When David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) attacked on stage six from Girona to Barcelona there were echoes of the previous day's stage, when Thomas Voeckler (Bbox-Bouygues Telecom) jumped clear of his breakaway companions to win alone.
Millar went earlier - with 29km still to race - but he almost pulled off an unexpected win, before finally the wide, straight boulevards into Barcelona, not to mention the uphill finish, ended his bid for victory and he was swamped by the peloton almost within sight of the line.
"I hadn't planned to attack in the first week, so to come so close on this stage is gratifying," said Millar as he recovered at the finish. The Scot lives near Girona, so he is familiar with the roads that featured on a stage that he helped to animate by attacking after 46km, with Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep) and Stephane Auge (Cofidis) joining him.
Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) bridged the gap later, as the break's lead started to come down - but for much of the stage Millar, tenth overall at the start of the day, was yellow jersey on the road. He ended it with the consolation of a trip to the podium to collect the award for most aggressive rider.
It was as the advantage of the leading quartet dropped to around a minute that Millar made his move. What prompted it? "Stupidity," he said. "It was the coast road, I've done it so many times in training, I know it so well, and I just thought 'I can have fun here.' Before I knew it I was off on my own.
"Then it became a game of cat-and-mouse," Millar continued. "It seemed it was destined for failure, but then I thought 'Nah, I'll give it a go.' I was enjoying holding off the peloton for so long.
"I actually felt pretty average for most of the stage, I didn't feel in control of my effort, but I was on a wing and a prayer in the finale. I started to feel quite good but I think that was more adrenaline than anything else. I kind of made the move on emotion."
Millar admitted that there was one point when he thought he had it - as he maintained a one-minute advantage with 10km to go. "At that stage I thought it might be possible, but then I started seeing these huge boulevards and I knew the peloton had the advantage. It gave them the space to get organised, for teams to come to the front and get going. "
The huge crowds that lined the roads throughout the stage, but especially into Barcelona, were "spine tingling," said Millar. "It reminded me of the stage into Canterbury [when the Tour visited Britain in 2007 and Millar featured in a break]. Coming through Barcelona was mental. It was worth being off the front just to experience that atmosphere."
As the climb to the finish began to steepen it became apparent that it was all over for Millar. "You're so tired at that point," he said, "that when you turn round and see the peloton coming up that quick it's like someone's unplugged the power. You go from being fired up with adrenaline to having your power cut. You die immediately."
The Scot added that his ambition at this Tour remains a stage victory. "Next week I'd like to win a stage," he said.
It would be important for his team, too. "We're the eternal second," said Millar, one of the four riders - Christian Vande Velde, Bradley Wiggins and David Zabriskie being the others - who contributed to the team's second place to Astana in Tuesday's team time trial.
"We have to get that monkey [of not winning] off our back," he continued. "I want to win a stage here, that's what I've come here for. But for the team, we're not the new kid on the block any more. It's now down to results more than just the story of us being around, of just existing."
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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.
He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi
His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.
Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.
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