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PK: Nicolas had just turned pro but had raced there a year before? I've never stolen anything, not even a sweet." DM: Yeah, and it goes back to what we were saying about being independent, I was going to go my own way. PK: A few weeks after this unsettling experience in Italy, the Tour is rocked by Operation Puerto? There were so many problems, but I kept telling myself, 'These guys are just idiots. It's clean enough now that (doping) doesn't make much difference.' It was the only way to keep sane. DM: I could probably have gone to any of the French teams but I respected the fact that they (Slipstream) had come in first, and their anti-doping philosophy; they were the first team to say, "We are not going to use needles. I remember sitting in the airport in Corsica facing two flights to get home, and seeing his private plane with LA7F or whatever it was, painted on the tail and thinking, 'Jesus! DM: I know L'équipe were very anti-Armstrong at that point, and my dad wasn't a fan. DM: It was the first time I had been away from my parents, ever, and suddenly I'm getting on a plane at Gatwick in early January with no return ticket, no idea when I'm going to be back, and no real idea what I'm getting myself into. If we had been direct competitors it might have been different, or if I hadn't pulled out of the Tour that year, but I never raced with him. You are surrounded by guys - Vaughters, Vande Velde, Zabriskie, White - who have raced with Armstrong and this doping regime. PK: Can I just highlight the fact that you've brought up that word. DM: Yeah, I don't know, because even back then we didn't know how bad the situation was with the doping and stuff. He was courteous, witty and dressed like a tailor's dummy. DM: Even then, I'm not sure that was (because of) Stephen.
Nicolas had just completed his seventh season as a pro when we met for the first time in the winter of 2011. PK: Until that day in Portsmouth when you realised he was 'someone'? DM: Yeah, and even now I wouldn't say I really know him. We stayed in Nice for a couple of days after Paris-Nice, and he drove over from Monaco with his wife and we met for coffee . But you're more than a good athlete: you're a hero. And fortunately I didn't know or I might not have gone into the sport. DM: It's hard to say, because I've always carried that optimism that it was going to get better, and yet obviously, at the start of my career, it was still rife . There was bullying, insults, guys spreading rumours, 'He's doping! DM: Yeah, guys telling their friends, 'I shared a room with him. So that was the first realisation: 'Maybe you are surrounded by this'. I'd had a very protected childhood and I learnt a lot about life there and how two-faced people can be. They had tested everyone the day before and I remember being told at breakfast that three or four guys wouldn't be starting because (their haematocrit) was over the 50 per cent level. ' and I never looked at him in the same light again. I was probably fucked, so it was probably 42 (per cent) or something.