Richard Moore: Millar fully engaged

DAVID MILLAR is getting married near London on Saturday, but he has one final engagement before he hangs up his racing bike for the winter, and it is a big one. In the town of Mendrisio, on the Swiss-Italian border, Millar will today lead the biggest and most professional British team in history into the world championship road race, which is set, explained a weary Millar on Friday, to be "a very brutal war of attrition" over 260 hilly kilometres.

Sitting in the British team hotel in Lugano, having recently returned from a three-hour training ride on the course, Millar looked forward with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Any weariness owed, perhaps, not only to the ride, and to the three-week Tour of Spain, which finished last Sunday, and to the long season he has almost completed, but also to his impending nuptials.

He posted an entertaining blog for much of the Vuelta a Espaa, though his writing petered out in the final week. The reason? "Wedding preparations," he admits wryly.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

On today's race, he also feels "a lot more responsibility." That owes in part to his role as designated leader, but also to the fact that the British set-up now bears no relation to previous incarnations.

"Even last year, we were a bunch of individuals who would just rock up," said Millar. "There wasn't much thought about it, but we have to thank not only Cav (Mark Cavendish] and Wiggo (Bradley Wiggins – for accumulating the points that meant Britain qualifies the maximum nine riders] but (British coach] Rod Ellingworth. He has spent so much of the last year building this team, which is what I think we are for the first time. We feel we have a duty to perform here, rather than just turn up and get a free tracksuit."

In a sense, the British team at this world championship, and the plan they will be charged with executing, is a dry run for Team Sky, the British squad that will enter the professional peloton next season. It means that the approach – focusing on the "aggregation of marginal gains" – that has turned the British track team into the best in the world is now being applied to road racing, and to Team Sky, with its five-year plan of "winning the Tour de France with a clean British rider".

Millar will not be part of Team Sky, since he is committed – as part-owner as well as rider – to the American Garmin-Slipstream squad, though he buys into the British approach, and the respect goes both ways, as demonstrated by his status as team captain.

It also points to the future, with Millar admitting that his role is evolving. Though he scored an outstanding win in the penultimate stage of the Tour of Spain, which finished in Madrid last Sunday, the 32-year-old accepts that he will become more of a team player, almost an elder statesman, in the final phase of his career, which could, he said on Friday, extend for another five years.

Having turned professional at 19, that would make for a long career. "Yeah, but I had a sabbatical in the middle," says Millar with another wry smile, referring to his two-year doping ban, from 2004-6. Since coming back he has reinvented himself as an anti-doping campaigner, joining the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) athletes' panel.

"I do appreciate what I've got, and that once it's gone, it's gone forever," says Millar. "If I hadn't had the 'sabbatical' I'd be stopping this year, or next year. It gave me a new appreciation of how lucky I am."

One idea he has given up on is ending his career at the London Olympics. Having previously considered fighting the British Olympic Association byelaw that bans doping offenders for life, he says now that he won't. "I would have to really want to do it," he says.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I get a lot of satisfaction out of what I do with WADA and with my team, and I have to ask myself, do I want to fight that hard for something that doesn't mean that much to me? If I did fight it, it would be to break the byelaw. And I'd get backing from some of the highest people in sport – I've already spoken to them about it. But I've had enough of those fights. I've got plenty of good things going on at the moment."

Starting, in six days, with tying the knot.