For me, personally, it’s enormous,” Millar said. “Today I kind of wanted to show that we’re still here, and show that Garmin-Sharp is still one of the best teams in the world.”
Millar, while riding for French team Cofidis, was banned from cycling for two years in 2004 after admitting to use of banned blood booster EPO – once the drug of choice for cycling cheats.
“I’m an ex-doper and I’m clean now, and I want to show everyone that it’s possible to win clean on the Tour,” Millar said.
In the sprint in the main pack, Matt Goss of Australia was penalized for veering slightly to the left and cutting off Slovak sensation Peter Sagan. Goss was relegated to the last place in the main pack and lost key points in their duel for the green jersey of the Tour’s best sprinter. Sagan gestured angrily at Goss as they neared the line.
“You can’t do like he did,” said Sagan, who has won three Tour stages this year.
Wiggins was content to let the breakaway go and his powerful Team Sky did not lay chase because the top-placed rider among the five in the bunch was more than 25 minutes behind the Briton as the stage began.
Overall, he 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 back.
The three-week race heads toward the Mediterranean today for France’s July 14 national holiday, Bastille Day. The 135-mile route goes from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Le Cap d’Agde.