It was relatively big news this week when 3 doctors who worked with Lance Armstrong’s US Postal cycling team received lifetime bans from sport for providing athletes with EPO, blood transfusions and masking agents.
What seems to have gone largely unreported is that one of the dirty trio – Luis Garcia del Moral – was, according to Velonation.com – working as a medical advisor for FC Barcelona and Valencia. Another intriguing link between doping and the world of Spanish football.
Those in cycling know that del Moral is generally considered bad news. In January 2011 Garmin-Slipstream sacked their Directuer Sportif Matt White, after he sent rider Trent Lowe to see del Moral without the team’s knowledge. In an interview with journalist Paul Kimmage in May 2011, Floyd Landis claimed that he paid del Moral to work with him on the logistics of blood tranfusions for the 2005 Tour de France.
As far as I can see, FC Barcelona haven’t made a statement on del Moral’s ban, which prohibits him from working in any sport which has signed up to the WADA code of conduct. It would be interesting to hear why they employed del Moral and what his specific role was within the team.
Del Moral is the third doctor with links to doping to have worked for, or been linked to, FC Barcelona. Pep Guardiola’s doctor Ramon Segura is currently (as far as I can see) still working as the club physician, Segura worked with both Guardiola and Frank de Boer when they tested positive for nandrolone during their playing careers.
In 2006 it was alleged by French newspaper Le Monde that the notorious Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, of Operacion Puerto fame, had been working with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Numerous footballers were said to have been named in Puerto but, six years on, none of those names have been released to the public, and none have been disciplined by the football authorities.
“Don’t stop calling me an ex-doper. We should not forget the past. I made mistakes. I am an ex-doper and now I’m clean” David Millar, July 13th 2012.
On the face of it, I shouldn’t like David Millar, but I do. He was a doper who never tested positive, he cheated the fans who cheered him on, then he got banned. Plus, from reading his book, it sounds like he was a bit of a dick. It’s a depressingly common tale in cycling, except Millar is different.
Unlike other riders who served 2 year doping bans and rejoined the ranks of professional cycling, Millar came back a changed man. He was a vocal doping critic and eventually he formed a team, in the shape of Garmin-Slipstream with Jonathan Vaughters, which emphasised clean racing and zero tolerance of doping as its core principles. Millar was a doper, yes, but now he’s helping to make the sport cleaner and eradicate the sort of environments where young riders feel they have no choice but to dope. That’s why I like him.
This might be stunning naivety on my part, but David Millar’s ride today in the 226km Stage 13 of the Tour de France was one of those rare moments in cycling where you know for sure that the winner is clean. So, when he crossed the line and didn’t straighten his upper body and raise his arms to make sure the sponsors logo got prime coverage on TV, but instead punched the air and roared with joy, I thought it was pretty awesome and I struggled to think of a rider more deserving of a stage win.
It also means that if a rider like Millar can win an intense stage like the one today than maybe there is hope for professional cycling moving towards a cleaner future.
My favourite personal memory of David Millar riding a bike is from 2010. I was stood on the Muur van Gerardsbergen, an iconic cobbled climb in the Tour of Flanders. Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen had already gone past, side-by-side, battling it out for the victory, then came Bjorn Leukemens and Phillipe Gilbert. Then, just behind them, came the lanky figure of David Millar in the argyle-patterned Garmin jersey, standing up on the pedals and hauling himself up the cobblestones.
Later we found out that Millar, not usually a rider you’d associate with strong performances in cobbled Belgian Classics, had attacked the chasing group and tried to bridge the gap over to Boonen and Cancellara, later joined by Leukemans and Gilbert, which is where we saw him on the Muur. He couldn’t hold onto a top-5 place in the end, eventually finishing 32nd, but the exhilaration and shock of seeing Millar riding with the best Classics riders in the world on one of the most iconic climbs will stay with me forever. As, probably, will today’s stage win.