A lot has changed in cycling since David Millar turned professional in 1997, little more than the man himself. He arrived a bright-eyed 20-year-old and, as he prepares for his final outing as a professional, he leaves behind 17 years of ups and downs through some of the most challenging times in cycling.
“The irony is I no longer fit in,” Millar told the Guardian. “The team has become an identity for a rider; before, a rider would transcend the team. It’s become robotic. I liked the dysfunctionality, the cult-ness, the randomness. Obviously that led to the criminal aspect, the corruption, the madness, but I didn’t know that when I fell in love with it.”
Millar rode his final UCI-registered race at the World Championships last month, but has chosen to bring the curtain down on his career at the Bec Hill Climb in Surrey, England this Sunday. It is the first time Millar will attempt such an event and he will do it despite suffering from an injury that he picked up at the Vuelta a España. “I’m going to get my head kicked in. I’ve never done a hill climb before, I’m riding with a broken hand and I can hardly get out of the saddle.”
After announcing his retirement in October 2013, Millar has been able to make the most of his final season on the bike. Like it has been throughout his career, however, the year was one of major highs and lows.
“It’s been a happy year but it’s been a bit of a struggle, which is mainly why I’m stopping. I’m in a place where I can appreciate it,” Millar explained. “I love it, but it’s not overwhelming. There are no bad feelings or regrets, it’s just time. Form is becoming harder and harder to get and training is harder to make productive.”
Take the good with the bad
On the happier side of the coin was riding for the first time on Scottish soil, in national colours, at the Commonwealth Games and riding for Britain in his final Worlds. Chief of the disappointments was missing out on a spot in Garmin-Sharp’s Tour de France squad, which resulted in a very public falling out with his team. Millar has had a tumultuous relationship with the Tour and perhaps it was a fitting end, in its own way. “The Tour is a plethora of experiences; sometimes the worst ones can be the best,” he said.
During his 12 participations at the Tour de France, Millar has helped many teammates to stage wins and he laid claim to five of his own. Two of those have come since the return from his doping ban – a team time trial in 2011 and stage 12 in 2012. However, it is stage 9 of 2010 edition of the Tour, from Morzine to Saint-Jean de Maurienne, where he rode on with two broken ribs that Millar is most proud of.
“It would probably be my greatest achievement,” he says. “I still can’t believe I did that. It was bigger than winning any race, the amount of suffering and turmoil I went through. The Tour is about a personal journey, everyone takes something from it. It’s one of the few sporting events where finishing is as important as winning for 98% of people who finish.”
Millar’s season almost came to a very abrupt halt during the Vuelta when he crashed heavily during stage 15 to Lagos de Covadonga and broke two fingers and a rib. His injured hand will need an operation, but only after riding the hill climb, and was a signal to Millar that he was making the right decision.
“It was the biggest impact crash I’ve ever had. My front wheel and bars hit a bollard. You get home with a broken rib, all the skin off your left side and two broken fingers, and you can’t pick up the kids. I’ve always had a Houdini-like ability to come out of things, so when you do that in one of your last races, you think it’s time to get out.” Millar is reportedly planning to create his own clothing brand during his retirement.