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David Millar

Garmin-Slipstream had more bad luck during the wet stage from Venlo.

The insider's guide to crashes

By:
David Millar
Published:
September 03, 2009, 12:24 BST,
Updated:
September 03, 2009, 13:52 BST

Reflection and dissection of the Vuelta's wild stage finale in Li├Ęge

Crash v. crashed, crash-ing, crash-es
a. To break violently or noisily; smash.
b. To undergo sudden damage or destruction on impact.

This happens often in bike racing, often due to one or more of these six reasons:

1. Mechanically induced (puncture at high speed, snapped chain etc).

2. Slippery surface.

3. Contact with other rider in peloton leading to loss of control.

4. Individual rider taking risks and losing control or grip.

5. Loss of concentration, leading to distraction and loss of control.

6. Close proximity to anybody going through the above five.

Yesterday, on stage four, the number and scale of the crashes were primarily due to number two, although the origin was almost always a number four. Unfortunately, number two, by its very nature, would cause number threes and, as a result, lots of number sixes.

The reason number two has such an overbearing presence is easy to understand when one thinks about the basic physics of bicycle road racing. It involves, on average, 70kg balanced vertically 4-5ft off the ground on roughly three square inches of inflated rubber. That’s a lot of stress to put on those three square inches of rubber in dry conditions, and as for the wet? Forget about it. When it's wet avoidance braking, or simply turning, results in loss of grip and control, and inevitably concludes with a crash.

For this reason stage four of this year's Vuelta was scary. Coming down into Liège I could barely see anything through the spray and my glasses (which were now for protection from water rather than light), we were ripping it as well, close to 80km/h. What’s is particularly scary is how reliant we are on each other. There are 200 of us, and yet it takes just one to think he’s Valentino Rossi (or maybe more appropriately, Thor Hushovd), lose control and cause the chain reaction that can take down dozens of us. That’s why it was scary; I do not implicitly trust my peers in those conditions.

As pro cyclists we trust each other an enormous amount. After all, it’s the only reason we can race for so many kilometres together under more-often-that-not extreme circumstances - be they geographical, climatic, physical, or psychological - and not crash more often. But there are times when that trust is not implicit. Racing downhill after 200km at 80km/h in heavy rain is one of those times. Fortunately, I think everyone of us feels the same (scared shitless) which is what saves us from what could possibly be a horrific crash.

What happened in the final on Tuesday was a horrific crash. We had made it through almost 230km of bad conditions and on the entry to Liege I had my escape of the day when guys crashed in front of me, causing the first pile-up. It started on the left and rippled out across the whole road, somehow, I was lucid enough to hold my line and not turn or brake. More importantly, I was VERY lucky not to have a body or bike cross my path. Making it through that offered a moment of euphoria amid the fatigue and discomfort. It also allowed me to believe maybe we’d had our mass pile up for the day. The gift of adrenalin given was very welcome and I was sure that I was going to make it to the finish in one piece.

Tyler and I were on a mission. We had gone through the finish line on the first circuit and got a good look at the last kilometre. We had the 19km lap to negotiate with the gentler side of the Cote Saint Nicholas to be tackled, although this wasn’t too complicated as both of us were feeling well in control. When we got to 9km to go we found each other.

"Ok Ty?" I asked. His reply was so matter of fact it could be nothing but the truth.

"Get me through that last corner first and I’ll win."

That was it. That was all that was said. We made eye contact and I nodded. We were so in control considering the conditions and the day we’d already been through, Svein got to the front with about 6km to go and lifted the pace to what was for the majority too high to allow them to move up and so making it easier for Ty and me to pick and hold our position.

Our plan was to let Columbia and Quick Step do the lead out, then, in the last kilometre, I would come over the top of them. So we were sitting near the front, but not right at the sharp end. We really were picking and choosing what we were doing, lucidity at its best. Unfortunately it wasn’t our own universe.

We were starting to string out into single file as the speed increased and the finish approached, we came under the 3km banner and entered a big roundabout, not something that should have caused much of a problem, even in the wet, as we were battle hardened to the conditions by this point. That’s when the human factor kicked in, I am yet to see any of the footage so I don’t know what the initial cause was (I’m presuming a number four, which led to a number three and because of number two, caused a massive number six), but I lived the effect.

The first thing you recognise is the sound. You almost always hear a crash before you see it. It’s a horrible sound because of what it represents. Shoes being ripped out of pedals, metal dragging, plastic and carbon grinding; it’s a cacophony in the truest sense. There are no human sounds, just man-made materials being bashed against each other and the road. When it’s wet you see it coming more so than the dry (in the dry there’s a chance you’ll escape it right up till the last second, not so in the wet). One normally hits the ground before making any contact with anything or anybody simply because even the mildest evasive manoeuvre means a loss of grip and subsequent crash.

This is what happened in Liege, I heard the crash ahead, then I saw a guy about five or six riders in front of me hit the ground independently of what ever the noise had been and then it began. Every single racer in front of me hit the ground. You see it coming; I knew I was going down, as soon as I saw the domino effect commenced I simply waited.

It feels like a long time, but is actually probably no longer than a second. THUMP. I’m on the ground.

Now comes the really horrible bit. I’m sliding in the middle of the cacophony and I know there’s a concrete barrier that I’m going to hit at speed. The impact of this is not a concern, rather it's what’s going to be hitting me from behind is what I’m scared of. There’s no pain, just fear. So as I’m sliding I try to curl up and am very conscious of closing my eyes tightly. Then BANG! Followed by silence.

Everything has stopped and nothing really bad has happened. This is when it starts to hurt, nothing in particular just everything is sending out alert signals. The only way it’s possible to trace most of the injuries at that moment is checking where my kit is ripped up. All I want to do is lay on the ground, but I have a feeling there are some properly hurt guys around me, so I get up and sit on the concrete barrier to show I’m relatively unscathed.

Sitting there, looking around I realise the scale of the crash and notice there are a few guys not getting up. Ty, who was on my wheel at the time, is on the ground behind me, to my relief he’s okay as well. Less than 10 seconds before we’d been at max heart rates, adrenalin filled, fully in the zone preparing to take ourselves to our maximum. It’s amazing how much can change in a handful of seconds. If ever there is a moment of being dazed and confused, that’s it…
 

Ryder Hesjedal carries out his 'skeeter' hunting session

Hotel hunting sessions

By:
David Millar
Published:
September 01, 2009, 14:23 BST,
Updated:
September 01, 2009, 15:54 BST

Pest control, conversations with Boonen and team building at the Vuelta

Ryder Hesjedal and I have become talented skeeter hunters. 'Skeeter' is Ryder's name for mosquitoes and a term I have quickly come to adopt. Last night, Ryder was sufficiently pleased and impressed to be woken at 3am when I, in his words, ‘took affirmative action’ with regard the hunting and killing of the skeeter that had escaped his own pre-bedtime extermination session.

This little guy was a dutch-stealth-skeeter. There was no annoying buzzing around the ears, no showing-off flying around giving aerial displays, and no parking up in clearly visible spots to taunt us. All there was to show of his existence were itchy, painful bites. After two hours of this I’d had enough. The lights came on waking Ryder up as I took things into my own hands. Ryder bravely offered himself as bait and lay there in wait. Sure enough, the little skeeter eventually showed himself and I finished him off with a towel, leaving a trail of what was surely our own blood on the wall. It was the best thing that happened yesterday.

The start of the stage was held beneath rain: very wet, Northern European rain. The grey and miserable conditions were not what one expects from La Vuelta. However they did manage - in true Spanish style - to delay the start by 15 minutes which, of course, we weren’t told about until we’d already been standing under the rain for 5 minutes. I only found out because I was standing next to one of the officials, and then only after I asked why we were still standing there after the scheduled start time. I went back to the bus and left the majority of the peloton to stand there confused, getting cold and wet, while I had a coffee. It really was miserable and quite the anti-climax after the buzzing atmosphere of the day before.

The race itself was quite calm, in that we didn’t try to destroy each other for hours on end. Rather, we all knew the parcours was enough of a handful and would take care of us all on its own. This is exactly what happened.10km in, while on crappy surfaced small roads that were turning left and right on way to a regular basis I found myself next to Tom Boonen.

"Tommeke Tommeke Tommeke, this sucks," I said. "Daveed Meellar, don’t worry, this is the worst bit. In about 20km we turn onto big roads and it is like that till the finish," he replied.

100km later I found myself once again next to Tom Boonen. "Tommeke Tommeke Tommeke, you’ve been given bad intelligence, this sucks." I said. "Daveed Meellar, I know, this sucks." The whole day was like the first 20km…

Anyway, as bad as it was for us, at least we weren’t the Andalucía - Cajasur team, who have probably been living in hell these last few days. I doubt many of them have ever set foot in Holland or Belgium, let alone raced here. Whitey was telling us that he reckons almost their whole team hit the deck at one point or another yesterday. Either that or it was the same guy nine times.

As for us, we did actually have a good day. Cycling is a team sport, and a team needs a leader, sometimes spiritual, sometimes existential. Our assault on the race was led by our desire and belief that we have the best sprinter in the race in Tyler Farrar (he’s an existential leader!). Ty had done a magnificent prologue finishing third, this meant that if he won he would be in the jersey. All nine of us did everything we could to make this happen, Ty was the first to admit at the finish, after getting fifth, that he didn’t have the legs. Proper chap.

Today we did the same, and Ty did have the legs, only Julian Dean didn’t. They’ve become a tight pair the two of them and rely heavily on each other. Julian was devastated.

Once we cross a finish line we barge ourselves through all the chaos towards our team buses. Once there, we sit down all sweaty, remove our helmets and spend a few minutes alone regrouping. It’s a brief moment of quiet before the next phase begins (shower, media, transfer etc). Rarely do we interrupt each other during this moment.

Today Julian came back and sat opposite Ty and apologized. Julian never comes to the back of the bus, where Ty, Ryder and I usually sit and have some fun. Ordinarily, Julian enjoys the silence of his own seat in the middle of the bus, so it was all the more poignant that he came back to speak to Ty in this regrouping period. Ty just looked at him and said, "Hey man, don’t worry, you did everything right yesterday and I didn’t have it, that’s just the way it is."

I thought that was lovely; very sporting. I know that they were both gutted, they both knew the other felt the same way too, but we all knew Julian was the most disappointed. And we take care of him. That’s a team and Ty is becoming a leader: it’s great to see.
 

If you hold the Vuelta in Holland, they will come...

One for the ages

By:
David Millar
Published:
August 29, 2009, 22:02 BST,
Updated:
August 29, 2009, 23:24 BST

Millar battles the elements in the Vuelta prologue

Well that was a bit crap. The weather was always going to be a bit of a lottery today, since first thing this morning it has been intermittent torrential rain and blue skies, with a fairly strong wind to add a little spice. So on leaving the hotel we knew that our prologue ride was going to be basically a luck of the draw affair.

That didn't make it any easier when a freaking typhoon blew in while I was standing behind the start ramp awaiting my departure time. Then watching Barredo crash on the built-for-Spain-not-designed-for-rain start ramp two minutes before I was to roll down the same start ramp made the whole scene comical. Inaki was telling me not to take any risks (he obviously knows me better than I do) and that I could go for it in Valencia.

I thought I listened to this advice, but evidently my not taking risks still involved me going a little bit too fast. I somehow got round the circuit at over 50 km/h average in what can only be described as apocalyptic conditions. The wind was blowing so strong, in a gusty gale sort of way, and the rain was so heavy that for the first time I was actually not comfortable with my 1080 front wheel. I changed my 'relaxed caressing the handlebars TT grip' to 'hanging on for dear life hold the bike in a straight line grip.'

The first 2 kilometres had been so hairy that when I came out of a corner to find a Lampre car parked bang on the racing line I was able to take it in stride and squeeze between it and the barriers. That was just par for the course by that point.

It’s a bit disappointing to have felt so good and not be able to convert it into a result, but considering the circumstances I'm satisfied. I felt very strong and fast when I did get a straight line... At least I didn't suffer a crash as Ryder and Dan did, they both went down on the same corner where many others also crashed - not a nice way to start a Grand Tour that.

As for us being in Holland and racing on a motor circuit, all I can say is, genius. I remember when I used to look at old black and white photos of bike racing when it would finish in stadiums that were packed to the brim with people. I thought that was a thing of the past, and in all truth thought that we were going to face empty stands today. So when we approached the circuit and began to realise that the massive traffic jams were people coming to watch the race we were a little baffled.

This bafflement turned into wonder as it became clear the place was rammed, so much so I started taking photos because it seemed like one of those moments that I'd seen photos of. When we got through to our pit where we were to warm up, I immediately walked through to look at the track and the stands. They were full to the brim just like in the old black and white photos and the Dutch commentator was working them into a frenzy.

It really was something quite special and I can't imagine what it was like being a Dutch rider. There would be a wall of sound every time they started or finished.

Unforgettable.

Still, pity about the bloody typhoon.
 

Inaki setting up my 54cm TT bike.

Calm before the storm

By:
David Millar
Published:
August 28, 2009, 18:59 BST,
Updated:
August 28, 2009, 20:40 BST

Millar recons Vuelta prologue and combats boredom in Assen

In the words of Kiwi Guy, 'This is not Monaco. Our Thursday was quiet, involving the normal pre-race hanging out complaining about how bored we are. The fact that we spend most of our lives being lazy, not doing much while off our bikes, seems to slip our minds as soon as we're given a day with nothing to do while at a race.

Anyone who didn't know us very well would think we were not only highly-tuned physically but also intellectually, so the fact that one day killing time at a hotel can turn our behaviour into that of caged animals is rather amusing. Pro cyclists saying they're bored, man alive, we're the Jedi Masters of boredom, embracing and wallowing in it to degrees mere mortals can only try to imagine. It's part of the job description: the less one does off the bike, the better one is on the bike. Fact.

So yesterday involved pottering around, sitting at the breakfast table for an hour and a half drinking inordinate amounts of coffee, talking about nothing while we waited for the UCI blood control at 10 a.m. At 11 a.m. we went for a bike ride to check out the prologue and spin the legs. Inaki [Goiburu, team mechanic] had decided I should ride a 54cm and not a 56cm TT bike, so I tested that around the Assen TT circuit for a few laps and decided that Inaki was right.

Inaki setting up my 54cm TT bike.

I stayed and did a few more laps on my own which meant riding back to the hotel solo. On leaving the hotel I had the foresight to save the location on my Garmin, what I forgot to check was if it had the map chip in it. So, when leaving the TT circuit, I hit the 'Go to' button only to see a roadless map with a straight line to the hotel; useful if I could fly. Anyway, it got me home eventually, and without it I'd probably still be riding around Dutch suburbs. They all look the same to me.

Lunch was next; this involved a lovely piece of fish. Then, on returning to my room, I promptly passed out asleep for 30 minutes. On waking I went down to the hotel bar and had a coffee and spent the next 20 minutes frustrated at my computer not staying online.

I then decided to set up my new shoes. I got the 2009 Specialized with the double ratchet last week, they're luuuuurvely (I'm a sucker for new flash stuff), and these are definitely flash. So my black mod specials are dead, Long Live The Black Mod Specials. This is a sad day for them what with being consigned to the following car, but technology moves on with a thoughtless disregard for its past. They will keep a bit of pride, though, by being the best, most beautiful spare shoes in the boot of the car...

I wanted to find a nice spot to sit and set up the shoes, and the café at the front of the hotel seemed the best. On arriving there I found Kiwi Guy sitting having a cappuccino. He kindly invited me to sit next to him and we spent the next hour talking about life, the universe and everything while I screwed cleats on to my shoes.

We watched our broken bus being towed away by a truck so monstrous as to be totally deserving of a Transformers alter ego. I then killed some more time trying to get my computer online again before giving up as it was massage time, this took up 45 minutes.

Kiwi Guy and I sit drinking a cappuccino watching our team bus being towed away by a possible Transformer.

When I got back to my room the freebie race backpack was awaiting me filled with all the race literature: the Road Book, Rules and Regulations Book, Hotel List Book and History-Stats Book. Ryder and me then lay on our beds, studied all of these and shared thoughts. I knew it was time to put them back where they came from when I was cross referencing the hotels of the Race Directors with those of Caisse d'Epargne and our team (cause I know they'll have the best hotels)...

I tried to get my computer online again so I tried moving around different areas of the hotel. Dan Martin was sitting on the landing at the top of the stairs and proclaimed he had found the best signal there. I sat down next to him and couldn't get online.

Then it was time for dinner. Obviously we had the most amazing service and we were all done and dusted in 30 minutes, so no time was used up there. I retired to the bedroom where I read for two hours, during which I received a text message from Stuey O'Grady at 9:30 p.m. saying, 'Bored already...' I replied, 'I remember when these days would be filled with excitement and nerves... I guess 15 Grand Tours will take the edge off. Rode round circuit, we're gonna look poo compared to MotoGP.'

I then spoke to Nicole, read some more and went to sleep. Calm before the storm?

David Millar is in his second season of racing for American ProTour team Garmin-Slipstream.

David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream)

Netherlands bound

By:
David Millar
Published:
August 26, 2009, 22:00 BST,
Updated:
August 27, 2009, 11:18 BST

A nonchalant Millar prepares to start his third Grand Tour of 2009

On the bus in northern Holland, on the way to the start of my third Grand Tour of the year (I didn't finish the Giro, a planned retirement on stage 15 saw to that, so it’s not as if I'm attempting to finish all three Grandies in one year). As it is it doesn't feel too special, it just feels like I'm off to another race. The only difference is I have to pack more, but I've got that down to a fine art these days. Clear plastic bags are the key, they allow for the organized separation of the numerous items of clothing: e.g., bag for shorts, bag for socks and gloves, bag for short sleeve jerseys, etc...It took me a decade of being a pro to come up with this system, I'm very proud of it.

This is the first Vuelta I've done since moving to Spain, so it's rather ironic that we've been travelling seven hours to get to the start. As I look out the window of the bus I see flat green fields, grey skies and Dutch road signs. In the words of Ryder [Hesjedal] after finishing watching his film and looking out the window, 'WHAT?! Are they joking?! It’s been the same view for three hours!' This is not Spain, this does NOT feel like the Vuelta.

I'm arriving here after a very relaxed August, although an August which seems to have flown by. I raced twice, I had my impromptu stag weekend in Barcelona, I sat on the WADA Athlete's Commission at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin (and got to watch Usain Bolt run 19.19 from the home straight of the Oympikstaden) and I rode Rocacorba (the biggest climb near Girona) as many times as I could in the last week trying to regain some last minute form pre-Vuelta. A program, incidentally, I have cut and pasted from the Christian Vande Velde school of pre-Grand Tour brainless physical fine-tuning, or in my case, just tuning.

Today I did it three times. Well, I did the final six-kilometre, 10 percent section three times. I felt a little less bad each time thankfully, my attempts the previous three days had been borderline pathetic.

Standing at the top at 9 a.m. this morning, having not demonstrated hoax-like climbing skills to get there, allowed me to enjoy the view with a more appreciative eye than the previous days. I took a picture and sent it to both VDV [Christian Vande Velde] and Michael Barry who were fast asleep in the USA at that very moment. I knew they'd appreciate it.

So now we're here, just arrived at our hotel. Ryder is re-arranging the room so we have more than an inch between our beds, although before he did that he opened the window and declared to the world at large, 'I LOVE HOLLAND!'. He claims to have always been fascinated by the place. Gotta love Ryder-he’s going to be a good roomie.

As for the rest of the team, they're fired up. We're bringing a team that is as competitive as our Tour de France team with Dan Martin and Tommy D [Danielson] as our mountain goats, Tyler [Farrar] and Julian [Dean] as our sprint maestros, Ryder as all-out Canadian pimp, Svein [Tuft] as our ultimate fighting comic book hero, Christian M [Meier] as the man who can't say no, and Martijn Maaskant as the gentlest badass in the peloton ready to tear the Spaniards to little pieces on the roads of his motherland.

As for me, I'm gonna be having fun, looking after the boys and trying to regain my top form before we hit Madrid. I love this race.

David Millar is in his second season of racing for American ProTour team Garmin-Slipstream.
 

Author
David Millar

British professional David Millar returns to the Vuelta a España for the fifth time in his career, the first since basing himself in Girona, Spain.

The Garmin-Slipstream rider has won stages in all three Grand Tours, worn the leader's jersey in the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, earned podium finishes in the time trial world championships and has claimed multiple national championships on the road and track in a career starting in 1997.

Follow Millar's exclusive Cyclingnews diary as he undertakes the third Grand Tour start of his 2009 season.