TechPowered By

More tech

Robert Millar

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and team boss Oleg Tinkov

Robert Millar: Is it possible to win the Giro-Tour double?

By:
Robert Millar
Published:
October 08, 2014, 9:26 BST,
Updated:
October 08, 2014, 16:03 BST

Froome should skip the Giro and focus on the Tour

Buy one get one free. Everybody loves a two-for-one deal; you get so much more for your money so I can see why Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has been offered up as the latest promotion after someone at Tinkoff has had a marketing brain wave and decided that the publicity is worth the investment.

The €1 million incentive for potential rivals to join in says it all. “Come and be part of it, it'll be epic, historic, it might even be fun,” should read the slogan.

Conventional wisdom for those thinking about riding more than one three-week race in a season has been Giro then Vuelta or, for the unfortunate, Tour de France then Vuelta. Only the brave, punished or those who like the suffering ride all three. That's the real category that needs the million divided up between them, not the stars in the front fighting for the podium places. I was thinking it could be called the Adam Hansen trophy but I digress.

In all seriousness, there are 34 days between the end of the 2015 Giro and the start of the 102nd Tour de France, and you would think that's plenty of time to recover from one and then step into the ring for the next. Maybe in an ideal world it is, but a quick look through history tells us it rarely happens and there are many reasons for that.

First off, and it’s an obvious one, riding the Giro for the win could well cost way more energy than you bargained for. Bad weather, high mountains and rarely a flat day soon add up to being tired, and throw in a few transfers and a bounce down the road or two and your capacity to absorb the load is lessened.

That energy isn't a bottomless pit, so it's got to come from somewhere and the usual place is from your deep reserves. Once they are consumed they aren't replenished until you've had a proper long-term rest, far away from competition which those 34 days will never be. They can't be. Not when it's pre-Tour madness time, because there's too much going on, even if you don't have to go to the Dauphiné, Switzerland or ride your National Championships.

It's not just about the star men either. The guys who spend all day protecting them have to be up to the job so you need a quality squad. With the reduction in team numbers to 25 guys you only need a few riders sick, injured or somewhere else on the season planner to be struggling to put together a team capable of controlling a Grand Tour. The outright speciality that stage racing has now developed into means that the level of support has to be just as carefully planned and resourced as the number one rider's preparation.

It's a big ask of everyone and deep pockets are needed, and though Tinkoff-Saxo, Sky and Astana might have them, the Kazakhs have the Iglinskiy fall-out to deal with over the coming months.

It'll be interesting to see how Tinkoff go about planning the Giro-Tour challenge because the latest wisdom has seen the number of race days for the genuine contenders reduced to somewhere between 30 and 40 days of racing before the start of the Tour de France.

Once you take away the Giro stages, that doesn't leave very many days for competing elsewhere, so what will the early program be? Just a couple of five-dayers here and there with no Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico, and the rest of the time spent training at altitude?

Team Sky doesn’t send Chris Froome to many one-day races pre-Tour as it is, so will we now see Contador and Nibali doing the same? I can't see them wanting to miss out on the few one-day races that they can be competitive in, it's not their style. This is another factor, because neither can contain himself when an opportunity comes along. They don't wait for the time trial and then go for it. The prospect of Contador and Nibali racing each other at the Giro should have Chris Froome rubbing his hands with glee because once they've knocked lumps out of each other in Italy things will be a lot easier for him come the Tour de France.

I honestly can't see Nibali getting dragged into a Giro -Tour extravaganza with Contador, much better that he lets Fabio Aru take responsibility for Italian honour and that he saves his strength for the return of Froome and a beefed up Team Sky at the Tour.

Noticeably, Sky have stayed well out of the two tours debate and they've been quietly reinforcing their Grand Tour squads with some very talented riders. Though they've been pretending some of those new signings might also be for the other races, the reality is they'll be at the Tour de France with a group of riders more than capable of matching the Astana and Tinkoff teams on every terrain. That's all the clue you need for whether the Giro-Tour double is a good idea or not.

 

Robert Millar on the attack

Robert Millar's Vuelta a Espana predictions

By:
Robert Millar
Published:
August 22, 2014, 15:16 BST,
Updated:
August 22, 2014, 16:17 BST

Froome the man to beat in Spain

The Vuelta a Espana is considered by some as the poor relation of the Grand Tours, supposedly relegated to a mere training race for the Worlds. That's so wrong.

For the under performers, it's the last big opportunity to show themselves and for the really desperate, the best chance to secure a contract for the next year.

However the Vuelta is better than all that training, last chance, and we got sent here because everyone else was unavailable stuff: it's a fantastic mix of terrain, weather and competition. Hot, cold, windy and rain, you can get it all but thankfully not usually on the same day, though the last week in the north could well prove otherwise. The Vuelta was my favourite Grand Tour not because it was easier or less stressful but because it was so unpredictable. That's a tradition I hope to see continue.

Looking at the riders for this year, you have to say it's a pretty impressive list with Froome, Quintana, Uran, Contador, Rodriguez, Sagan and Evans, all lining up in Jerez with different things to prove. Maybe Sagan won't be that fussed about reaching the last week, but he won't want to go home without at least one stage win. Not with Oleg watching.

Notice that I didn't include Chris Horner in the list of notables and for good reason. He's been struggling since last September and I couldn't see him getting through the first week in a good place. With the latest illness and subsequent withdrawal, it just proves you have to look after yourself more when you get older.

That first week is a bit of a dilemma for those serious about winning the race overall, like Sky. It's hot and windy down south and though Chris Froome might be used to the wind coming over from Africa, his teammates might not want to be working flat out from the first stage defending a slender lead. I can see a tactical move going after the opening team time trial to relieve the bigger teams of some responsibility of controlling things.

Basically it ought to boil down to Quintana and Rodriguez versus Froome in the last week with Contador hoping he's recovered enough to see some of it happen on the three mountaintop finishes. The little climbers have to stay near enough to Froome after the time trials, out of trouble on the plains and then they can do a rain dance because cruel though it may be, Spanish mountain roads are as slippy as you get and the Sky leader could be vulnerable there.

In other news, this is the one Grand Tour where I don't see AG2r winning the team classification, Betancur might lose some weight though.

Astana will be expecting Aru to win something, maybe even get involved in the GC but there's less pressure than the Giro. It's the same circumstances for Kelderman at Belkin and this Vuelta route will suit him better.

BMC need Philippe Gilbert to get his stage wins to whip up some hype for the Worlds, but Evans finds himself in a sticky spot. Expected to be in the GC fight but expected to fall apart too, unless he gets in the mythic break and takes the race lead, he may struggle on GC.

As for Caja Rural, they’ll be in every escape, hoping, praying, and causing trouble.

Cannondale minions have to look after Peter Sagan and then get on with it if he stops after 10 days. They have to do enough to keep themselves in bib-shorts because they won't all be included in the Garmin merger.

Garmin will want Talansky to ride in the top 10, top five if he's really good and have Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjedal as back up, but they really need some stage wins too. It would be good to see David Millar wear a pair of those shiny shoes to victory one day. The Millar name after all has a good reputation to live up to in Spain.

Giant Shimano will do the sprints as usual though Degenkolb might not be fast enough against Bouhani on the flat. Going uphill is different story. They'll like the stages up on the plains just as revenge for the suffering they'll get everywhere else.

IAM Cycling are racing with a decent looking team and they have a point or two to prove after a quiet Tour de France. It’s their second Grand Tour of the season though and it will be interesting to see how they cope with the pressure.

Katusha are just at the race to look ater Joaquin Rodriguez and nothing else will matter.

Have Lampre has turned into the Italian equivalent of Cofidis? With Horner out, they’ll be forced to rely on Cunego for success. The Italian is out of contract at the end of the season and has performed well at the Vuelta before but a lack of form and motivation has been levelled at him over the last few years.

Lotto Belisol have actually come for a suntan top-up though the Belgian press will follow Jurgen Van Den Broeck's demise slavishly.

Movistar will probably be the most aggressive team in the race and Alejandro might save his place in the squad for next year if he does as he's told and Quintana wins the race.

MTN-Qhubeka have been the next surprise so it'll be good to see how the little known African riders shape up with the big boys.

At Omega Pharma Quickstep, no Cavendish means all eyes and bets are on Uran who has to have the memories of the Giro fiasco sticking in his throat. The pressure won't bother him but he will be looking for payback for the Movistar/Quintana mugging.

As for Orica Greenedge, how come they've ended up relying on the Yates twins? Adam this time lines up as their main reason for starting and great though that is for youth and British hopes surely the management will be getting twitchy.

Sky, the dark machine has lost its ominous presence this year and Froome his air of invincibility. Backed up by an eager Kennaugh and the stalwarts that are Sitsou and Kiryenka they'll be wanting to rectify that. The man to beat certainly but the others are no longer afraid to try.

Tinkoff-Saxo, waiting to pounce anytime, anywhere with Contador eager to remind everyone that he’s still top-dog among the GC riders.

Trek find themselves in unknown territory, no Schlecks, and none the worse for it. They can rely on Arredondo and Cancellera but without the stress.

Of the French teams, only FdJ will be interested in doing some racing for Bouhani, who since he'll be seething after the Tour snub ought to be pretty angry. Pinot has arrived at the race too, but there are question marks over his post-Tour form. The Cofidis and Europcar line-ups don't hold any surprises so it'll be turn up, ride round and lets get back to France asap.

Robert Millar in the Tour de France

Robert Millar: Coming up Short at the Tour de France

By:
Robert Millar
Published:
July 28, 2014, 7:20 BST,
Updated:
July 28, 2014, 8:22 BST

The miserable are ….....

There's always a collective sigh of relief from the survivors of any Tour de France once the last mountain is climbed and this year has been no exception. There are a lot of tired bodies out there who are just hanging on, hoping to see the Eiffel Tower and though the riders might not have been able to see Paris from the top of Pla d'Adet, it would certainly have felt like it once they crossed the finishing line on the last day of the Pyrenees.

However whilst there's a certain happiness amongst the guys doing the pedalling to see the end of the big climbs, in the team cars there are many principals who will have been taking stock of their situation and then reaching for the worry beads. The time trial would just have confirmed what they didn't want to admit before they had to.

The miserable are …......

BMC might seem to be involved in the GC battle with Tejay van Garderen and he might be up to 5th after luck went his way in the time trial but when riders say they are dreaming of a top five placing before the Tour starts what they are really thinking is they are good enough for a podium. That scenario never looked like happening for the American. Too often he's seen the front of the race leave him behind when it was crunch time. Some stages he was strong enough to be in the chase of Nibali once the sort out had happened but when you come to the Tour secretly expecting a podium in Paris that's not good enough. You have to be with the number one guy at least a couple of times even if it's only to be dropped in the final push, at least you will have showed some sparkle. TVG has been missing the cut, then limiting his losses and that sums it up. Limited.

Europcar were actively seeking something, anything from this year’s race. Brian Coquard started well in the first week, mixing it with the big boys in the sprints but then it all went pear shaped. Tommy Voeckler made the breaks with regularity, as did his sidekick Cyril Gautier, but their companions of the days were consistently better, smarter or fresher. They probably smelt the desperation. Their GC hope, Pierre Rolland, is worn out after doing the Giro and can barely get out the saddle.

Sky are sixth in the team classification and I was surprised by that, I thought they were worse. Much worse. They've been shocking considering this is the outfit which dominated the last two editions of the Tour. With Froome gone, Richie Porte tried to step into the main man's shoes but that lasted one big day and then it was over. Since then we've seen a lack of flexibility. It's as if the domestiques, even the delux ones, that were going to be on the front all day towing Froome along have lost the ability to race for themselves and are stuck at one speed unable to go with an acceleration or make the difference.

Nieve and Kiryenka don't seem to have all the zip trained out of them just yet but they chose the wrong days to try their luck. It would be all too easy to say there was no plan B, even though they were warned in advance of this eventuality but the most disappointing thing has been the realisation that they have no-one who can go in the break and be expected to win from that situation. Wiggins might have been sidelined by the ambitions of Froome but Sky have missed guys like Kennaugh and Boassen Hagen in their line-up.

Trek, otherwise known as Team Schleck, and as soon as Andy went home all hope left them. Actually that's not true, as they had to know he was a gamble waiting to go wrong but as one brother can't be without the other what choice did they have. Harsh it may be but once Fabian Cancellera didn't win the cobbled stage all hope left them. They haven't troubled the GC fight once or the stage victories for that matter and though they have been in a few escapes, if Jensie hadn't worn the climbers jersey for a day, then from podium visits no-one have noticed their presence. Zubeldia is 8th apparently.

Lampre came to the Tour with Rui Costa as their leader but leave the race with little reward. Chris Horner attacked once and then said he was aiming for the Vuelta. So its that it? The Tour is training for the Italian squad because I've always thought they got sent to France as punishment for not doing well at home. Although Rui Costa was likely to make the top ten (just) until the curse of the rainbow jersey put paid to that idea, from their showing this time around I've yet to see anything that changes my perception that the Tour holds no pleasure for them at all.

IAM Cycling might just as well be named 'I AM doing the best I can but it's not enough'. Swiss Champion Martin Elmiger is excused as he's been seen a number of times at the front of the race flying the flag but the other riders have been invisible. Haussler briefly showed his face in Nîmes but Sylvain Chavanel has been a shadow of the rider who wore the yellow jersey during 2010.

Cofidis almost always had a man in the escape and yet nothing to show for it at the end of the day. For a credit company, that's a disappointing return on investment. Rein Taarmäe hasn't really put one foot in front of the other and though they often had riders survive the first selection down to 40 souls, the next acceleration saw the men in red left to their own devices. With no interests in GC and no interest in stage wins there has to be a monetary pun in there somewhere.

Garmin had to re-route after losing Andrew Talansky and if it wasn't for the epic close call of Jack Bauer at Nîmes and the face saving solo from Ramunas Navardauskas on stage 19, they would be deep in the brown stuff. For the peloton Dandies who like their blues, it's not been a great show. When you look at the results they are behind Bretagne in the team standings so though it could have been worse it's not by much.

Are Orica GreenEdge really the team that had such a fabulous start to the Giro? Other than wiping out Mark Cavendish on the first day, there hasn't been one headline moment. Young Simon Yates was the only beacon of light in an otherwise dismal showing from the Aussies, and Gerrans never bounced back from his misfortunes and no-one else stepped up.

Robert Millar in the Tour de France

Robert Millar: Who will be the last man standing in the Tour de France?

By:
Robert Millar
Published:
July 18, 2014, 0:51 BST,
Updated:
July 18, 2014, 8:47 BST

Into the mountains we go but Nibali has work to do

With Vincenzo Nibali comfortably installed in the yellow jersey and the only one of the three pre-race favourites to make it to the big mountain stages you could be excused for thinking it's all over in the Tour de France. That would be doing a disservice to the riders directly behind the Italian because although they might be wondering what they can do against a Nibali in top form they'll also be wondering how they can ambush each other. The two Alpine stages will tell us who can still race after two weeks and who seems to be hanging and on hoping for better days but you also need to consider there'll be some of the top ten GC riders better suited to one set of mountains compared to the later ones, which will undoubtedly decide the race.

It might seem like Nibali doesn't need to do anything other than control his nearest rivals, namely Richie Porte and Alejandro Valverde but to be truly comfortable before the final time trial he'll probably want a bigger lead. Something like five minutes in case he has a bad day so a couple of attacks 4 kilometres out ought to achieve that, maybe when the squabbling has become serious and the others are frazzled.

The typical question I used to get asked at the Tour was which are harder, 'the Alps or Pyrenees?' and I always said which ever came second because for me that was more important. I didn't have a preference but I did notice the differences between the two.

The Alpine roads are in better condition, the surfaces are generally excellent (holidays in ski stations being the reason) and although the climbs can be long they tend not to be brutally steep so the racing is faster. That can affect drafting on the climbs and it's also windier in the valleys, especially when it's sunny and hot. It's pretty humid too.

The descents are usually on good roads though the way the route goes this year, down the Izoard, is pretty bumpy for the first part. On some of the smaller cols there can be holes and gravel to deal with but on the big roads and the mountain top finishes it's the speed of the race more than the severity of the slope which makes the decision.

By contrast, the Pyrenees are more of a slog. The surfaces are rougher and though it might be less windy on the actual climbs the grippy nature of the roads saps the strength out of you. Just to add to the obstacles, melting tarmac and loose gravel are certainties if it's warm. The gradients tend to be much less uniform than in the Alps, thus it's harder to get rhythm and most climbs in the Pyrenees have a section or two which is steeper than the profile suggests.

The eastern side of the Tourmalet, just before reaching La Mongie, is the perfect example of this. Just as the road passes through the tunnels is typical of how the Pyrenees likes to surprise you. It's less humid though and it's easier to breathe compared to the Alps plus there's the crazy Spanish fans to cheer up proceedings.

So how do those differences affect the guys still racing for the top ten?

Quite simply the riders who like to climb sitting down will be more comfortable in the Alps and those who do it en danseuse will suit the Pyrenees with its changes in gradient.

In the Alpine suited group you have Richie Porte and Sky team mate Geraint Thomas, Thibaut Pinot, Tejay van Garderen, Bauke Mollema, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Pierre Rolland, Jakob Fuglsang, Michal Kwiatkowski and if he recovers, Rui Costa. They prefer their climbing at a steady tempo.

The Pyrenees in theory ought to be better for Nibali though I can see him winning in the Alps as well, Valverde, the Ag2r pairing of Bardet and Peraud, Mikel Nieve, Chris Horner and Leopold König because they can provoke or cope with variations better and they need to get a chuff on because the TT will be a chore.

There are three other riders not to be forgotten for the mountains: Polka dot chaser Joaquim Rodriguez, Nicolas Roche and good old Tommy Voeckler. They sit in a separate category of trouble makers who could find themselves in an escape with any of the above GC guys. Then it's just a matter of, as Jensie would say, "Shut up legs."

I was thinking of what Garmin's Andrew Talansky was going through as he sat at the side of the road on stage 11 trying to make a decision. I can relate to that Tour de France experience and it's not a nice place to be and it's certainly not as some have suggested, 'a case of needing to man up and get on with it.' In my first Tour I completely lost the plot climbing the Col de Madeleine.

I was dropped from the lead group about halfway up and then gradually lost control of my breathing and then my emotions. The only solution was to stop, as it happened under the only tree for several kilometres, and try to regain my senses. If it hadn't been for my directeur sportif calming me down, removing the drama from the situation then I would probably have had to abandon. Even though I was far from being eliminated I just couldn't continue.

It took four or five minutes of just sitting there in the shade, gradually regaining normality before I could set off again and without the help of the guys in the team car I doubt I would have had enough life experience to know what to do.

No-one pressured me to continue and it wasn't easy but just like Andrew Talansky did, I thanked the guys in the team and the support staff for giving me the option of finishing that day. Toughening up wasn't mentioned. The Tour de France when it goes badly is as much an emotional challenge as it is physical.

Robert Millar in the Tour de France

Robert Millar: Team Sky must get their confidence back

By:
Robert Millar
Published:
July 10, 2014, 10:15 BST,
Updated:
July 10, 2014, 10:19 BST

How Froome's departure changes the race dynamic

The decision to discount Bradley Wiggins from the Team Sky selection that was taken by Dave Brailsford three weeks ago isn't looking too smart this morning. He can take some solace that even the great manager's get it wrong , look at the position Brazil's Scolari finds himself in after the World Cup drubbing from the Germans but all the same there'll be lots of #toldyouso on Twitter for the next few days.

Of course it's not as easy as saying Wiggins would have had any better luck than Chris Froome had, and there's the nag that 2012 Tour de France winner doesn't like the rain either but you can't help think a stronger plan B of sorts might have been a wiser choice given the carnage of stage five. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Abandoning the Tour de France isn't a decision taken lightly by any rider. There are frequently tears involved because it means so much and when you're sitting in the team car you naturally start to wonder if you might have continued, maybe it wasn't that bad, maybe you ought to have been harder. Then you move the offending body part and the pain instantly reminds you that you had no choice. You might cry a bit more then.

So what now for Sky? Stage hunting or look after Richie Porte and hope he steps up. First they have to regroup, re-assess and get some confidence back from the disaster that has befallen them. It's not an easy thing to do when everyone came to do a job and then it all starts to go wrong. They can take heart from Porte who with the help of Geraint Thomas saw off Garmin's Talansky on the last cobbled section and put time into Contador and Valverde. But it's almost two minutes to Nibali and the Italian champion along with his Astana team is looking remarkably strong.

The Spaniards will be thankful they came out the day relatively unscathed health wise and still in the game, but psychologically they'll be wounded. However if they can stay safe and recover from the nightmare of the cobbles they might be back.

Chris Froome didn't have the luck that you sometimes need to survive and now that he's out that changes the tactics for everyone. One person’s misfortune can be another’s chance and now the Tour opens up as an opportunity for riders like Talansky, Van den Broecke and Pierre Rolland to show what they can do.

With Sky no longer needing to do the familiar high tempo pace setting on the mountain stages it'll be up to Astana to control the race and with a team of climbers at his disposal Contador is in a better position even though he lost time on the cobbles to most of his rivals. I'm sure he considers his chances improved against the remaining GC contenders in the long time trial at the end of the race now that Froome has gone. It's still a long way to the Alps and Pyrenees and there's plenty of kilometres for the Kazakh squad to be worn down by the pressure of defending the yellow jersey so the first skirmishes in the Vosges mountains heading towards the rest day will be interesting.

The Spanish aren't in such close contention that Nibali needs to panic if he has to let Valverde or Contador take back some time and he can afford to bluff in the medium mountains and then murder them all at La Planche des Belles Filles. Until then Astana can manage the situation with relative serenity.

As for Chris Froome, it wasn't what he was hoping for and you can only wish him and everyone else who fell a speedy recovery.
 

Robert Millar in the Tour de France

Tour de France: Robert Millar's week one survival guide

By:
Robert Millar
Published:
July 08, 2014, 22:48 BST,
Updated:
July 08, 2014, 23:44 BST

The golden rules for keeping out of trouble

Stay near the front. Drink. Eat. Wash new shorts before wearing. Put on suntan cream. Be at the front at the feed zone. Keep fighting for position. Slide back when the sprint starts. No talking at the back with your friends. No ice cream. No freezing cold drinks at the finish. Move up on a wheel. Stay out of the wind. Watch the favourites. No Coca Cola, chocolate, crisps or fried food. Stay off your legs. Don't drink too many coffees. Don't don't don't don't don't....

That's just some of the advice that is offered to you when you stick a Tour de France number on your jersey every morning and none of that sounds like any fun. And yet it is the best bike race you'll ever do.

However, there's one vital thing missing from the advice list that you're meant to have playing on a constant loop in your mind. Don't fall off. No one dares to tell you that in those very words but you know that's what the directeur sportif means when he says in the daily pre-stage meeting “Stay near the front and pay attention.”

He might as well say “good luck” but somehow that sounds less professional so he sticks to the time honoured phrases and we pretend it'll all be OK.

Even the organisers pretend. When the road book says there'll be dangerous corners, road furniture and pinch points what they really mean is DON'T FALL OFF.

Of course when you say to any of your friends “Oh, I just missed that crash yesterday” or “I haven't fallen off yet” you are pushing your luck to the limit.

But what happens when you do fall off? Well, that depends on your bounce-ability or lack of it. Just ask Mark Cavendish. Crashing is one of those things you are very likely to do at the Tour, once is about average, any more than that and you can complain.

The worst thing you can do is fall off on the first day and hurt yourself just enough not to abandon but still be in a bad way. The Tour isn't the place to be carrying an injury because the energy your body uses repairing itself is no longer available for recovery. I've seen it myself during the 91 Tour with Z.

One of our most trusted riders Atle Kvalsvoll fell heavily on the opening stage. Then a couple of days later I fell off (my fault by the way, as I touched the wheel in front) and ended up riding with a neck support.

The following days for both of us were about basic survival at the back of the peloton with the other guys on the team fetching water for us, getting food out of our pockets because we couldn't work our arms properly ... it was pretty desperate stuff. We would hang at the back, dodging the crashes and the panic braking. It became a game of surviving until we would be dropped near enough to the finish, not to be eliminated. Once out the back there isn't the nervous tension to deal with but it does your head in because physically you’re hurting yet not going fast. And you're out in the sun longer so the road rash you've picked up is literally cooking.

Then there were the consequences that caught up with us later as we were both out of contract at the end of the year and on sticky ground come negotiation time. Atle, I believe, ended up seeing a significant pay cut and I was shown the door. Professional cycling is a cruel world.

If you can keep upright all the other things on the advice list are a bonus. If you're riding for GC then you need team mates round you all day and only to make an effort when it becomes unavoidable. So you chose a rider, another favourite maybe or someone you can trust not to do something stupid and you make sure you can see them all the time. It begins to feel like stalking after a few days but it's what you have to do. Pre-radios, you had to remember to keep eating, drinking and be well-placed but nowadays the DS is on the radio with that good advice because even though you might not feel the need to refuel that day, it will be important for the next stage or when you dip into your reserves when the mountains start.

You wouldn't think it would be possible but occasionally everything goes perfectly. Those are the stages where you are in the wheels the whole day, take no wind and make no big efforts. In fact you can reach the finish and feel almost as good as you did at the start. It only happened to me once in 11 Tours.

We were going to Alencon in 1984 and that was a good day. Now that everyone has the team in their ear, the communications might be better but then they are more nervous too so you get the reminders. The feed zone is a classic example. It always speeds up because everyone wants their lunch, even though you can get food from the car, it still gets faster so there are four choices to be made: fight for the front and minimises risk, stay in the middle and hope you don’t get a musette in the spokes or hang back accept you might be sprinting with the bag on your back for 5km after the zone because of the accordion effect.

The easiest choice is not to take a bag at all and get your food before or afterwards but strangely not many guys do. It's the least stressful option and the first week of the Tour is all about controlling your nervous output.

Positioning is another thing you have to learn. Some guys can do it easily and some have to force themselves to stay in the front. As a GC rider, you can hang with the sprinters and have a good place, hardly use the brakes and take no wind but it'll cost you a lot of nervous energy if you aren’t that comfortable pushing and shoving, so you balance that with the physical savings. Come the last kilometers, you can slip back a bit from the madness when the lead-outs really start because then even your own sprinter will treat you with no mercy.

Also, in the first few stages, unlike normal racing, you can't count on moving up on the hills even if you're a climber. No one wants to give up their place so the big guys hang on for dear life and instead of dropping back they make themselves wider. As we've seen in Yorkshire the really populated climbs are just as dangerous for crashes as the town centre run-ins, so you really have stay near the front and pay attention.

And one last thing. Don't fall off.

 

Author
Robert Millar

Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.

Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.