Garmin-Sharp team boss Jonathan Vaughters has admitted it will take time to build bridges with veteran British rider David Millar after the Scot was left out of the Tour de France squad.
Millar reacted publicly and angrily on Monday once he learned that he had been pulled out of what would have been his final Tour – starting on home soil in Leeds tomorrow – before retirement, due to concerns over the lingering effects of an illness.
Millar was told of the decision by sporting director Charly Wegelius after the British road race championship on Sunday evening, before Vaughters took part in a conference call the following morning, but that did not stop Millar making his feelings known to the wider world. “Unfortunately we’re not back to normal, no,” Vaughters said of his relationship with one of the longest-tenured riders on his team. “That phone-call was no fun. But it’ll get there.”
Millar had been suffering rom a cough in the build-up to Sunday’s race, and ultimately pulled out with 42 kilometres to go.
While Millar insisted he was fit and healthy, Vaughters and Wegelius took the decision that the team’s rule on only selecting riders who were 100 per cent healthy had to apply to all – even if that meant ending Millar’s 14-year relationship with cycling’s biggest race. “The decision to pull him was not very much fun for me or for Charly,” Vaughters said. “When this team moved up to the Tour de France level, David was the first rider who signed a contract with us. There’s a lot of history and we all care about David quite a bit. But the end responsibility is the team and getting the best result possible. You have to be 100 per cent healthy to do that.”
Millar will now prepare for the Commonwealth Games, and will then be given the choice of riding either the Vuelta a Espana or the Tour of Britain as he heads into the final months of his professional career.
In the absence of Millar, Garmin are fielding a young team built around American rider Andrew Talansky, the Criterium du Dauphine winner who is seen as the future of the team as they try to muscle in on the general classification contenders.
The 25-year-old, who Garmin revealed had joined Irishman Dan Martin in signing a new contract, rode his first Tour last year and is seen as part of a new generation of American riders who can change the sport’s image in their homeland in the post-Lance Armstrong era.
“I think responsibility is a good word for it,” said Talansky. “It’s not just myself and [BMC Racing’s] Tejay Van Garderen, there are three Americans on this team with Alex Howes and Ben King.
“We have a responsibility to represent a new generation of US cycling, clean cycling, and that’s something to be excited about.”
While a long, long road – not to mention several mountains – lies between Talansky and his goals, for now the Finnish-born, British-raised Wegelius is looking forward to revisiting his old stomping grounds in York, where Sunday’s stage two begins.
The cycling culture in this country is almost unrecognisable from the early 1990s, but Wegelius believes the interest is here to say.
“I don’t think it’s all hype,” he said. “You drive around the roads and see people out there. When I went to school in York cycling was a sport for eccentrics or people who couldn’t afford cars. Now it’s really a mainstream sport and you can see people getting the benefits of that.”