David Millar’s ankles. Not the tight bums nor the muscled legs of the pros I’m riding with on the sunlit roads surrouding the Spanish town of Girona. No. I can’t keep my eyes off David Millar’s ankles. We ride up a climb and he is two spots in front of me. Which one is it? My memory lets me down a bit, but I think it’s the right one. That ankle is kinked slightly to the outside, which makes his knee fall inwards every pedalstroke. So that must be the one. David Millar’s right ankle.
One and a half year ago I read his autobiography, ‘Racing through the dark’. The man who rides in front of me now reveals in that book how he was doping for years in a row. This was the first extremely detailed and personal doping-confession I read. Many followed, but this first one left the biggest impression. I couldn’t believe what I read. The world I’m also part of, the world of cycling, appeared to be so much more rotten than I ever imagined. Call me naive for not having the faintest idea. Or rather call me lucky. I am so happy I never had anything to do with this, I never had to make the choice between doping or not.
Oddly enough though, the anecdote that’s been stuck in my mind the most is not about doping. It’s about David Millar’s ankles. And about sleeping pills. I already knew that a lot of cyclists use sleeping pills. I didn’t know that those could be extremely strong ones. Stilnox. Knocks down a horse. Before you know it, you’re addicted. You won’t sleep a night without them. I didn’t have the slightest idea of the fact that these pills combined with liquor are a serious party drug.
In his book, Millar elaborates on his frustrations for not being selected for the 1999 Tour de France. He goes on a training camp in the Pyrenees and parties hard. After a couple of Stilnox pills in combination with some vodkas he’s completely out. He hallucinates, thinks he can fly – and jumps off a roof. Off course he can’t fly. He breaks his heel. The team Millar is riding for at that moment, Cofidis, comes up with the story that the rider fell down some stairs – as a reason for his injury.
David Millar’s ankle never really healed again. It’s crooked now, to his own utter frustration. Millar is a perfectionist. He wants to ride his bike perfectly. Every pedalstroke should be as effective as possible and look perfect as well. Those times are over since the flying-incident. Since I read his biography, I tried to see it in tv coverages. I never succeeded. In an overhead shot or filmed from the side, you hardly see any deviation. I thought it a fascinating fact, this kinked ankle and its story, but I took it with a grain of salt. But now, while riding straight behind him, it’s utterly clear.
The strangely crooked ankle, the whole right leg that swings along in this non-perfect line: it absorbes my whole mind, riding along with the group. The moment he and his colleagues turn off after the climb to do a longer ride than I’m supposed to do, I suddenly realise: right, this is also the cyclist who doped so much. But surprisingly I hadn’t been thinking about that at all, I only studied him riding his bike. With that odd ankle of his.