If David Millar still yearns for the days of old when the sport was no more than a farce, then time is nigh for the Scot to move on, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

Ever since he returned from his two-year doping exile on 24 June 2006, a week before that year's Tour de France, David Millar has been a godsend for cycling journalists.

The pre-suspension haughtiness had been purged - he was no longer 'Le Dandy' as he used to be known, monikered as such for his bon vivant lifestyle in Biarritz where he used to live large. He had been humbled. Thankfully, though, his eloquence in thought and speech remained; he was as charming to listen to as watch on the bike, and the marriage of words and action, together with his now-defiant stance on doping, was a blessing for us hacks so used to the contrived sentiments of his less articulate peers.

"I had a higher purpose when I came back," he told William Fotheringham in an interview with The Guardian this week, "borderline altruistic. I wanted to fix things, redeem myself. I get criticised for being naive (but) that's what has helped me to survive, still be here and do my thing."

When he moved from Saunier Duval-Prodir to take a rider/part-ownership role in Garmin in 2008, a team with an unequivocal anti-doping stance (though somewhat ironically with a drudge of skelotons in the closet), Millar became even more vociferous in his views on dabbling with dopage. He became the go-to guy for a quote on all things doping... and never failed to deliver.

That he continued to perform at the highest level for the next four years - individual stage wins at the Tour and Vuelta; team time trial victories at the Giro and Tour; a silver medal in the individual time trial at the 2010 Worlds in Geelong, then a fortnight later in Delhi, Commonwealth Games TT gold; second overall at the Tour of California - only strengthened his argument and resolve that it was possible not just to ride clean but win clean.

Released in June 2011, Racing Through the Dark, his warts-and-all autobiography, remains my favourite cycling book, and, together with Rough Ride, will go down as one of the seminal works in cycling, if not sporting, literature.

His post-doping life was a case in point that professional cycling had changed for the better. Incredibly, ironically, he had become a poster child for clean cycling.

From age 35 on, however, the last three seasons have not gone the same way, or at least his way. No, he hadn't danced with the doping devil and yes, he was still good for a quote, but without the results to match, his comments didn't appear to have the same weight or resonance; perhaps, too, it was a case of 'we've heard it all before'.

13 July 2012, on the 45th anniversary of Tom Simpson's drug-induced death on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, was the last time we saw the Millar of old. He had to call on his 15 collective years as a pro to win Stage 12 of the Tour in Annonay-Davézieux; fortunate enough to be there, it was a pleasure to watch an old dog with a new trick. "I am an ex-doper, but I'm clean now and I'm very proud of that. I've won today as a clean rider, after making the same mistake that Tom made," he said. "I've shown where cycling has come in the last 45 years - even the last five years."

He was "devastated and shocked" not to ride this year's Tour, completely understandable given the origin of the Grand Départ. Even though the form was suspect I'm convinced his iron will would have seen him through to Paris, road-captaining the Garmin-Sharp team that, despite a stage win by Ramunas Navardauskas, seemed to lack the stability and direction Millar doubtless would have provided.

Before he rides his final race today, the Bec Hill Climb in Surrey, United Kingdom - all of 700 yards (640 metres) long and two minutes short - with a broken hand he sustained in the final week of this year's Vuelta a España (which, to his credit, he finished), he told the Guardian: "The irony is I no longer fit in. The team has become an identity for a rider; before, a rider would transcend the team. It's become robotic. I liked the dysfunctionality, the cult-ness, the randomness. Obviously that led to the criminal aspect, the corruption, the madness, but I didn't know that when I fell in love with it."

I'm slightly confused, and, in light of his "higher purpose" he espoused since his return from suspension, somewhat disappointed by the sentiment... Robotic? So the EPO-fuelled Armstrong era that you were a part of wasn't, David?

In the age of race radios it's an easy, throwaway thing to say - especially when you're not winning. But in 25 years of following the sport, paradoxical to Millar, I've found this season one of the least predictable and, importantly, most credible, in years.

Alexander Kristoff defying the favourites by winning 'La Classicissima', Milan-San Remo. Fabian Cancellara, despite all the expectation and pressure placed upon him, simply fabulous in Flanders. Simon Gerrans becoming the first Australian to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The audacity of Nairo Quintana to triumph at the Giro d'Italia. Andrew Talanksy's come-from-behind, eleventh-hour victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Vincenzo Nibali effectively winning Le Tour on the cobblestones. Alberto Contador's nothing-short-of-remarkable comeback from a busted knee to win La Vuelta. Michal Kwiatkowski upstaging all and sundry at the road worlds in Ponferrada. Dan Martin's Lombardia sucker punch.

The "randomness" has been there, albeit without the criminality that created the "dysfunctionality", or vice versa. And I would argue these riders' identities have been defined far more by their actions than the teams they ride for, which, as athletes, is how we should judge them.

For the most part I've thoroughly enjoyed Millar's time in cycling - yet if he still yearns for the mad, bad days of old when professional cycling was nothing more than a circus on wheels, then perhaps it's time for him to move on.