MADRID (Reuters) - Reformed British doper David Millar empathizes but does not sympathize with Lance Armstrong because of the way the disgraced American cyclist went about confessing to years of systematic cheating.
Armstrong told U.S. television chat show host Oprah Winfrey on Thursday he had taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs on each of his record seven Tour de France wins.
Millar, banned for two years for doping in 2004 and since his comeback an active anti-drugs campaigner, said Armstrong had “played a very tactical game” since the damning revelations about his drug use came to light.
He added that he wished he had been able to come clean on a TV show rather than being hauled off by French police and being interrogated by a judge.
“I can’t help but empathize with him even if it was Oprah and not a judge but sympathize is too strong a word,” Millar said at a Spanish Anti-Doping Agency (AEA) discussion forum in Madrid on Friday.
”Me and Lance were good friends years ago and I can imagine what he’s been going through the last six months.
”I like to think I am quite a compassionate person and no matter what he did I do feel for him, his life is never going to be the same.
“He’s got kids and they’re going to have to go to school. A couple of years ago their dad was the best in the world and now he’s a pariah.”
Millar, 36, returned to cycling after serving his ban and now rides for the Garmin-Sharp team. He remains one of the sport’s leading time trialists and won a silver medal at the 2010 UCI world championships.
He said Armstrong’s confession was a positive step for cycling, which had already done a great deal to tackle the problem of illegal drug use.
“I think it’s great he’s actually telling the truth, even if it’s part of the truth at least it’s something,” Millar added.
”He’s going to face criticism whatever happens but I think it’s good for the sport.
“He never thought he was lying, he still doesn‘t. We all have different ways of operating.”
Millar predicted it would take another 10 years for cycling to recover from the damage to its image inflicted by a slew of doping scandals.
“There is a generation now within professional cycling who are winning the biggest races clean, I know that,” he said.
”But they unfortunately are tarnished by the previous generation’s mistakes.
”I for one feel it is my duty and obligation to try to fight the fight for them and to prove that they are clean.
”We have cleaned up our sport. Professional cycling is probably now one of the cleanest sports in the world.
”We have a culture of anti-doping now because we had to otherwise the sport was going to die.
“It’s going to take probably 10 years now of being no drug scandals before people start to believe again.”
Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by John Mehaffey