COMPIEGNE, France (VN) — David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) wants to savor every moment of his final season among the pro ranks, even if that means suffering for seven hours over the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix.
The 37-year-old Scot will race “The Hell of the North” on Sunday as part of a swansong season that will also include stops at the Tour de France, the Commonwealth Games, and, if he makes the selection, the world championships in Spain in September.
With two young boys at home, and most of his peers retired or driving team cars as sport directors, Millar realized the time was right to step away from the sport. He’s proud he’s been able to retire on his terms, without injury or facing the prospect of not finding a contract, and wants to hit the highlights in his final season.
During 18 years inside the peloton, Millar has seen and lived all the good, bad, and ugliness of professional cycling. He was immersed in the doping culture at Cofidis, resulting in a two-year racing ban that saw him fall into disgrace. When he returned in 2006, he vowed to race clean, and became an ambassador and the unofficial voice of “new cycling,” not only redeeming himself, but helping to pull the sport into a cleaner, more credible future.
VeloNews spoke to Millar on Friday evening to talk cobbles, controversies, and retirement. Check the next issue of Velo Magazine for more of the interview:
VeloNews: Why chose to punish yourself with one more run across the pavé at Paris-Roubaix?
David Millar: They tricked me into it. The day before Milano-Sanremo, [Garmin sport director Robbie] Hunter said, ‘What do you think about Roubaix? It’s your last year, you should do it.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ I prepared for it, and when I went on the recon, I was feeling good on the cobbles. I am glad I decided to do it. Everything’s going to be special this season.
VN: What are your expectations for Sunday?
DM: I am looking forward to it. I am feeling good on the bike, and it’s going to be dry. I think I am going to enjoy it, as much as you can in a race like Roubaix. I have only done it twice in my career, and I never finished. I would really like to arrive to the velodrome.
VN: After such a long career, what do you think you will you miss most?
DM: I will definitely miss the racing. I know I will never get that thrill again in life; that risk, that camaraderie, the sharing of success and defeat with your teammates. The emotions you get on the bike, you can only get that with racing. That’s one of the privileges of being a pro. When you’re racing, it can feel like the be-all, end-all. Nothing else exists in the world. It almost feels like a life-and-death struggle. That’s something you can never get in everyday life.
VN: If we can believe what we see today, the peloton’s a very different place. Are you surprised how fast the peloton has changed from within?
DM: When I came back from my racing ban in 2006, I said then that I thought it would be 10 years before we had a clean sport. I think we’re three, four or five years ahead of that. Ryder [Hesjedal] won the Giro in 2012, that was only six years after I came back, and the Giro is considered the hardest physically of the grand tours. And when you consider that at one point the Italians were the pioneers of doping in cycling, Ryder winning that Giro was a watershed moment for the sport. That proved that you can win the biggest and hardest events in the sport clean.
VN: In the fall of 2012, you said that the Lance Armstrong scandal was the best thing that could happen for cycling, but there’s been a lot of negative backlash. Do you still believe that’s true?
DM: I still believe that, because eventually this story will die off. If it hadn’t come out, there would always be questions, investigations, doubts, but now, slowly over time, it will just fiddle out and die. People are talking about it less, and talking about what’s happening today. That’s been good for cycling.
VN: Are you a bit envious of young riders coming into the sport who don’t have to face the choices that you did when you a rookie?
DM: I would have loved to come into the sport like it is now. In 1997, I was a neo-pro, the peloton was a completely different place. I never had that option. It just was what it was. I am very happy that today’s young pros don’t have to go through what myself and peers had to.
VN: Also during the arc of your career, British cycling has emerged as a world power. Did you ever expect to see that?
DM: It would have seemed unimaginable when I was starting out. That’s why I moved to France when I was 17, because there was no future to develop as a cyclist in the UK. Now we have the Olympic program and Team Sky, which in itself has led to mass participation and interest in cycling. I don’t think anyone in the late 1990s could have imagined it would have grown as massive as it has. I remember when I told people in the early 2000s that I was a cyclist, they would ask what I did as my real job. Now people treat cyclists like footballers.
VN: You’ve seen the best and the worst of cycling. What kept you around so long?
DM: I love the racing. It’s always been about the racing. Training has gotten much more difficult as I’ve gotten older. It’s more difficult to go out there and suffer, and number-crunch my training days away. But when I have a number pinned to my back, I am a completely different person. I simply love racing. I might as well be 18 again.
VN: What does your post-race future hold?
DM: I am still constructing that. I have some clear ideas, but I am still working on it at the moment. It does not necessarily involve pro racing. I will definitely not be a sport director. I would be terrible at it. I wouldn’t have the patience. I don’t think I would be very good at managing pro cyclists.