It was 10 years ago this week that David Millar roared into prominence with a big win in the opening time trial at Futuroscope in the 2000 Tour de France, a spectacular debut for the then-23-year-old Cofidis rider.
It’s been a roller-coaster ride since then; his rise to stardom, his admission to doping and subsequent suspension, followed by his successful return with Saunier Duval and finally to Garmin-Transitions three years ago.
Wiser and more mature, but nonetheless outspoken and ambitious, Millar started his 2010 Tour off nearly with the same bang of a decade ago, riding to third in Saturday’s prologue.
VeloNews sat down with Millar before the Tour started to discuss his role as road captain for the team. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews:: How is this Tour different than your first 10 years ago?
David Millar: I am not jibbering with excitement. When I was packing my bags and leaving home, I was calm, thinking this is the peak of the season.
VN:: You’ll be working during this Tour for Farrar and Vande Velde?
DM: That’s what I am here for. If I can get any individual result, that would be wonderful.
VN: How well do you think Vande Velde go this year in GC?
DM: I think he will go good. If he can get eighth after what he did last year in the condition he was in, he can go even better this year. So long as he avoids crashing, anything can happen.
VN: How will the departure of Wiggins change the dynamic at Garmin this year?
DM: I guess it means we can concentrate as much on Christian as we can on Tyler. If Wiggins were here, we would be more of a GC team and Tyler wouldn’t quite have the guys for the lead-out. Now we’re a very balanced team. We can equally be at the front in the GC and up front for the sprints. There are very few teams can say that.
VN: And your role is to play a tactical role in both aspects of the team’s goals?
DM: I am a key player in both of those roles. I am more of the road captain. I set the whole thing up, to get the ball rolling. It’s my role to decide when to start, to control the peloton. When I peel off, it will be Robbie, Julian and then Ty, so the whole fury will be released when I peel off. Ideally, with 600 meters to go.
VN: Working in the sprints is new for you, do you enjoy it?
DM: Sometimes I like it. It can be quite exciting. There are also days, you think, ‘oh God, here we go.’ It can be terrifying. It’s the nervousness of the peloton, crashes left and right, it’s very high risk. You have to be very motivated to want to do it. It’s not like you roll up and just do it. That’s what a lot of sport directors don’t realize. ‘Oh, just go help with the sprints.’ It takes tremendous work and application to make it work. It’s a massive effort; it’s like doing two minutes at absolute maximum effort that the other guys aren’t. There’s a lot of adrenaline, and the satisfaction is enormous when it works. That’s the reason to do it. When you cross the line and see that Tyler’s won, then it’s really worth it.
VN:: How well do you think Tyler can do in the sprints?
DM: Higher than ever. He’s getting better all the time. He’s mastering his craft and I think we are as a team as well. If your sprinter is winning, it’s almost organic, because people start giving you space. We saw at the Giro, once Tyler won, it was easier for us in the sprints, and people were trying to get Tyler’s wheel. The first stage will be a litmus test, whoever wins that battle will kind of set the tactics for the next few days.
VN: How much of a factor will Cavendish be this year?
DM: That wasn’t a fluke, six wins. He’s had reasons for his kind of lack of form this year. We cannot think he’s a weak Cav’ – he’ll be on his A-game, and he has the best lead-out in the world. I think we’re challenging him now in the lead-outs. That’s going to be exciting watching us compete against them in the sprint.
VN: What is your role once the race moves into the mountains and the GC battle begins?
DM: I am the road captain. I work by motivating everybody, being the last one there for Christian. I act almost like a bodyguard, keeping it tight. It’s quite easy to lose concentration in the second week of the Tour. Especially if we’re working hard in the sprints, we have to switch on again once we get to the mountains. It will only be Christian whose role won’t change, but everyone will switch from the sprint mentality to the GC. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because everyone is engaged in the race almost every day. Often in these races, it gets bad when you switch and you have nothing to do.
VN: That’s a very ambitious agenda for the team?
DM: I think it’s our most ambitious to date. It’s only natural. We’ve had an incredibly fast development. We were one of the most present teams in last year’s Tour in only our second year.
VN: Any personal goals for you in this Tour?
DM: I will be aiming to win that last one (the stage 19 time trial). If there’s a road stage, maybe I can try, but it’s difficult with the dual roles that I will be playing, it will be hard to find a stage where I can try to get into a break.
VN: Are you content with working in the dual responsibility?
DM: At the Tour, I am content to play this role. It’s my role within this team and I love this team. I derive a lot of pleasure from helping us achieve big results. And at the Tour de France, those will come from Tyler and Christian, so it’s only natural that I put all my energies into that.