Cyclingnews talks with David Millar
By Jeff Jones
Although it's only his second time in Australia, Malta born Hong Kong raised Scot, David Millar, is not doing too badly. He was down under again for the Noosa International Criterium, an annual event that puts some of the best road cyclists in Australia up against a strong selection of visiting professionals. But it wasn't really the racing that brought the 16th ranked cyclist in the world over to Australia. His fiancee Shari, who he met last year, lives in Noosa and he came over to visit her. Marriage plans are a vague two years away at the moment, when he hopes to get all his friends together for the big occasion.
For now it's a matter of enjoying the sun in Oz as Europe freezes for a few months. 24 year old Millar will spend much of the off season in the Australian sunshine where he will begin his preparations for 2002. Cyclingnews caught up with him before the big event in Noosa for a recap of season 2001 and a peek into the future.
One thing was for certain, Millar was not going to be indulging in a few rounds of golf, unlike some of his colleagues. "I don't play golf. I can't stand the game," he commented in his usual relaxed, but fairly frank manner.
Following the World Championships, he has at last taken some time off the bike. "I'm on holiday, a proper holiday. I've had two weeks completely off and have been kicking back here. I'll start back in mid-November with some really easy rides. 2-3 hours for the first couple of weeks, then I head to Europe in December for 10 days of photos for the team. I'll be coming back after that."
Millar rides for the Division I team Cofidis, the only French team that will be pre selected for the 2002 Tour de France. Cofidis picked him up as a talented 20 year old in 1997, and he has been with them ever since. After winning a total of three stages in the Tour de l'Avenir in 1997 and 1998, Millar continued his climb up the world cycling rankings. He finished second in the Criterium International and second in the British Time Trial championships in 1999, before he really hit his straps in 2000.
In the final Tour de France of the millennium, David Millar blasted into the limelight by winning the first stage in Futuroscope, beating Lance Armstrong and Laurent Jalabert in the 16.5 kilometre test against the clock. He held the yellow jersey until the stage 4 team time trial, when Jalabert took over after an ONCE victory. Millar went on to finish the Tour in 62nd place, aiming to come back in 2001 to better his performance.
But there's more to cycling than the Tour, and Millar showed that this year. He raced a full program, starting with the Tour Mediterraneen (February 14-18), and including Paris-Nice, Criterium International, Four Days of Dunkirk, Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, Tour de France, Tour of Denmark and the Vuelta España, before finishing with the World Championships (October 11-14).
Along the way he achieved an important goal of winning a stage race in the 49th Circuit Cycliste de la Sarthe (April 10-13), a four day race in France. He made the break in stage 1, won the stage 4 time trial, moving into the lead in the classification. Then he won the last stage in a two man breakaway, stamping his authority on the race for his first stage race win. "We kept a good gap to the finish, even with Lance putting USPS on the front to chase us, which made it feel even better winning the stage as I knew Lance had wanted to have a good ride that day," he recalled.
That win was followed by numerous podium finishes in races leading up to the Tour. Millar performed well in Paris-Camembert, Four Days of Dunkirk, Tour de Picardie, Games for the Small States of Europe, Bicicletta a Vasca, Dauphiné Libéré...but then it came unstuck a little as he abandoned his last two races leading up to the Tour.
He was ready to time trial at his best in the prologue in Dunkirk, but his dream of another yellow ended on the final corner when he crashed and finished 110th. He never recovered after that and abandoned the Tour on stage 10.
"I was devastated," he says. "I trained too much before and had a big crash. I learned a lot from it though."
Although the 2001 Tour turned out to be a disaster, Millar didn't lose his focus at all. He was in action again at the Tour de la Région Wallonne (August 3-8, 3rd overall) and the Tour of Denmark (August 14-18, which he won). That gave him the form for the Vuelta España which started on September 8. "The whole team went for me in the Vuelta. It was all planned."
He continued his success, winning the first stage time trial in Salamanca followed by the sixth stage from Cangas de Onís to Torrelavega. "I wanted to win more than the prologue. Winning a road stage was really nice. It was a proper road stage as well with a climb at the end."
"It was f'ing fast. I've never raced so fast in my life," he said of the race, which was the fastest Vuelta on record at 42.534 km/h. Millar capped it off with a third place in the final time trial in Madrid.
After that there was one more goal for the season: the World time trial championship in Lisbon, Portugal. Millar was certainly one of the pre-race favourites, and he led at every intermediate time check. But over the last 6 kilometres, Jan Ullrich pulled back an incredible 16 seconds to push Millar into the silver medal.
"I was on a mission for the World's," he says. "I was speeding up towards the end and I guess Jan was as well. I was there to win so I was devastated."
In racing, Millar is rarely satisfied with anything less than a win. However, his consistent high placings this season have brought their own reward: A 16th place in the UCI rankings, just in front of his Cofidis teammate Nico Mattan, and up with the likes of Jens Voigt, Jaan Kirsipuu, Joseba Beloki and Romans Vainsteins.
"I'm really happy. 16th in the world means that I've moved up a bit [he was ranked 120th at the end of 2000]. My big goal was top 25. I got bonuses for my contract and it was good for the team too."
Millar will stick to a similar program in 2002. "My big objective remains the Tour de France, but I'll probably ride the Tour of Spain."
Although he is an obvious candidate to win the shorter tours, he has no definite plans to target them. "Only if they fit in well, otherwise no. I really use them for preparation."
That was all we had time for in Noosa, but fans can keep up to date with Millar's season via his website, www.itsmillartime.com.
Born: January 4, 1977 in Malta
Height 1.91 m
Weight 77 kg
Turned professional: 1997
Teams: Cofidis (1997-2001)
Stage win, Tour de l'Avenir
Stage win, 3 Days of De Panne
Stage win, Tour de l'Avenir
2nd British Time-trial championships
2nd Tour du Poitou-Charentes
1st Manx International
2nd Critérium International
2nd British Time-trial championships
3rd Tour de Vendée
Stage win, Tour de France
Stage win, Route du Sud
3rd British Road Championships
4th Grand Prix Eddy Merckx
4th Grand Prix Breitling
4th Circuit de la Sarthe
1st overall, Circuit Cycliste de la Sarthe (two stage wins)
2nd stage in Paris-Nice
1st, TT in Small States of Europe Games
2 stage wins, Vuelta a Espana
3rd overall, Tour de la Région Wallonne
1st overall, Tour of Denmark (one stage win)
2nd, World Individual Time Trial Championships
UCI ranking at the end of 2001: 16th
Other Talking Cycling Interviews