COMMONWEALTH GAMES: David Millar has spent almost two decades as a professional cyclist but, as that chapter of his life draws to a conclusion, he says nothing compares to pulling on a Scotland jersey and representing his home nation.
“It’s totally different, it’s got a lot more meaning to it,” says the man who delivered gold in the time trial in Delhi four years ago and then added bronze in the road race.
“Our Tour jerseys are very transient, they’re named after corporations and we are paid to sell their products. Whereas wearing a Scotland jersey, and this will only be the second time in my life that I do it, it’s special because I’ve always considered myself Scottish first and foremost and it’s a way of actually showing it.”
Born in Malta and raised in Hong Kong, his heart has always been Scottish but he is honest enough to admit that his priorities have evolved over the years.
Growing up, his dream was to compete at the Tour de France and, having won four stages of the world famous event throughout his career, he was looking forward to bidding it farewell this summer.
But in his final year as a professional rider, he was left angry and distraught as his Garmin-Sharp team dropped him from the starting line-up.
He says that time will heal those sores and found the experience of covering the first few days of the Tour for the television cathartic. It also gave him the opportunity to reassess and understand just how much a good performance in front of his home crowd would overshadow that disappointment.
“This will be one of the biggest events of my life. Whether it would mean so much if I was 18, I don’t know, but I’m 37 and this is the end and it’s such an unexpected way for me to be at the end of my career. It’s like something out of a story book.
“It’s massively comparable to the Tour, I think. The Commonwealths have put everything in perspective. Perhaps I’d lost perspective slightly on how important the Tour was to me. It had driven me to become a professional cyclist and it had driven me to come back from my ban.
“I think I took it for granted that would be my story, that I had to resolve my love affair with the Tour by going around the Champs Elysees again and say goodbye. But evidently, maybe I didn’t need that.
“Maybe I kind of needed it to end the way it did because now I don’t feel that I have any attachment to it any more. This, on many levels, is a lot bigger and I now understand how much more important this is to me than racing for a corporate team. Pulling on a Saltire jersey and racing for Scotland is who I am, so this is a bit more important to me than the Tour.
“Those priorities have changed 100 per cent over the years. My pro team was more important to me when I was 19 when I could have gone to Kuala Lumpur for the Commonwealth Games.
“The only reason I had become professional and be in a position to be in the Commonwealth Games was because I wanted to be part of the Tour de France, so that had accelerated my development.
“So to me to do the mini-Tour de France as a 19-year-old was the biggest thing I could do, at the time bigger than the Commonwealth Games and racing for Scotland.
“So it’s come full circle in a way. We mature and we wise up and I understand everything a bit better now.”
Although what he describes as “an ex-pat since I was six”, having grown up in Hong Kong and then spent most of his career living in France and Spain, his roots are firmly embedded in Scottish soil.
The Games cycle routes will pass the university where his parents both studied and some of his earliest memories are of visiting the city.
“I’ve been an ex-pat since I was six. I was born in Malta but my whole family is Scottish and my earliest memories are of coming to see my grandma in Glasgow,” said Millar.
“My parents are from here and it’s only me and my sister who were born outside Scotland. It’s the one thing I have and I think the team is very respectful of that and do treat me as one of theirs.”
Scotland was also a sanctuary when he faced the storm of controversy when he was banned after being caught using performance enhancing drugs.
“During my ban it was Scotland where I spent a lot of my time, in Glasgow and Edinburgh,” he added.
“When all the chips were down I came back here because it’s the Scots I relate to most. I saw Scotland as a haven during my ban. It’s a haven being among Scots wherever I am in the world.
“When you do hang out with them I suddenly realise all the quirks I have in my personality are perhaps more to do with my background and the blood running through my veins.
“So it is a haven and I felt that the Scots were the most forgiving and understanding of me when all the shit went down. I’d come to Edinburgh and Glasgow and some people would recognise me and just come up and say, ‘You all right big man?’ They were just really understanding and would do nice things and treat me very normally. I liked that, it meant a lot at the time.”
It’s also the only place in the world where people call him Davie and he says that shout always lets him know he is among his compatriots. “That’s a nice little bit about being home. My family are all here to watch me and it’s massive for them too because they know how important it is to me. They’ve seen my career and the way it’s gone.
“I think it will be especially strange for my parents because when they were at university here 40-odd years ago they’d probably never have thought they’d be back here watching their son race around the streets as an ex-Tour de France professional cyclist. So everyone who’s close to me knows that this is a big deal.”