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By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse
Britain’s David Millar has all but given up hope of finally ending his eight-year wait to wear the Tour de France yellow jersey again.
However, the Garmin team leader said his encouraging performance on the race’s first foray into the hills on Thursday can now boost his second objective of a stage win at this year’s race.
Millar began the first medium mountain stage of the race, a 195.5km hilly ride from Aigurande to Super-Besse in the Massif Central, in third place overall at 12 seconds behind Stefan Schumacher of Germany.
By the time the 31-year-old Scot reached the bottom of the day’s final climb, an 11.5km ascent with a difficult 10 percent gradient, he knew his yellow jersey bid was over.
“I didn’t feel super-duper, and as soon as I hit the bottom of the climb I thought, ‘I can’t do this! It’s just too hard for me’!” Millar told AFP after ending the day 47 seconds behind new race leader Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg.
Millar dropped two places to fifth overall, and with the big yellow jersey favorites, being led by Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde, now preparing to do battle in the Pyrenees, he hopes to switch to plan B.
It might seem strange to some, but Millar’s best chance of stage win is likely to only come once he tumbles down the overall standings.
As he would be no major threat to the big guns, the peloton would sanction his involvement in a breakaway, and allow him, theoretically, to fight for a stage win.
Millar, who has won three stages on the race in his colorful career, will now be studying the race book carefully.
“That’s what I’ll do now, just sit in the ‘gruppetto’ and just go stage-picking,” added Millar, who last wore the yellow jersey in 2000 after he won the race prologue.
Compared to previous years, Millar comes into the Tour having had a far more serious approach.
After contending the Giro d’Italia, where he missed the chance of a possible stage win when his chain snapped late in the race, he spent time in the mountains altitude training with American teammate Christian Vande Velde.
Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters admits he would like to see Millar commit a little longer to the yellow jersey battle.
“We’ve got to get him out of GC (general classification) before we can try and win a stage although I don’t know if I want to do that just yet,” he said.
Millar, though, is oozing optimism.
“The start (of the Tour) is always just such a shock to the body but so far it’s all going well,” he added.
“It would have been good to get the yellow jersey today. I did everything I could, and I can feel satisfied with that.
“But I feel good. I think I’m going to get better because I feel fit and strong. The only thing I don’t have is that edge at the moment, but that’s going to come as the race goes on.”