THERE are still some who are unwilling to forgive David Millar his indiscretions as a drug cheat and those who are unable to forget. A decade on and that sizeable blemish will forever be on his record.
But, having dealt with that in depth in the build-up to Delhi four years ago when Commonwealth Games Scotland chose to accept that he had done the crime but served his time, he is now aware of how much of a salvation the Commonwealth Games can be for athletes who are in danger of forgetting what drove them into sport in the first place – the romance and the joy long since engulfed by the unrelenting quest for greatness and targets.
The 37-year-old considers the multi-sports event as the antithesis of professional cycling. “I think the world’s a pretty cynical place and professional sport can be as well. This is fortunately a pretty cynicism-free environment. I think it has a lot to do with diverse group of people. You’re competing with people who have full-time jobs, for whom this really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’s very… I don’t like the word humbling but it brings you back down to earth and reminds you of how lucky you are. Even if you’re a cynical pro cyclist it’s everybody’s dream. It was my dream when I was younger.”
Millar chose to miss out in Kuala Lumpur, the romance of the Games overshadowed by his desire at that stage to make his mark in pro cycling and, when he was selected four years ago, he admits that he had to work hard to earn the acceptance and the friendship of the rest of the Scottish cyclists.
But he discovered it was worth the effort. “It meant a lot [when they accepted me] but I felt like I had to earn that sort of acceptance. I think it helped that I empathised with how they would feel when I arrived so I certainly made an effort to make them feel more comfortable and show them I deserved my place and then, to be honest, we raced so well as a team in the road race. They raced fantastically so off the bike and on the bike we became a really strong team. I had a great time.
“That was very refreshing for me when I did it in Delhi in 2010. It reminded me a lot of everything and got me back to the roots of why I did it. I think for any pro athlete I’d recommend 100 per cent to come to Commonwealth Games because it does remind you of why you began and what you’re doing it all for, rather than Twitter, and the cynical, pissed-off [version of life].”
A gold medallist in the individual time trial in India, Millar failed to defend that title on Thursday but he is hopeful of replicating or bettering the road race bronze he also won four years ago. His pride in his Commonwealth achievements is obvious to anyone who visits his home, his medals on display for all to see.
Almost sheepishly, he admits that showing off has always been part of it, which is why he loves the crowd involvement as they line the streets cheering on riders in the road race. He says that, unlike in the time trial, he will enjoy that aspect of today’s event, soaking up the atmosphere and feeding off the noise of the crowd.
“When I was kid at BMX test ramps I would only do it if people were around. There was no point risking it if no one was going to watch you crash,” he says. “It’s a bit like that still, I think. In the time trial you are so zoned out, you are in your own space if you like. It doesn’t matter what crowds are there, if you are on a good day you will see and hear nothing.
“But the road race is different, I have always loved it because I have always tapped into the emotional side of things because there are so many variables and you hear things, you see things. You have got to be so aware. In a time trial you zone out into your own space, in a road race to be the best you have got to be totally outside your own space seeing everything that’s going on. I thrive in that environment.”
Since he missed out on his anticipated ride at the Tour de France, this is the one Millar, in his final year as a pro cyclist, has been training for. Going out with another medal, having raced in front of a home crowd on such a big stage, zipping past landmarks that form the backdrop to some of his earliest childhood memories and in a city that means so much to his family and to him, is something that would mean the world to him.
“I think it will be an anarchic race here because it has to be. The course is complicated and the teams are not necessarily strong enough to control it so I think the race is going to go from the gun. I think you’ll see the cream rising to the top pretty quickly, then it will turn into a war of attrition and then tactical towards the end. It’s going to be really hard, that’s for sure, and demanding. But I think we have a really good team. I was speaking to Grant [Ferguson] after he came fifth in the mountain bike race, which was pretty amazing, and he is all in for helping us. We will come up with a plan – I will come up with a plan – and I think we have the guys to execute it.
“This is about heart and soul but, fortunately, I can also use all my professional weaponry. It’s a challenge not to over think it, though, and get too stressed about it. It could easily override what we’ve come to do. Unfortunately I won’t get to appreciate it until it’s over… otherwise I’ll screw up the race.”