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Millar's crossing

Sports | Repentant steroid user now part of a cycling team that keeps it clean

Issue: "Our long war," March 8, 2008

In recent years, professional sports have proved that opportunity and the right brand of compromised ethics are all that's necessary to turn a world-class athlete into a world-class doper. But it takes something more to bury such sins beneath vigorous professions of innocence no matter the mountain of evidence to the contrary. Call it ego, call it self-worship, such refusals to come clean smack of desperation to maintain an identity rooted in fraud.

Some consider the prospect of exposure worse than the silent torment of wearing masks. But others, such as Scottish cyclist Dave Millar, have found rest and a path to redemption in the liberating act of confession. In 2004, police found a pair of used Epogen syringes in Millar's apartment. Rather than lawyer up, Millar admitted using the banned substance, a revelation that got him fired, cost him his 2003 world time trial championship, and earned him a two-year suspension from the sport.

Four years later, Millar believes the consequences were well worth the chance to ride clean again. His conscience clear, he hopes to use his experience to spare young riders from trouble and restore the reputation of cycling.

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Millar, 31, is an elder statesman on a team of riders with unprecedented commitment to keeping it clean. U.S.-based Slipstream/Chipotle maintains one of the toughest anti-doping programs in all of sports. It employs the services of the Agency for Cycling Ethics, which performs medical analysis on each rider to detect any abnormalities from drugs or blood transfusions.

What's more, Slipstream members train together throughout the year and are in constant communication through team-issued Blackberries. They are required to update regularly their whereabouts on the World Anti-Doping Agency website so as to remain available for drug testing while not competing.

Slipstream creator Jonathan Vaughters, a former rider with the U.S. Postal Service team alongside seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, hand-selects team members who welcome the kind of invasive anti-doping measures needed to restore public trust. His latest idea: Assign two compliance officers to each rider during major races and grant access to luggage, hotel rooms, email accounts, and anywhere else that evidence of doping might surface.

Vaughters has placed Slipstream's radical program at the forefront of the team's marketing campaign. More important than winning, he says, is making clean racing cool again.

Not all cyclists see it that way. Andrey Kashechkin, a Kazakh rider who tested positive in the wake of last year's Tour de France, has called the sport's anti-doping tests a violation of human rights. That charge echoes the past efforts of Major League Baseball's players union to block testing for the sake of privacy, a position that punished honest athletes and protected cheaters.

The now red-hot investigation into whether pitcher Roger Clemens used banned substances may never reach satisfactory resolution because no blood or urine samples exist from the time in question. Union boss Donald Fehr promises changes. That's good. But anything short of what athletes like Millar and teams like Slipstream have undertaken is tantamount to serial liars asking for trust with a wink and a handshake.

Those days are long gone. Only the most rigorous, self-imposed transparency can repair the damage done. As some in cycling have learned, so too baseball must accept that honesty at all costs is worthwhile. The truth will destroy reputations-but also set athletes free.

"I don't want to race with monsters anymore," Millar said recently in a New York Times interview. "I want to race with good guys who are trying to make a difference. I want to be that good guy."

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