Friday, July 13, 2012
David Millar takes 12th stage
ESPN.com news services
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.
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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 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."
As for the British riders looking so strong leading to the London Olympics, Millar said: "Yeah, I think we're at the top," referring to himself as "the old dog" of the bunch.
Millar sped out ahead of the others in the breakaway with a little more than a mile to go, and Peraud chased. In the last mile, it was a two-man battle. With a few hundred yards left, the Frenchman struck and wheeled around, but it was not enough as Millar beat him to the line.
After the finish, an exhausted Millar lay on the ground. Microphones and cameras hovered over him as he breathed heavily and put his forearm on his forehead.
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 off the pace.
It wasn't all smooth sailing for Wiggins, though. He was burnt on the arm by a spectator running alongside the peloton as it raced over the Col du Granier, one of the two category-1 climbs during the stage.
"I got hit in the arm with a flare, it burnt my arm a bit," Wiggins said after the race. "It was some nutter running up the hill, and it shows you freak things like that can happen in the Tour. I'm fine though."
Tour riders are very exposed as they race mere inches away from thousands of spectators massed along the Tour's route. Years ago, cycling legend Eddy Merckx was punched by a fan of a rival racer.
When spectators get out of line now, such as in Friday's incident, riders are tempted to take justice into their own hands.
"I'm sure there's a few guys nursing injuries tonight because there were quite a few bottles being thrown in their direction from the peloton," Wiggins said.
The rest of the field 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.
Dutch rider Tom Veelers of the Argos-Shimano team, after tweeting that Thursday's ride in the Alps was one of his hardest, also pulled out, organizers said. And 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 route goes from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Le Cap d'Agde, a coastal resort known for its nudist colony.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.