I’ve spent the last week with my nose in Richard Moore’s book: In Search of Robert Millar. It’s a sad-making life story of the greatest British racing cyclist. I call him that despite a decade following his performances with increasing frustration and disappointment. Moore points out that daily Tour de France TV highlights, on the newcomer Channel 4, only began in 1985, the year after Millar’s greatest achievement: King of the Mountains and fourth place in the general classication of the 1984 Tour. After that it was mostly defeats outrageously clutched from the jaws of victory. The Vuelta (Tour of Spain) of 1985, which he utterly dominated, only to lose on the penultimate day through a multi-team conspiracy of Spanish riders and his own team manager’s tactical blunders. The 1988 Tour de France stage to Guzet-Neige when, with 500 metres to go, poised on the wheel of the leader and looking certain to sprint for stage victory, both riders misinterpreted a marshall’s signal and took a wrong turning.
In highlighting these disappointments, I overlook some oustanding success over 15 years of professional riding, but the truth is, with his massive talent, we longed for him to achieve more than he did. The Cycling Weekly hall of fame is symptomatic. Having published a their ‘all-time list of Britsh pro winners’, in which Millar was placed only 9th, they devised an alternative ranking scheme with an elaborate points system to place Millar first.
And the reason we feel so passionate about Millar? Cavendish’s four stage wins from massed sprints in the 2008 Tour were amazing, but the mountains are where the heroes come out. There is no more glorious sight than a rider who can crack the will of cycling’s strongest men over four colossal climbs, then dance away to victory like a flea. Just watch this!
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