After a false start at the Tour du Haut Var, where he fell ill and climbed off after 100 kilometres, David Millar’s 2013 season starts in earnest at Paris-Nice this weekend. It’s been a slightly rocky start to the year, after the 36-year-old broke a finger in an accident in January which set him back for a couple of weeks and then got sick in early February, but he is optimistic things will be on the rise in March and even more so in April.
“Things have been going better for the last month, but after getting sick at Haut Var, Paris-Nice is my first real race,” Millar told Cyclingnews on Thursday morning.
“It’s a very difficult one, the first big stage race of the year and the weather’s generally not that conducive to cycling. It’s just a tough week and one of the hardest races of the year physically: everybody’s in really good shape, you’ve got a whole peloton motivated and raring to go.”
Millar is the last British winner of the Paris-Nice prologue, back in 2007. “One of the few of those statistics left,” he says somewhat wryly given the constant rise of the sport in the UK, but this year he will be using the Race to the Sun to hone his form for the Belgian Classics.
“I don’t imagine I’ll be setting things alight at Paris-Nice, but our primary objective will be to look after [Garmin-Sharp stage race contender Andrew] Talansky.”
“I’ve looked at the route, it follows the same pattern roughly each year. You make sure you don’t get caught out in the crosswinds in the first couple of days, then if you go for GC, you try not to lose too much time on the uphill finish [the Montagne de Lure on stage five.] and then it all comes down to the Col d’Èze time trial [on stage seven]. It’s not the hardest race to control if they make it through those things, there’s always a few guys on the same page who wait for Col d’Èze to battle it out.”
Whilst freely admitting that uphill time trials like the final 9.6 kilometre challenge in the hills behind Nice are not his forte, Millar says he is “a big fan of it: the Col d’Èze in Paris-Nice is an iconic part of the history of the sport and always makes for a close finale, like it did in last year.”
In 2012, Lieuwe Westra (Vancansoleil-DCM) and stage winner Bradley Wiggins (Sky) were only separated by two seconds at the finish, with the Briton beating the Dutchman by eight seconds overall. “Anything can happen overall,” Millar says. “You can have a bad day there and lose it all. It’s not going to be a boring finish and the whole race is very physically demanding.”
A broken collarbone from a crash in E3 Harelbeke wrecked his 2012 classics campaign. Individual triumphs like his win in the Three Days of De Panne in 2010 and strong rides in Flanders in the past are always a morale booster, and last year Millar rode well in Milan-San Remo for the Garmin leaders and was in steadily rising form until he hit the deck 70 kilometres from the finish in Harelbeke.
“I’ll do the same as last year, San Remo and then all the Belgian classics: Waregem, E3, Wevelgem, Flanders,” Millar says. “I was just starting to go well when I broke my collarbone. Although January wasn’t ideal, it doesn’t mean I won’t be at my best or close to it for that week in April, and if I’m at my best then at least I can be in the race and try and get a result in at least one of them.”
After Flanders, his racing program is yet to be decided, with his wife Nicole due to give birth to their second child on May 4th, the day the Giro d’Italia starts. “At the moment we’re playing it by ear,” Millar says. In the short-term, though, is his first ride in Paris-Nice since 2010.