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Q&A: David Millar

James Spender
28 Apr 2015

He might have retired from pro cycling in 2014, but David Millar is still deeply involved in the sport

Photography Mike Massaro

Cyclist: Since retiring from racing you’ve started a clothing brand with Chpt.III, had bike collaborations with Factor and Brompton, and taken up commentating. How’s it all going?

David Millar: In some ways commentary is the easiest job of them all, because I’m co-commentator so I get to just say what I see.

It’s also good, because I distanced myself from racing when I kind of lost the flame, but I still get to stay in the scene by watching more bike racing than I’ve ever watched in my life.

It can be brutal!

Cyc: What can be done to make watching some races less brutal?

DM: The organisations are trying. There’s Velon with the Hammer Series, and the latest Tour de France route is really trying to mix it up, with a 65km mountain stage and a 15-sector pavé stage.

Cycling used to be like Test cricket – you had it on in the background for five, six hours, only for the hardcore. Now more people are tuning in but attention spans have changed and viewers want to be able to dip in and out and still find real racing.

But how do you do that? That’s what they’re trying to figure out.

Cyc: Do we need all the big racers at all the races?

DM: In an ideal world, yes. But the reason races like the Tour get accused of being boring is because there are so many strong teams and there’s so much at stake.

That cuts down the maverick moves and randomness that gives lower levels of racing, such as the Giro, their charm.

So it’s a case of don’t wish too hard because if it happens you might just have the dullest sport in the world.

Cyc: People often accuse Team Sky of being too clinical. Is that fair?

DM: Yes, they can kill off events, but at the same time people are learning to match them. Look at AG2R at the Tour this year. That was some of the best bike racing I’ve seen in such a long time.

They realise they can’t outgun Sky so they try to outfox them, with random attacks on descents, double attacks off the front.

That put Sky under so much stress they started making errors and could have lost it. It’s all about that and teams making alliances. That’s how bike racing always used to be.

Also, because the sport has changed from a doping to an anti-doping culture that means to operate at the very highest level you have to be a perfectionist in every single area, so it’s quite ironic when people complain about the sport being too clinical.

That’s the model the teams needed to adopt in order to win in an anti-doping culture.

Cyc: How much of that perfectionism is down to a team’s budget?

DM: I can list 10 teams who if you gave them the same budget as Sky would f*** it up completely and be the same shit team.

The thing with Sky is that they spend their money well, and they have bonifications in their contract so results mean more money next season.

Katusha had the same money and they’re half the team Sky are. It’s how you spend it. AG2R have two-thirds of Sky’s budget but they’re spending it wisely, and that’s a fundamental difference from three years ago.

Cyc: Are there any other ways we could reinvigorate pro racing?

DM: They should allocate two radios per team. Any safety issues can be transmitted through the peloton but otherwise you force riders to actually communicate again, maybe even form alliances to overthrow big teams.

At the moment riders rely solely on their radios. They don’t talk to each other and they can use it as a cop-out as well, saying they didn’t know that was happening because no one told them on the radio.

There’s also talk about assigning numbers to riders for the season so viewers can identify them. Ned Boulting and I pull our hair out at the Yateses [identical twins].

You know what they did last season? There was all that hoo-hah about them getting individual bikes for the Vuelta, one the inverse of the other, yin-yang, so we pinned up a little matrix on the wall detailing the differences.

Then next day they’re on normal bikes because those special bikes got sent to f***ing Eurobike. Just go white socks, black socks!           

Cyc: What about having GPS transmitters on riders to send data to the viewers?

DM: The Velon tech can help here, but the problem is signal. These races go 200km point-to-point through the middle of bumblef*** where the signal disappears.

I don’t think riders give a shit about sharing data, but teams would. They’d soon start working out correlations between heart rate and power to know when a rider is in trouble and to exploit it. Which all comes back to radios again.

Really it’s all just conjecture as the UCI are the only people that can force these issues, but they’re so disconnected from the WorldTour that they’re not really thinking that far ahead. This stuff just blows their minds. 

Cyc: Would you like to be riding now?

DM: To be honest I’m not sure how much I’d fall in love with the sport now if I were a rider. I fell in love with it in the first place because it all seemed so bonkers.

I had to go live abroad, learn a language and most people didn’t get it. I wasn’t going to be famous or rich, I just wanted to ride the Tour de France. Now you stay in the UK.

First it’s the Olympics, then Sky. There isn’t the same charm because so many people have done it before you. 

Cyc: If you like the bonkers bit, what about competing in the Coppi/Antequil/Merckx era?

DM: I just think that would have been miserable, man! Shitty hotels, shitty cars, no autoroutes to get to races, no money, a lot of f***ing drugs.

Wool. No Gore-Tex! I’d love to compete when I did, only with everyone riding clean. I would have had a much different career. 

Cyc: Do you think there’s anything to the motor doping rumours?

DM: I hope it hasn’t happened, and I really think it’s incredibly unlikely. It would be so difficult to hide… the amount of people that would need to be involved who would also need to keep it quiet. 

Cyc: Speaking of mass cover-ups, Lance Armstrong seems to be back in town. Is his ‘Redemption Tour’, as it has been called, to be believed?

DM: I just don’t know any more. The conundrum is do we accept him back if he’s honestly apologising or do we kick him out for good? It’s hard to know – he’s a very odd case. Everyone deserves a second chance, but does he?

 

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