Millar jumps to Froome defence in doping debate

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(AFP) – Experienced British rider David Millar on Sunday hit out at those who have cast doubt on the achievements of Chris Froome and Team Sky, insisting that the sport has changed greatly since the dark days of the last decade in which the US Postal team dominated the sport.

Millar took to Twitter in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s eighth stage of the Tour de France, won in spectacaular fashion by Froome, to say that he believes Sky are clean and “don’t deserve to have mud thrown at them”.

However, Millar also admits that the British outfit could help themselves by being more transparent in their practices, at a time when cycling is seeking to shake off the ghosts of the past and move on in the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal.

Froome was already forced to bat away questions from gathered media at Ax-Trois-Domaines on Saturday after his stunning performance was registered as the third-fastest ever on the climb to the Pyrenean summit.

The Kenyan-born Tour favourite insisted that, unlike Armstrong and other big names from cycling’s recent past, his results will never be wiped from the history books, and insisted that the sport is in “a much better place now than it has been for the last 20 or 30 years”.

Speaking prior to the start of Sunday’s ninth stage of this year’s Tour in the Pyrenean town of Saint-Girons, Millar, now with the American outfit Garmin, said that Froome’s natural talent is “off the scale” and urged journalists to let him focus on winning the race rather than calling his credibility into question.

But he urged Sky to take a lead from his own team in the way they confront the issue of doping in the sport.

“They could be more open and not be so defensive at times, but you have to understand we are a professional sport and we are competing against each other,” said the 36-year-old. “It’s one thing satisfying the sceptics, but it’s also about being professional and wanting to win races.

“For them (Sky) it’s very difficult, it’s a tightrope they’re walking, trying to be transparent, but also keeping their trade secrets, which are the training.

“They race in a very similar way to the US Postal team, but you have to take into perspective the fact that the sport is different now.

“There is more control and greater transparency than then, so even if we are saying that Sky aren’t transparent it’s night and day compared to Postal.

“The general public don’t know how the sport has changed and what Sky are actually doing. There is a massive difference between them and Postal.”

When it comes to doping, Millar knows what he is talking about, having served a doping ban himself before returning to the sport with Garmin in an attempt to turn around his image at a team who, he says, make it their mission statement to prove that they are clean.

It is quite a turnaround from the dark days of 2004, when he was arrested by police in Biarritz and was found to be in possession of doping products.

Sky boss Dave Brailsford, in his capacity as British team official, just happened to be with Millar in the French Basque country on that day nine years ago.

Like anyone in cycling circles, he is accustomed to being asked about the subject of doping, but laments the attitude of some who refuse to give present-day riders the benefit of the doubt.

“When you sit and get accused of lying and cheating and doping constantly, the first time it happens it knocks you for six, but before long it just becomes part of the job,” he said.

“We keep it in perspective. It is natural for people to ask questions, but there is a certain sector whose cynicism is something else.

“If you have a lot of energy and a negative attitude, you’re just cynical. What you really want to listen to is those people who really are the middle ground, who have a rational thought process, and ask questions.

“I think there is a definite dialogue to be had with them.”

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