David Millar has never had a straightforward relationship with the Tour de France, but he certainly never expected it to end this way – with non-selection for the biggest bike race in the world by his team, Garmin-Sharp, just days before the Tour de France gets underway on home soil in Leeds.
Now just months away from retirement, Millar's expectation that he would ride up the Champs-Elysées one final time was shattered on Monday afternoon when Garmin-Sharp published their definitive roster for the Tour. An integral part of Garmin's Tour line-up each July since he joined in 2008, the 37-year-old was not included in the nine-man selection.
In the statement Garmin released to announce the team on Monday, manager Jonathan Vaughters expressed his regret at leaving Millar out of the Tour. "We are very sorry to leave David Millar home due to illness," Vaughters said. "His experience is unparalleled and his contributions to the sport and our team are undeniable. We wish things were different for David."
Millar had pre-empted the official announcement by breaking the news on his Twitter profile, where he wrote that he had joined the long list of British absentees from the 2014 Tour. "I was selected for TdF last week, then they pulled me last night. Wiggo, Dowsett, Pete, Swifty, fancy a city break? I hear York's nice."
Earlier in the day, Millar had already expressed concern via the same medium about his Tour de France chances. "None of my team will answer the phone to me. I under-performed at the nationals. I'm now so scared about losing my Tour spot I can't sleep."
It would be an understatement, then, to say that Millar, who has completed every Tour de France since 2006 and won four stages as well as the team time trial in 2011, does not view that decision as the right one.
"I'm massively disappointed, saddened and angry at my team, basically, that they didn't trust the fact that I would do my job at the Tour," Millar told Cyclingnews on Monday afternoon.
"The bottom line is, if I’d lied to them and not told them I’d got a bit of a cough, then I’d be at the Tour.
"I told them I was a little bit sick, I went to the Nationals – paying for it myself – and to rest up a little bit in between the races, because I'd knackered myself out training hard after the Dauphiné and things were a bit stressful because my house had been burgled [during the Dauphiné.]"
Millar reached Monmouthshire in time to train on the time trial course last Thursday alongside Movistar's Alex Dowsett, but a lingering chest issue was worrying him. He then contacted the team management, who told Millar his failure to start the time trial would create a difficult situation. As Millar observed, "the pressure was on." He abandoned the time trial midway through due to his coughing.
Millar said he knew that at points his Tour selection had been "on the bubble" – finely balanced between yes and no – "and that they chose me for my experience." Millar's form has not been superb this year, but as he noted, "I have done my job every race I did."
The team's confidence in his ability to perform at the Tour meant was such that he had been told by a member of the Garmin-Sharp management before going to the British Championships that he would be taking part in the Tour de France.
Millar's certainty that he would be on the start-line in Leeds was such that he abandoned the National road race, after being in the chasing group until some 40 kilometres from the finish, because, he said, "I wanted to make sure I was ok for the Tour."
Suddenly, though, Millar says the goalposts of the selection procedure had changed without his prior knowledge: "It was made clear to me there that I would have to race well at the Nationals to make sure of the Tour place, which I thought I had already been given."
And after abandoning the Nationals, Millar was out of the Tour.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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