An emotional David Millar became the fourth Briton to savour victory on the 2012 Tour de France with a win on stage 12.
Twelve years after winning the prologue on his Tour debut and six after completing a two-year doping ban, the 35-year-old was triumphant on the 226-kilometre route from Saint-Jean de Maurienne to Annonay-Davezieux after a day-long escape.
On the 45th anniversary of the death of Doncaster’s Tom Simpson, Britain’s first leader of the Tour, Millar (Garmin-Sharp) won the dash to the line from Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale), who finished second after the duo broke clear of their three other breakaway companions in the final 3km.
Millar, now a fervent anti-doping campaigner, won the 13th stage to Bezier in 2002, but asked for his time-trial win on stage 19 in 2003 to be wiped from the record books after confessing to the use of blood-booster EPO.
His attempt to win in Barcelona on a solo escape in 2009 was snuffed out by the peloton, but now he has his third triumph in his 11th Tour.
“This is as good a win as I’ve had in my career,” said Millar.
“It’s particularly poignant that it came today on the 45th anniversary of Tommy Simpson’s death.
“I think it’s a full circle in a way. I’m an ex-doper and I’m very proud of where our sport is today and what we’ve done to change it.
“The reason I was given a second chance is because I have a duty to not forget where I come from, to remind people of where our sport’s been.
“I think we mustn’t forget the past and I’m one of the people who have made mistakes and I want people to know that I am clean now and the sport is a different sport. We should be very proud of it.”
Two weeks today Millar is set to compete in his first Olympics in 12 years after the British Olympic Association’s bylaw banning those with prior doping suspensions was scrapped.
Team Sky trio Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, who retained the race leader’s yellow jersey, had already won stages and Millar joined them.
Now all four of Britain’s Olympic road race team riding in the Tour have won a stage. Ian Stannard will complete the five-man line-up on July 28 but was not selected by Team Sky.
Further British success could follow today, with Cavendish eyeing the 217km 13th stage from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Cap d’Agde, on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Millar added: “Our Olympic team is basically a winning Tour de France team and we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.
“I never thought that would happen. I never thought Team Sky would ever get to that level. It’s an amazing achievement and I doff my cap to them.”
The route of the longest day of the race was always likely to favour an escape as the peloton headed south and the general classification contenders recovered from their Alpine excursion.
Millar was fourth over the day’s second category one climb, the Col du Granier, and attacked on the descent as a group of five leaders formed.
He was joined by Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) and Peraud.
The quintet were more than 11 minutes ahead with 86km of the stage remaining as Cavendish, among the riders dropped earlier when ascending the major peaks, returned to the peloton.
The world champion, who was performing bottle-fetching duties for Team Sky, then punctured and was reprimanded by race commissaries for passing by team support vehicles on the wrong side when returning to the peloton. He was later fined 230 Swiss Francs.
Millar was the only previous stage winner in the break and used his experience in the long uphill drag to the finish.
Peraud surged forward with 3km to go and Millar followed.
The chasing trio appeared reluctant to work together and Millar took to the front.
Peraud made his bid for victory with 200m to go, but Millar summoned the strength to hold off his younger companion and punched the air with delight before collapsing in exhaustion over the line.
Martinez won the sprint for third place, five seconds behind.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) was given a 30-point penalty and demoted from sixth place for impeding Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) at the finish as the peloton finished almost eight minutes adrift, with Wiggins safely in the pack.
But the day belonged to Millar, who began the Tour on domestique duty for Garmin-Sharp, but saw his squad decimated by injury and had to revise his role. “I tend to operate best in adversity, probably from experience of making such a mess of my life,” he said.
Wiggins was struck by a flare before again addressing the subject of doping in cycling by saying: “I want to prove I’m doing this off bread and water and hard work.”
“I’m covered in yellow stuff at the moment,” said Wiggins.
“I got hit on the arm with a flare at 25km to go. It burnt my arm a bit, but other than that it was all right. There were quite a few guys running up the hill with lit flares in the peloton.
“It was pretty dangerous and I’m sure those guys are nursing a few wounds tonight because there were quite a few bottles thrown in their direction from the peloton.”
Having survived that assault, Wiggins then faced further inquisition on the topic of doping in cycling.
He believes cycling is cleaning up its act and praised Millar for playing his role in proceedings.
Wiggins said: “I think Dave is one of the very few exceptions, because of what he’s stood for since he came back into this sport in 2006. He’s tried to do something and help change the future of this sport.”