By Daniel Benson in Montluçon
With the final individual time trial on Saturday, Britain's David Millar was in a relaxed and buoyant mood as the race moved towards its finale in Paris on Sunday. Happy with how his Garmin team had performed in the Tour, the Scot discussed his chances in the time trial, his team's performance, and his own future as a Tour rider.
Racing in its debut Tour, the US outfit - formally known as Team Slipstream - has constantly been in the thick of the action. Christian Vande Velde remains in podium contention, Millar himself just missed out on yellow in the first time trial and Will Frischkorn and Danny Pate have almost pulled off courageous stage wins.
"We're over the moon and we've had a fantastic race on so many levels. It's another big step for us," said Millar before the start of stage 18. With the team sitting outside of the ProTour, it was handed a wild card by race organisers ASO, but unlike many ProTour teams who've not lived up to their billing, Garmin has played a significant part. Earlier in the year, they pulled off a huge coup by winning the opening team time trial at the Giro d'Italia, putting Vande Velde into the leader's jersey.
"I don't think we're the underdogs anymore. We've come here and done so well, especially when you think that five of our team hadn't even been at the Tour de France before," Millar added.
Millar has also been instrumental in passing on his experience to his fledging young teammates. "They have learned a lot about themselves. Most importantly, that they can compete on the world stage and at the Tour de France. It has been a great experience for them. It can only be seen as stepping stone for next year."
On his role for the remaining few stages, the Scot was pinning his chances on the time trial and not necessarily on an escape. "I'm feeling tired and my strength is shrinking day-by-day. I feel fine on the bike but I'm having problems recovering off it. Perhaps I just trained too much after the Giro, but I'm paying for it now."
Millar could be entering a new phase of his career, that of a super domestique for Vande Velde. "With Christian being our GC guy now it gives me other goals that I can train for and to help him suits me. I can still do other races during the year and then come here and work for Christian at the Tour. It gives me a lot of pleasure."
Those other goals start soon enough though, at the World Time Trial Championships in September. "I'm going to take a short holiday but I'm going to fix my eyes on the Worlds. I've got my time trialling confidence back for now."