It was there, strangely, that I discovered the Tour de France. This led to me going to live in France as an 18-year-old to chase my dream of becoming a Tour de France rider. I then, essentially, became French. I can appreciate this now and see how weird it is, but at the time it seemed totally normal.
Now I live in Catalunya, not so far from Barcelona with my English (Dutch mother, South African father) wife who was born in Scotland, then spent the first ten years of her life in Kuwait. Our boys will speak Catalan, English and Spanish, probably in that order!
Yet I consider myself Scottish – my parents have always made sure I remember that. They are both born and bred Scots. My earliest memories are of visiting my Grandma’s in Glasgow and my uncle in Aberdeen.
My constant travelling has removed almost all traces of the Scottish accent I once had and, in truth, I’ve always been a little embarrassed of the fact that that’s happened. I sound more English than Scottish, yet have spent all my life correcting people who call me English. I am Scottish. People in France have always responded best to this correction, “Vous etes Anglais?” Non, je suis Ecossais. “Ah, c’est completement different. On aime pas trop les Anglais.” [Ah, that’s completely different. We don’t like the English very much].
None of this gave me any inclination to compete in the Commonwealth Games. I didn’t go in 1998 when I could have because it clashed with the Tour de L’Avenir, the mini Tour de France, a race that seemed much more important to me at the time. I didn’t go in 2002 because I had become a cold and calculating professional cyclist living in a rather dark and murky world, and the Commonwealth Games seemed like it existed in a parallel universe into which I couldn’t and shouldn’t enter.
People and situations change, though. My life was turned upside down and I was given the opportunity of a renaissance. That renaissance has allowed me to see things differently and act in a manner I wouldn’t have done previously, and competing for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games was one of the biggest opportunities I have been given.
I went to the Delhi Commonwealth Games excited yet apprehensive. I didn’t know how the Scottish team would receive me. Part of me feared I would be given the cold shoulder as an ex-doper and a pseudo-Scot, what with my long-gone accent. I couldn’t have been more wrong and being part of the Scottish team remains a highlight of my sporting career. I’d never been a part of any team that seemed to be so well loved by everybody. It was like wearing the Scottish kit meant you were part of a goodwill mission. Everybody acted differently towards us than to other nations, and that was even before the kilts were brought out, and then we could literally do no wrong.
It woke me up to the importance of the Commonwealth Games. It gave many of the athletes there a chance to compete for nations they considered home and yet whose colours they could never wear. My friend Mark Cavendish and I were proud as punch to be in our home kits, him Isle of Man, me Scotland. We’d just spent the previous two weeks in Great Britain kit for the World Championships in Australia, and we’d spent the rest of the year in our professional trade team’s attire. Yet it’s safe to say that, for both of us, we were happiest in those Commonwealth Games team kits.
I raced those games with the passion and ambition of a junior. Everything felt new and fresh, there was nothing jaded about it. Mark and I, professionals, were competing with and against others who were amateurs. In other circumstances we wouldn’t have even considered this and yet there it felt right and we felt honoured to be part of it all.
There was a spirit of camaraderie and friendship that I have never before encountered in international competition. It symbolised the power of sport to bring people together. There was something very idealistic about it all. The fact that next year’s Commonwealth Games will be in Glasgow is not lost on me, and it will more than likely be one of my last races as I plan on retiring soon after. I did the British Road Race Championships on the same circuit that we’ll race on in 2014 the week before this year’s Tour de France started – and I wouldn’t have gone if it hadn’t have been in Scotland. It was an amazing day. Rarely have I had so much support by the roadside and I felt more Scottish than ever before. My parents met at Glasgow University and we raced by there every lap, and I couldn’t help thinking of that. Putting on the Scottish jersey and racing around the streets of Glasgow will be a magic day for me, and no doubt a very emotional day for my parents. I couldn’t have dreamt up a finer conclusion to this part of my life. Twitter: @millarmind