I’d just done the Etape du Tour 2014 in the Pyrenees and had nearly dropped out after a freezing and wet descent of the Tourmalet, but somehow managed to keep it together to finish the bloody thing. My girlfriend and I crossed the border out of France and into Spain in pursuit of sunshine, warmth and being able to get a meal after 2 O’clock so ended up in Girona, a beautiful and ancient Cathedral City in Catalonia. Walking across the Plaza de Independencia one day I couldn’t help admiring a couple of beautiful Cervelo road bikes propped up against a pillar. And there, enjoying a post ride beer, was David Millar with his teammate, Dan Martin, in full Garmin team kit.
Having read his book, Racing through the Dark, I felt obliged to go up and complement him on what I thought was one of the best cycling books I’d ever read, but found him in pretty despondent mood, and was given a baleful look when I said, “Sorry not to see you riding the Tour this year, David.” Millar’s latest offering, The Racer, is a no-holds barred account of that year, his last as a professional, and having read it I can now fully appreciate what an annoyance I must have been as I interrupted his moment of quiet relaxation with a teammate in that elegant Catalonian square.
What should have been his final swansong and crowning moment as he came to the end of an illustrious and glittering career, turned out to be anything but. A professional from 1997 with Cofidis, Martin was one of the most experienced road racers of the modern generation. He had overcome being banned for 2 years from the sport for doping and returned as one of the most outspoken campaigners to clean it up. He was instrumental in putting Team Garmin together in 2004, eventually becoming a part owner and was the team Captain in the races he took part in. Widely respected by the peloton, he has won four stages of the Tour de France, five of the Vuelta a España and one stage of the Giro d'Italia as well as being British national road champion and the national time trial champion. Millar’s achievements on the bike and his cool persona off it have won him plenty of fans.
But 2014 saw a dip in his form, bad luck and, most bitterly for him, being deselected from Garmin’s team for the Tour that year. The book is a fascinating account of that final year.
Unusually for a book by a professional sportsman, Millar actually wrote this himself, and reading this in almost one sitting the words leapt off the page, making it feel as though he was in the same room. He’s not one to hold back on his language either, and his passion for road racing, his friends and the life he led are evident in the forcefulness with which he expresses himself. His description of the last few laps of the Champs Elysee in the 100th edition of the Tour de France sent shivers up my spine. Meanwhile his graphic and sickening accounts of the crashes that have become part of Grand Tours and Classics races had me wincing. I loved reading about his procrastination to go out and train and his distaste for riding in the rain. Millar has never been a machine in the mould of some of his fellow racers: he’s a maverick and that individuality, humour and sardonic wit permeate the whole book.
Among all the tales of his life as a pro, Millar’s love for his family and the lifelong friendships he has made in the peloton come through strongly as does the camaraderie on the team bus, the banter with room mates in mediocre hotels in obscure parts of Europe and sheer bloody-mindedness to survive a stage or Classics race. Some of the postcards he sent to his sons on his many trips away from them are reprinted throughout the book and offer a poignant reminder of how hard he found it to reconcile the two worlds of family man and professional racer.
That his last year before retirement was a disappointment on a professional and sometimes personal level, with broken relationships with the founders of Garmin, a burglary at his home in Girona, and the ultimate let down of being deselected for his final tour with a Grand Depart in Yorkshire, makes the book such a great read and accessible to both the most ardent follower of the pro scene or the novice. A fantastic book, summed up nicely in the sleeve notes: ‘It is a love letter to cycling.’ Go out and buy it now but make sure you’ve booked in a day of solitary confinement so you can read it all in one go and immerse yourself into this fascinating world.
David Millar will be appearing at the Rouleur Classic on 19th November at Vinopolis in London. It looks like a great line up with Eddie Merckx celebrating his 70th birthday: he’ll be taking part in two conversation sessions and 10 of his original jerseys will be on display. Other guests include Ernesto Colnago, Ned Boulting and the collector Brett Norton. Billed as a cross between a bike show and an exhibition in great surroundings, direct contact with 10 of the most influential and prestigious suppliers in the bike world, and complementary champagne and canapés, this looks like an event that you can’t miss!