Around thirty metres beyond the finish line of the Tour of Flanders, David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) stopped and almost slithered off his bike and onto the road. He made it to the verge, just, but he was virtually prostrate as he refueled and reflected on his best ever performance in a major Classic, and a courageous one at that, given the calibre of the two riders who were up the road when he launched a late, lone pursuit.
It was with around 34km and three climbs to go that Millar slipped away from the chasers to begin a lone hunt of Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen. He initially made some inroads, closing to 35 seconds, but when the front pair got word that the Scot had been joined by Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil) they seemed to step a bit harder on the gas, stretching their lead to more than a minute.
While Gilbert and Leukemans survived to fight it out for the final place on the podium in Meerbeke, Millar had to concede defeat on the Muur and was dropped, eventually finishing 32nd. As he explained from his spot on the grass verge, after crossing the line at the rear of the group that sprinted for fifth, “I completely ran out of energy. I didn’t have any bottles for a while and I paid for it there.”
At 33, and having won last week’s Three Days of De Panne, Millar is clearly in great form, but his battling performance in Flanders begs the question: might he, in the future, focus properly on races such as this? “Yeah, it definitely inspires me,” he said. “At 33 years old, I think I might have found my calling.”
Asked how it felt to have played such a major role in the closing stages of the race, Millar said: “I feel a bit odd, to be honest. It felt great to be chasing those two, and it’s a beautiful race, but I ran out of energy so badly. The crowds were amazing but I was too f***ed to even notice. It was just so hard out there that you don’t notice anything.”
Paris-Roubaix next weekend
Always keen to highlight the “beauty” of his sport, and his attraction to its history and traditions, it seems strange that Millar’s record in Flanders, prior to Sunday, read one start, zero finishes. “I started in 2007 with bronchitis,” he explained. “I’ve only ridden Paris-Roubaix once too, when my job was to help [Francis] Moreau to the first section of pave.”
After a few days at home in Girona he will return to northern Europe at the end of the week for his second attempt on the cobbles of northern France, and he admitted to mixed emotions. “This year will be my first time tackling it as one of the players, I suppose,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also scared shitless.”