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Vuelta a España 1985
“Nobody would ride. They preferred to see me lose and a Spaniard win.”
- Robert Millar
A lead of over six minutes over a former trainee nurse by the name of Pedro Delgado on the penultimate day of the 1985 Vuelta evaporated for Robert Millar as quickly as a wisp of cloud over the Angliru.
The Scot had already congratulated his closest rivals on their brave efforts but the race was his. A puncture, a cartel of Spanish teams and the Peugeot directeur sportif intervened, and one of the biggest upsets in recent race history prevented Millar from becoming the first Briton to win a Grand Tour.
Millar’s flat tyre on the second of the day’s three climbs saw Delgado fly the nest in the company of Kelme’s Jose Recio. Oblivious to the danger, Millar returned to the chase group with eyes only for his nearest challenger, the Colombian Pacho Rodriguez, just 10 seconds adrift overall.
With the final climb of the Vuelta, Los Leones, conquered and Millar glued to the wheel of Rodriguez, the race was seemingly won. But the lead pair had pulled out a five minute lead by this point, unbeknown to Millar until Peugeot director Roland Berland pulled alongside to belatedly inform him.
Now el maillot amarillo was stuck. Having burned the last of his Peugeot teammates regaining the 15-strong chase group, Millar was effectively alone: Berland had not secured the services of other teams beforehand – standard practice under the circumstances – so not one of those 15 riders would contribute to the Scot’s cause. To pull the group along single-handedly would be to risk being jumped by Rodriguez.
Delgado had done the impossible, turning a six-minute deficit into a 36-second winning margin, attacking in the style that also netted him the ’89 Vuelta and ’88 Tour. Arguably, the ’89 Tour would also have gone the Spaniard’s way had he not missed his start in the prologue, losing 2’40” in the process.
For ‘Perico’, 1985 was the start of a brilliant career. For Millar, it was heartbreak and the dawning realisation that his future lay away from the Peugeot team.
The Vuelta a España begins on Saturday and Spain's grand tour is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
The Vuelta – music inspired by the Vuelta a España will be available to order from www.rapha.cc this Friday 27th August.
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