Interview: David Millar on extreme weather, mentoring the next generation, and Wiggins and Cavendish - Road Cycling UK

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Interview: David Millar on extreme weather, mentoring the next generation, and Wiggins and Cavendish

Scotsman talks to RCUK about the Extreme Weather Protocol, his role with the Great Britain under-23 squad and whether Mark Cavendish can win an Olympic medal

David Millar is retired, but you’d never guess.

Lean as a fence post, and still blessed with a position on the bike that others might die for, Millar looks as if he has never been away.

He rides out from a hotel close to Scarborough with journalists and guests of Maserati Cycling, the backer for the second year running of the Tour de Yorkshire Ride, a sportive to be held on Sunday May 1, the final day of the three-day Tour de Yorkshire pro race.

It’s a similar story off the bike. Millar has been busy, with his fingers in many pies, whether it be a second book, The Racer, his clothing brand, Chpt.III, or working as a mentor to the Great Britain men’s under-23 endurance squad (more of which later).

David Millar’s career as a professional cyclist ended in 2014, but he remains heavily involved in the sport (Pic: Sirotti)

Up front and behind the scenes

Millar remains vocal: a presence in the media, and, less publicly, on committees that shape the way the modern peloton races.

Take the Extreme Weather Protocol (EWP), as an example. Used for the first time at Paris-Nice to call a halt to stage three, and then three days later to cancel the fifth stage of Tirenno-Adriatico, it saved Millar’s former colleagues and successors from racing to the finish on snow-blown roads.

“It’s necessary,” he tells RoadCyclingUK. “The sport isn’t what it used to be. We’re past the days of it being expeditionary.”

As with many things that involve Millar, the outcome has been controversial.

Some of the sport’s historians took to Twitter to wonder aloud at how the outcome of the 1980 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, when Bernard Hinault rode alone through the snow to one of his most famous victories, might have been altered.

Or how about Andy Hampsten on the Gavia in 1988? EWP would have deprived the American – and the sport – of one of the most heroic performances, surely?

“I’m all for epic and spectacle, but I’ve been in bike races where it’s snowed, and it’s fucking horrible”

“It’s not the 1980 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, or the 1988 Giro d’Italia,” Millar says. “It’s 2016, and every race we do is full gas. It’s nuts.

“All sports change and grow, and the bottom line is safety. Yes, there’s spectacle, and it’s epic, and I’m all for epic and spectacle, but I’ve been in bike races where it’s snowed, and it’s fucking horrible.

“Maybe the one guy making the race at the front is having a flyer of a day, but the 99 per cent behind him are just in horror.”

Millar started his career with Cofidis before serving a two-year doping ban between 2004 and 2006 (Pic: Sirotti)

Highs and lows

Millar’s base is in Girona, but he is a frequent visitor to the UK, and remains one of British cycle sport’s most successful, if divisive figures.

To recap: Millar rose to the sport’s highest level in an era, riding for Cofidis, when such an ascension was almost unheard of. He made it largely by his own efforts, with token assistance (he was the first beneficiary of the Dave Rayner Fund) compared to the support enjoyed by today’s rising stars.

Then, the downfall: Millar was arrested after his Biarritz apartment was raided and EPO found. He later confessed to a French judge that he had used the drug in 2001 and 2003.

Millar served a two-year ban and returned in 2006 with Saunier Duval–Prodir, reborn as a vocal campaigner for drug-free sport. He won clean in some of the sport’s biggest races, and served on countless committees, including at the World Anti-Doping Agency, but for some, it is not enough.

Millar won a stage of the Tour de France for the fourth and final time in 2014. The Scotsman is part of a select group of riders to have won stages in all three Grand Tours (Pic: Sirotti)

Rider turns mentor

His recent appointment as mentor to the Great Britain men’s under-23 endurance squad drew the ire of critics. Millar puts a brave face on it – “The people who want to say bad stuff, if they’re in the same room, they never have the courage to come up and tell me” – but he seems wounded.

He rebounds quickly when the conversation moves on to the young men he is helping (“a lovely bunch of guys”) and the confidence placed in him by British Cycling.

“The bottom line is, they believed in me,” he says of the federation’s faith. “It was legit: they thought I was the best person for the job. For me, it was really rewarding and I think I can offer them something that no one else can. It’s good.”

Brit pack

It’s interesting how important British success remains to Millar. A perpetual outsider (the Hong Kong kid turned EPO pariah turned anti-doping firebrand), some of his greatest successes have been registered in the cause of Great Britain or Scotland.

“I’ve written [Cavendish and Wiggins] off at times and they’ve both come back and proved me completely wrong”

He was the road captain instrumental to Mark Cavendish’s world title success in 2011, and when our conversation turns to the Manxman, and the recent Madison world title won with Sir Bradley Wiggins, Millar speaks with enthusiasm.

He knows Cavendish well – the Dimension Data sprinter insisted that Millar captained the Great Britain road squad at London 2012 – so has he done enough to earn selection for Rio 2016?

Millar represented Great Britain throughout his career and his final race as a professional came in his national colours at the 2014 World Championships

“Him and Wiggo you can never write off,” Millar says with a half-smile. “I’ve learned that over the years. I’ve written them both off at times and they’ve both come back and proved me completely wrong.”

Cavendish has a hectic schedule ahead, with road commitments including the Tour de France and an eminently winnable World Championships on a flat course in Qatar. Which prize does Millar think Cavendish would prefer: a second rainbow jersey or an Olympic gold medal?

“He’s a competitive little bastard,” Millar smiles. “He knows how big [the Olympics] is in the UK. He doesn’t like to think that he’s the only one of the big British cyclists that hasn’t got an Olympic gold medal. But it isn’t going to be easy for him.”

Millar will return to Scarborough in May to provide analysis on the Tour de Yorkshire (Pic: Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)

Millar is never a dull interviewee. Our conversation takes many turns – the necessity, in his view, of British success in Rio if the UK cycling boom is to continue; the difficulty of ensuring rider safety in the convoy; the “phenomenon” that is world champion Peter Sagan –  and too soon our allotted interview time is up.

He will return to Scarborough on May 1 in another guise: that of television commentator, providing analysis on the Tour de Yorkshire for ITV4 alongside Ned Boulting. Millar’s past means he is always likely to divide opinion, but his present, some 18 months on from his last race, finds him busier than ever.

David Millar is an ambassador for Maserati Cycling, sponsors of the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire Ride

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