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By Julien Pretot
NICE, France, March 9 (Reuters) - Cycling's new generation of riders are unfairly burdened with the fallout of the Lance Armstrong era but the sport has to confront its past if it is to finally kill off its doping culture, according to David Millar.
Speaking to Reuters after the fifth stage of Paris-Nice in a gloomy hotel lobby, the doper turned anti-doping campaigner explained the revelations belonged to a past that cycling had to face.
"He (Armstrong) was on their radar, he was one of the people who inspired them to get into the sport like many when they were younger," said Millar.
"From the exterior it seems like it's very sudden but it's been a fairly gradual downfall in many ways, especially within the sport," he added, saying cycling lived in the 1990s and the 2000s with that "big elephant" (doping) in the room.
"Now it makes them more angry than anything else to have to deal with the mistakes of another generation, it's something they have to deal with which is not fair."
However, the younger generation of riders is more outspoken on doping than the one which shone during the early 2000s.
"I think it's more a case of the shift already happened. Stories that are coming out now, what is happening now is an awakening for the public and for all of us," the 36-year-old Briton said.
"We are hearing and seeing the truth of what really happened rather than what we thought or believed happened. In a way it's interesting but not very representative of where cycling is at the moment.
"Within Garmin-Sharp we've always had a very proactive anti-doping stance," said the Scot who served a two-year ban after admitting taking the blood-booster EPO.
"We educate our young riders that they can talk about this, we never gag them."
Garmin's Andrew Talansky, who wore the Paris-Nice overall leader's yellow jersey for two days, freely expressed his feelings when quizzed on Wednesday.
"There's a large shadow that's been lifted with his (Armstrong) admissions," said the American.
"It's an exciting period for the sport with plenty of promise that opens things up for me and Tejay (Van Garderen).
"Those people who were sceptical during the Armstrong era only have to look at Tejay and myself now."
Garmin-Sharp team manager Jonathan Vaughters and riders Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie testified against Armstrong, but Millar believes they are all proof you do not need to throw the baby out with the bath water.
"We don't have to remove the people from that era, we proved that with our team. In many ways, having people who want to make a difference like JV (Vaughters) and myself, Christian, David, it helps confront the past and be very pragmatic about it," said Millar.
"There are also a lot of guys out there in the sport who are blinkered, who are in denial, they're also scared because they don't know what is going to happen to them if they do (talk)," he said.
His team mates Vande Velde and Zabriskie are returning from a six-month suspension given by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) after the pair admitting to doping earlier in their careers.
"They are a bit scared of what the reception might be," said Millar, whose optimism, however, is matched by that of Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme.
"It's not a perfect world but it's cleaner," Prudhomme told Reuters.
"The picture we have from the Armstrong era is not representative of today's cycling. Cycling has changed already." (Editing by Alison Wildey)