The Scot was speaking on the first day of the team’s final training camp, the first public occasion since White was dismissed for sending former Garmin rider Trent Lowe to Dr Luis del Moral.
“It’s like a hit squad with so many excellent guys here. We’ve got, on paper, one of if not the best one day Classics teams and one of the best grand tour teams. It’s pretty impressive,” Millar told Cyclingnews.
“My wife said this morning while I was getting ready, ‘you look like a proper cycling team’ but we’ve kept our spirit, our relaxed attitude and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’ve not gone corporate but we’ve got that global international level.”
Millar was instrumental in bringing White to the team in 2008, persuading the Australian to hang up his wheels and become a directeur sportif. White could have continued his racing career for at least one year at that point but Millar, along with Jonathan Vaughters, singled him out as management material. However, White’s judgement in sending Lowe to del Moral – a former doctor at US Postal – contravened Garmin’s policies on anti-doping and outside medical help.
“Losing Whitey was horrible. He’s one of my best friends. It came as such a shock, it came at us hard and it’s going to affect us for a long time. He was such a loved figure in the team and so charismatic but you’ve got to move on and I think we’ve got a lot of good guys.”
“The new guys didn’t really know him but for us long-serving guys it will take quite a bit of time. I persuaded him to become a directeur sportif, so it was my responsibility. When Jonathan and I were creating the blue print for the team one of the things we couldn’t figure out was what sort of directeur sportif we wanted. Whitey was perfect, really fresh and personable.”
The decision to fire White was made well before the finish of the Tour Down Under, with Vaughters flying from the team’s base in the US to meet White in Australia. Just after White was told of his fate a conference call was made between the team’s remaining management and the riders – including Millar – who were in Girona, Spain.
“There was no choice and that’s how we roll,” Millar said when asked if the correct decision had been made.
“We have very strict policies and that’s the team we are. We had a very large responsibility in the cycling world not to let people down and not to lose trust in us. A lot of people would have said he was the spine of the team so it was a massive decision but we’ve got to man up and carry on.”
“It’s all just so weird,” Millar added.
“Trent is such a lovely guy and Whitey and all of us put so much time in him and looked after him. Okay, some will say we didn’t look after him because Whitey sent him to del Moral but genuinely I think Whitey was helping him. There’s no way Whitey would ever want any of his riders to dope but Trent had a rough couple of years, found himself with the wrong people and look where it’s ended up. It’s bad for everybody.”
Despite the loss of White, Millar is keen to get his season underway. 2010 was arguably his greatest year since turning pro as he racked up a number of strong performances in the Spring, including an impressive win in the Three Days of De Panne. In the tail end of the season he peaked again, claiming a silver in the Worlds time trial and gold in the Commonwealth Games equivalent. In between all that he started all three Grand Tours.
With Garmin a much stronger proposition on the road this year, there will be less pressure on Millar to start all three Grand Tours, which will mean skipping the Vuelta and possibly pulling out before the end of the Giro.
“My programme will be Algarve, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan San Remo. My plan has always been to start the season slower and Tirreno gives me the opportunity to sit back and take it easier and then come good in April to help the guy in Flanders and then be really good for the Giro,” he said.
“I’m going to the Giro with an open mind and what’s different to other times in the past is that I won’t be turning up in a real trough of condition. This year I’d like to get there pinging and then I’ll have a rest before the Tour.”
Millar’s final target of the season will be the Worlds again. Last year’s silver saw him lose out to four-time world champion Fabian Cancellara but the Scot isn’t giving up on beating the Swiss star, even if he admits that he’ll need form, circumstances and luck to be on his side for it to happen.
“You’ve just got to hope that he’s not got that robot form. No doubt 100 per cent against each other he’s going to beat me, he’s just that much better and in the zenith of his career but on the right course and on the right day I can match him pretty well but I need him to be slightly off. That’s just sport, some guys are just on a different planet. I’ll aim for that, Fabian’s off-day.”