Book Report - Racing Through the Dark, by David Millar

4:15 PM

In a strange coincidence I happened to be reading David Millar’s memoir Racing Through the Dark just as Lance’s career was spiraling down the drain.  I was thinking about crafting a post on Lance, but everyone out there has pretty much said everything that is possible to say at this point…better to spend some time on David’s story.

I went into the book not knowing much about David Millar beyond the basics: great rider gets caught and now might be racing clean (sad that we live in a world where the word “might” is so important).  His book-jacket story seemed a bit conveniently made-for-television in its beautiful symmetry, so I was hoping for a more complicated look at the world of doping when I got to the details.

What impressed me about the book was how Millar doesn’t let himself off the hook – you definitely get the sense that he spent several years living as a slightly alcoholic, party-boy ass hole (at the end of the book his wife sums it up nicely by calling his former self a “dick”).  His willingness to shine a spotlight on some rather unflattering memories lends credence to the portion of his tale that relates to doping.  You begin to understand the circumstances that would push one from railing against drugs to plunging in that needle. 

One of the interesting details that I hadn’t anticipated was his attitude toward doping and his body.  He describes his decision to dope as his last step in becoming a true professional:

“I had done well – bloody well – as a clean rider.  I had stood my ground, done my bit, but now it was out of my hands.  The team needed me to accept my obligations, and now it all made sense.  The tired young dreamer had been waiting for this moment…I walked into that hotel room an anti-doper; I walked out of it a seasoned professional ready to do what was required of me.  There was no torment or confusion in my mind…I was now a professional through and through, with bigger responsibilities than my own personal belief system.”

When seen through this lens (clearly a way to justify an action your ethical-self might fight against) doping becomes something that must be done not for yourself, but for your team.  Looking at the long list of former Lance lieutenants now admitting their role in the system you can see how they might account for their own EPO use by convincing themselves it was all for another.  This attitude, not surprisingly, leads to a (necessary) separation of mind and body, “I began to think of myself as two separate entities: mind and body.  My body was a tool that was capable of things that I previously hadn’t thought possible.”  He describes it as a “game” where cyclists play God with their bodies and possibly lose their minds in the process. 

I have to say I am pretty impressed with Millar’s introspective book.  As he morphs into an anti-doping crusader he turns his critical eye on the whole culture of cycling, from the athletes to the teams to the governing bodies, and doesn’t find much worth keeping.  The real lesson from the book does relate to the crumbling of Lance and Pharmstrong – as long as we focus on the downfall of the athlete, we ignore the underlying factors that allow this culture to continue.  The further I got into Millar’s book the less I thought about Lance as the problem, and the more I thought about the UCI… anyone that thinks cycling can clean up its act with people like McQuaid and Verbruggen in charge seriously have to get their head out of the sand…

You Might Also Like