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King of the Mountains
It is surely appropriate that cyclingnews.com has garnered an 'exclusive' by having Robert Millar write for them during the current Tour de France. For only a few years ago the Scot had apparently become something of a hermit, happy to go about his daily existence without concern for the public face of modern professional cycle racing.
It's an odd concept that someone who proves themselves particularly adept at entertainment in the public eye, has little option but to become a 'personality', despite that aspect being often very far from the reasons they became involved in the first place. It is also a particularly British concept to elevate our heroes and heroines to lofty heights, only to tear them down again at the least sign of weakness.
Just ask Bradley Wiggins.
Millar achieved fourth place and King of the Mountains in only his second Tour de France in 1984, then subsequently failed to scale such lofty heights (no pun intended) again prior his enforced retirement in 1995. This is not to say that his career was devoid of triumphs elsewhere, but his last professional win prior to leaving the peloton was stage five of the Tour of Switzerland in 1991, the same year finishing in 72nd place in the Tour de France.
It is a curious co-incidence that to date, Wiggins has emulated certain elements from Millar's career: fourth place in the Tour de France, winner of the Dauphine Libere, and becoming British Road Race Champion.
I have no doubt that many a journalist in Millar's heyday cursed their luck at being asked for a soundbite from the Scot, yet his later writings for Procycling magazine showed a wit and insight that many in the professional media seem to lack. The fact that he has agreed to write about the 2011 Tour, if nothing else proves that he still keeps a close and exacting eye on proceedings. Yet for the many, Millar has never really 'gone away'; he seems still to be held in high esteem by fans who were not even born when he donned the polka dot jersey.
Unlike his namesake, David Millar, Robert has made no moves to publish an autobiography, though in a washingmachinepost interview almost exactly two years ago, he stated "..but I have the title if I do." So in the face of this almost fastidious quest for anonymity, why has Millar's star not only endured, but improved?
One answer may well be the fact that cycling stars in the UK are few and far between, another that eccentric behaviour is seen as quintessentially British (Scottish?) and thus considered endearing. But I really rather think that it was his no-nonsense approach to what has more recently become something of a circus. It's hard not to admire him simply dropping Jimenez on the Peyresourde in his first Tour in 1983, and disappearing off into the distance to take the stage from Delgado. No fuss, no amateur dramatics. If subsequent statements were a tad abrupt, don't we just wish we had the cojones to do the same? Sometimes?
So, as we all watch to see if Bradley can fulfil his much vaunted potential in the 2011 Tour, it may be worth reading the comments of one who has been there, done that, and got the teeshirt. We are unlikely to see his like ever again.
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