FUTUROSCOPE, France -- Britain's David
Millar made a sensational Tour de France debut on Saturday when
he won the first stage of the world's most famous cycle race to
take the coveted yellow jersey of overall leadership.
"I can hardly speak," said the 23-year-old Scot before
bursting into tears. "I can't believe it. I'm going to sleep
with that jersey on and not take it off for years."
Widely regarded as one of the brightest hopes in the sport,
Millar outshone defending champion Lance Armstrong in the 16.5
kilometer individual time trial, beating the American by two seconds
with 19 minutes three seconds.
The Tour began under a cloud when three riders, Russian
Sergei Ivanov, Slovenian Andrej Hauptman and Italian Rossano
Brasi, were sent home after blood tests showed them with illegal
levels of hematocrite.
Hematocrite levels above 50 percent could indicate that an
athlete may be using erythropoietin (EPO), a stamina-boosting
drug which stimulates the production of oxygen-rich red blood
But the three disqualifications failed to overshadow
Millar's flying start.
The Briton was so impressive on this flat course that he
left established riders like former winner Jan Ullrich of
Germany and Swiss time trial specialist Alex Zuelle trailing.
Third-placed Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, a former time trial
world champion, was 13 seconds adrift, while Ullrich, 1997 Tour
winner, was another second adrift.
Italian Marco Pantani, 1998 Tour winner, was a lackluster
136th, 2:16 down.
The Scot added: "In Britain, we only ride 10-mile (16 km)
time trials so when I saw this, I told myself it was one for me.
"But I did not want to have too high expectations in case I
In a way his victory in a way made up for British
disappointment over the absence of fellow Briton Chris Boardman
-- winner of three prologues on the Tour -- who withdrew this
year's because of illness.
But Millar, born in Malta and now lives in Biarritz, in the
French Basque country, does not consider himself a real Briton.
"I don't know what to say about my nationality. I was born
in Malta, I've lived in Scotland and Hong Kong, where my father
still lives and which I still consider my true home," he said.
The Cofidis rider admitted he had come on the Tour more for
the experience and to try and win the white jersey for the best
His surprise victory helped lift some of the gloom following
the drugs furore earlier in the day.
"This shows that our set-up against doping works fine,"
said Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc.
It was the first time riders had failed blood tests on the
O.N.C.E.'s David Extebarria was bloodied after a fall during the first stage.
Armstrong opens defense of Tour in second place