All sports have hero’s and villains. Their presence adds to the spectacle of what you’re watching and changes it into theatre. Unfortunately in cycling many of the heros are actually villains and when you find out you realise that you’ve been watching a tragedy.
David Millar was one such hero of mine. Being Scottish I had always been a fan of his namesake Robert but never had much of a chance to watch him race. I saw him a few times on Channel 4’s highlights show. I remember the sense of anticipation before the 1995 Tour after hearing he would be making a return after a year away from the race with his new Le Groupememt team, then the disappointment after they folded days before the Grand Depart, an event which was shortly followed by Millar’s retirement . So when David Millar came on the scene at the start of the 2000’s I was loving being able to watch someone from my own country race in the Tour de France. (Many have questioned his Scottishness but Millar had a similar life to me. I was brought up abroad, I considered another country home for years and I didn’t sound particularly like ‘a jock’ but I feel Scottish. I am Scottish). When he started winning stages and wearing the yellow jersey I was delighted. So when he was popped in 2004 I couldn’t believe it. I felt cheated. All his success which I had celebrated was actually worthless, it was a lie. He wasn’t my hero anymore, he was an embarrassment.
Roll forward to the 2009 Tour and the stage finish in Barcelona. I’d been to Barcelona before and it’s always enjoyable watching a race and seeing the peloton go through areas you recognise but there was added interest that day. David Millar had attacked from the days breakaway with about 30 km to go and had been holding a steady lead over the pack. But with about 5 km to go he arrived at Montjuic with its steep slopes and his advantage was starting to look shaky. I had a dilemma at this point where his fate was unknown. Should I be wanting him to win or fail? I still felt a little betrayed by him but it was 5 years since he was caught cheating and this was already his third Tour since coming back from suspension. Had he done his time for the crime? I decided to just try and enjoy the moment and see it as a brave attack from a cyclist in the Tour de France. It’s the way I often need to watch cycling these days. Enjoy the moment rather than let an individuals doping past spoil things.
In the end Millar was caught with only 1 km to go. While I didn’t celebrate I thought it was a fair outcome. For me, Millar still hadn’t suffered enough to earn forgiveness and glory, but now with this agonising defeat could his redemption could perhaps be complete?