In his last time trial, the fifth and final stage of February’s Vuelta ao Algarve, David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) crashed hard on a turn, took himself out of contention and ended the race on a sour note.
On Sunday, rested and recovered, the British rider returned to form in the Paris-Nice prologue, where he finished seventh, just 11 seconds off the pace set by surprise stage winner Lars Boom (Rabobank).
Battling freezing temperatures and high winds in Montfort L’Amaury, a small village 20 kilometres south-west of Paris, the 2007 Paris-Nice prologue winner took off in the late afternoon and came across the line in the top-five, only to be bumped back by superior efforts from Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) and Jens Voigt (SaxoBank).
"It was all about pacing today because of the course. We had real cobbles, which are really tough on a time trial bike, and then the last part was uphill into the headwind," he said.
The cobbles, which came just after an uphill start and lasted for approximately 200 metres, were one of the wrinkles thrown in by the race organizers for the prologue, perhaps as a nod to the upcoming Classics season.
"It was really like the Classics today," said Millar. "And you see the results of the Classics, too, with the big boys like Lars [Boom] and Jens finishing high."
But Millar’s performance today showed that he too can hang with the peloton’s best, in any condition, and have fun doing it.
He was particularly struck by the layout of the course, which started at the base of Montfort L’Amaury, went up the Category 3 climb of Côte de Boursouffle and then finished with a small uphill gradient at the top of the town.
"I really enjoyed it today, it was a beautiful race compared to the last two, which were average [for me]," he said. "This town was great and the venue was spectacular."
Having Millar in top form comes at a crucial time for the Garmin-Transitions team as well.
Garmin's pre-race captain Christian Vande Velde injured his ankle while racing in Algarve and it was clear on Sunday that the American continues to be hampered by the injury.
Departing the start house around 20 minutes before Millar, Vande Velde finished a disappointing 42 seconds off the pace and may have ridden himself out of overall contention.
With Vande Velde recovering, it will be up to Millar to take over the team’s hopes of a high overall finish. The latter will be able to count on support from the likes of Canadian Svein Tuft, who finished 17th, and American Tom Danielson, 24th.
"It was a thrilling time trial for sure and a great effort by all our guys," said Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters. "I think we have a really solid team here."