There were two winners in stage 20, the final time trial of the 2009 Vuelta a Espana. One inspiring, one dispiriting; one a victory for clean cycling and the other a defiant and embarrassing reminder that the battle against doping goes on.
David Millar’s tremendous ride in Toledo was yet more proof that grand tour stage wins are possible without resorting to doping. Garmin Slipstream won three stages in the Vuelta — a sprint, a breakaway mountaintop finish and a time trial. Team boss Jonathan Vaughters’ strong anti-drug stance is a model for the peloton.
Since his own suspension for EPO three years ago, Millar has done what almost no other suspended rider has done. He came clean, admitted his mistakes, spoke openly and honestly and put himself at the forefront of the fight for clean cycling. It’s been a long, hard road back to the top. He now stands as a rider of integrity and a true spokesman for the sport.
The second winner in Toledo was Spaniard, Alejandro Valverde, who effectively sealed his first overall win in a grand tour. Spain rejoices but the rest of the cycling world shakes its head and holds its breath, waiting for the legal verdicts of his doping cases. Implicated in Operacion Puerto, Valverde was finally handed a two year ban by the Italian Olympic Committee. He is barred for riding in Italy and was forced off the Tour de France roster.
Yet Valverde rides on, defiant, his lawyers fighting the UCI and WADA and arguing with the Court for Arbitration in Sport. He cries conspiracy, haggles over testing protocol and disputes jurisdictions. With a decision pending at the end of the season, Valverde faces the real possibility of being stripped of his Vuelta title.
It was a pleasure to watch Millar win today and a disappointment to watch Valverde win. It’s a fair question to ask, in a sport that has suffered so much, who the real champion is. David Millar or Alejandro Valverde?