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It's Millar Time!
 
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 9/6/2002
It's Millar Time!
 

By Nick Bull

"A stage win in the Tour, a good GC placing in the Vuelta and a good ride at the Worlds is what I was focusing my season on this year and I have completed one of those objectives, now it's a question of doing the other two. We will see..." are David Millar's words when he was interviewed before the Tour de France. The first part of the plan was achieved when he outsprinted his breakaway compatriots on Stage 13 of this year's Tour. Now, he is aiming to finish in the Top ten of a three week tour for the first time in his career.

"The course is good - well, good for me at least. There are only four summit finishes and they have steep climbs which kind of suits me," he told BBC reporters, hours before he left for Spain on Thursday.

There's no doubt that David can do what he aims for. He has proved that he can Time Trial, ride well on road stages, and his mountain climbing has improved this year, thanks to long, hard training rides in Biarritz, where he is based. As an amateur, Millar posted some good results which were enough to get him noticed by the small VC St. Quentin team. In his first season with the team, he won the Tour of Correze and Ronde de Soissonnais, two races that are regarded highly by younger riders. Those wins, and other good showings in the Paris-Evreux and Two Days Of Machecoul races were enough to get the young Brit (or Scot, as his Mum Avril wants him to be known as) recognised by several pro teams. The choice was "the hardest thing" he's ever had to do. Amongst the offers were contracts from Festina, at the time one of the top three teams in cycling, Banesto, who had Jeremy Hunt - another Brit - on their roster, Gan and Casino.

Millar looked at all the options and finally chose Cofidis. His director sportif, Alain Bondue, was delighted with the signing. Bondue has got a pretty good reputation in the sport (only pretty good- remember the Lance Armstrong "affair") and has nurtured several young riders, including three times Tour de France winner Greg Lemond. Not long after confirming Millar's signature, the Frenchman said that "David was a better ride than Lemond at the same age." If praise was needed, this was it.

In 1997, his first season as a professional, he rode sensibly, and was not given a heavy schedule. This meant that David could focus on the Tour de l' Avenir, le tour for under 23's. On his debut in the race - a short Prologue, one of Millar's favourite disciplines- he was the fastest rider, thus taking the leader's Yellow Jersey. The following year, David won two time trial stages in the same race. His other success that year was winning the time trial in the Three days of De Panne.

For the 1999 season, David proved to the cycling world that he was able to climb reasonably well - he won the King of the Mountains award in the Tour of Valencia. Until this moment, many people likened him to fellow Brit Chris Boardman, who over a short distance time trial was brilliant, but who struggled in the mountains, but Millar had changed. He was a fuller rider, something that would help him in the future. In this year, David won the Manx Intetnational, but his season will probably be remembered for his ride in the Criterium International, where he lost to Credit Agricole's Jens Voigt by less than a second.

After reviweing his progress since he had joined the team, the Cofidis management thought it was time to enter David into the 2000 Tour de France. When they signed David when he was 20, they made sure he was not "thrown in at the deep or," so to speak, but they watched his progress carefully. Before July, he had had a rather quiet season, finishing ninth in the Route du Sud.

His object for the TdF was to win the Stage One time trial (it was over a certain distance, so it wasn't a Prologue) at Futuroscope. It was a slightly technical course over the roads in the Poiters area, which had a short, sharp climb near the start. The first timecheck was at the top of the climb, so it wasn't a correct indication of who the fastest rider over the distance would be. David started off near the end of the 180 + riders, and was instantly quick. He rode well over the climb (where the fastest time was set by Festina's Marcel Wust, of all people) and kept up his momentum and rhythm to post the fastest time of the riders who had so far finished. As Lance Armstrong set off, it was obvious that he was the only rider who could really trouble Millar's time. Ahead at timecheck one, Lance ended up losing a few seconds in the middle of his ride, time that he was unable to make up, finishing two seconds behind Millar, the man who was making his tour debut.

For the next days, Millar rode in yellow behind his Cofidis team, who - with the exception of team leader Franck Vandenbroucke - were delighted with the young Scotsman's ride. He was involved in a crash at the finish of one stage which nearly lost him the jersey, which he did give to another rider after the Team Time Trial. He did finish the Tour - over 2 hours down on the winner- but had come out of it a stronger rider. He was hurt from his crashes, but he made sure he carried on.

He set his sights high for 2001. He won the final two stages in the Circuit de la Sarthe, which were enough for Millar to win the race overall. He came second in Paris-Camembert. From the outside, it seemed as if Millar could win the Prologue of the Tour, which was being held in Dunkirk. Inside, however, Millar was tired and overraced. Pushing too hard in the Prologue, David crashed on the final corner. He lost a lot of time and was sore. But, bravely, he battled on. From the next stage until the day he retired- just over a week into the tour - Millar never finished with the peloton. When he retired, he was the lanterne rouge.

For the rest of July and the start of August, he rested. Little training, no racing, in an attempt to be ready for the Vuelta. He won the Tour of Denmark in late August, before going to the Tour of Spain. He won the Prologue after a good ride. His confidence in Time Trials wasn't great after the TdF, but he rode the course several time in preparation. Despite losing the jersey on stage 4, he won the stage 6 road stage after outsprinting Santiago Botero in a sprint- which is "the best thing I've done on a bike." Showing potential in the mountains, Millar took the last week of the race a bit more easily, as he wanted to put up a good showing in the World's Time Trial, in Lisbon.

The course suited Millar, it was up and down, technical and had lots of fast sections. He was lightning quick on his first lap, and just as quick on his other laps. Timechecks showed that he would beat Botero easily, and, unless Jan Ullrich did something spectacular in his final moments, David would be the World Time Trial Champion. In his final two kilometers, Ullrich was giving it his all, pushing. He saw his two minute man, Lazlo Bodrogi, in the distance. This made the German push, and before long had caught up with the Hungarian. This extra effort - and, dare I say it, possible help from Bodrogi - meant that Ullrich set the fastest time. Millar was heartbroken; he was in tears.

He gradually got over the events, but was unhappy with Bodrogi. Even that didn't stop David's winter training. He was now riding more, adding further climbs to his rides. With the season about to start, he became ill with Glandular fever, which kept him out until April. He rode the Vuelta a Aragon and the Tour of Romandy to get him into a good level of fitness, whilst his TdF preparations were centered around the Dauphine Libere and the Route du Sud.

He was ready for the Tour. He had not raced as much as last year, but was in good form. After looking at the Luxembourg prologue course, he didn't think he'd do too well. After finishing fifth, he was pleased. "Better than I thought," was his summary of the ride. Although he wanted to do quite well in the GC, it wasn't his top aim, which was to win a stage. His chance came on stage 13, when he was involved in a breakaway in Beziers. The group had some former TdF stage winners - Michael Boogerd and David Extabarria - but Millar outsprinted them to win his first Tour de France road stage.

He held his own in the Mountains, and was lying in 71st place once the race had left the Alps. After finishing fourth in the final time trial, he climbed up to 68th place, where he finished the race.

Since then, he has been quiet, just training for his aims. In the forthcoming weeks, we'll see if his achieves what he desires...

Photo courtesy of itsmillartime.com


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