The Racer – David Millar

Millar’s second book following his autobiography (Racing through the Dark) is a sort of diary of his last year as a pro racer with the Garmin team. Rather than chapters, it is a series of short (sometimes half a page, sometimes more) vignettes including sections on training, his family, other riders, races he was involved in as well as races he wasn’t eg the Tour. Interspersed throughout the text are copies of postcards he wrote to his young sons while away on the road. Quite why these are included I’m not sure – they might be true but they’re no more interesting than the post-cards you might send while on holiday. They are also uncomfortably revealing; Millar is far more interested in his own particular travails than he is in them and he writes to them as if they’re adults when in reality they were both infants. Curiously this format (minus the postcards) is very similar to that adopted by Geraint Thomas in his book – The World According to G. Perhaps they have the same agent. However, unlike Thomas who used a ghost writer (Tom Fordyce) Millar appears to have written this himself. It’s okay and Millar’s obvious intelligence shows through. Some sentences could do with an editor’s red pen – ‘I fucking hate January’ for example– but generally it works. Millar says that the book is written partly for his young sons so that they can read what life was like for their Dad – in which case, the swearing perhaps ought to be removed. This is both the book’s weakness and its strength – it’s a family memento not meant for a wider audience but at the same time shows that for a pro cyclist it’s a job and sometimes your job causes you irritation, annoyance and a little pain. The section where he is told that he won’t be riding the Tour is interesting and powerful and shows that for all his history, reputation, experience and influence, when it came down to selection for the Tour he was just an employee who didn’t make the grade. He refers to being a co-owner of the Garmin team along with Jonathan Vaughters and Doug Ellis but that clearly cut no ice when it came to the Tour selection. It reminded me of the occasion of Gary Lineker’s (the footballer and face of Walker’s crisps) final appearance for England (Norway I think) when he was substituted by Graham Taylor. Few things are more unwanted than a top sportsman past their best. There are some interesting details: national championships are of no benefit to the team sponsors so the riders aren’t paid expenses and must fund attendance themselves. A team doesn’t want a rider to get all the attention just to ride for someone else next year so Garmin’s policy was that a rider who wasn’t contracted for the next year (as Millar obviously wasn’t) could not ride the Tour. (Strangely, Millar forgets about this while ranting about Charley Wegelius dropping him for poor form and illness). Mark Cavendish gifted an IWC watch to each member of his World Championship winning squad but Millar’s was stolen when his house in Girona was burgled and he wasn’t insured. And pro cyclists don’t enjoy riding in bad weather any more than anyone else does. His explanation for the founding of Garmin and their determination to be dope free is interesting but considering both he and Vaughters got second chances, it’s unfortunate that they weren’t quite so forgiving of other riders as they were prepared to be of each other. Millar compares his rise through the sport to that of Wegelius (a contemporary) who rose without trace to become a super domestique and he is a little churlish about Wegelius’ achievements, rather forgetting that of the two of them he had certain – shall we say – advantages over his fellow Brit. And I don’t mean natural talent. There is a rather perfunctory selection of colour photographs; the rest, including the postcard images are reproduced in black and white. I have not read Wiggins’, Froome’s or Cavendish’s books so can’t compare them but if you want to learn about David Millar’s final year as a pro and read the post-cards he sent his sons from Glasgow, Ghent, Kokseide et al, then this is the place to go. Millar’s final year was clearly intended to be his swansong: he would rock up at his favourite races, camera crew in tow, specially designed shoes worn and then auctioned for charity, ride, win or place well and then disappear into the sunset – King Millar’s regal progress around Europe –  a bit like one of Frank Sinatra’s farewell tours. Only it didn’t quite pan out like that. In the pantheon of British cyclists Millar makes the top 10 but as for top 5 – Wiggins, Froome, Cavendish, Hoy, Robert Millar (no relation), Simpson, Burton – will always be ahead of him. But top 10 ain’t bad. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes. Would I read it again? No.

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