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Tour de France: Robert Millar's week one survival guide

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Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) on the ground after a crash in the sprint

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) on the ground after a crash in the sprint (Image credit: Tim de Waele/
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Robert Millar in the Tour de France

Robert Millar in the Tour de France (Image credit: Sirotti)

Stay near the front. Drink. Eat. Wash new shorts before wearing. Put on suntan cream. Be at the front at the feed zone. Keep fighting for position. Slide back when the sprint starts. No talking at the back with your friends. No ice cream. No freezing cold drinks at the finish. Move up on a wheel. Stay out of the wind. Watch the favourites. No Coca Cola, chocolate, crisps or fried food. Stay off your legs. Don't drink too many coffees. Don't don't don't don't don't....

One of our most trusted riders Atle Kvalsvoll fell heavily on the opening stage. Then a couple of days later I fell off (my fault by the way, as I touched the wheel in front) and ended up riding with a neck support.

The following days for both of us were about basic survival at the back of the peloton with the other guys on the team fetching water for us, getting food out of our pockets because we couldn't work our arms properly ... it was pretty desperate stuff. We would hang at the back, dodging the crashes and the panic braking. It became a game of surviving until we would be dropped near enough to the finish, not to be eliminated. Once out the back there isn't the nervous tension to deal with but it does your head in because physically you’re hurting yet not going fast. And you're out in the sun longer so the road rash you've picked up is literally cooking.

Then there were the consequences that caught up with us later as we were both out of contract at the end of the year and on sticky ground come negotiation time. Atle, I believe, ended up seeing a significant pay cut and I was shown the door. Professional cycling is a cruel world.

If you can keep upright all the other things on the advice list are a bonus. If you're riding for GC then you need team mates round you all day and only to make an effort when it becomes unavoidable. So you chose a rider, another favourite maybe or someone you can trust not to do something stupid and you make sure you can see them all the time. It begins to feel like stalking after a few days but it's what you have to do. Pre-radios, you had to remember to keep eating, drinking and be well-placed but nowadays the DS is on the radio with that good advice because even though you might not feel the need to refuel that day, it will be important for the next stage or when you dip into your reserves when the mountains start.


Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.

Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.