For a man who tells us “not having to hurt myself all the time” is a major plus of retirement, we’re having a hard time believing it. While talking about current and future advances in the sport, David Millar is speaking to us with a broken arm.
“I realise now that I had no idea what civilian life was,” he tells us, explaining that he broke his arm in an accident at home, not out on the bike. “You sort of think you do, and you think you want to move into it because you get tired of pro life. Then you realise that all you know is pro life, so it is a transition and adaptation that is going to take me a couple of years or so – or more.”
His recent book ‘The Racer’ charts his last year of life as a pro, and has been lauded for its honest look at what it’s like really inside the peloton. So how has the sport changed since his career began more than a decade ago? “It’s got better,” he said. “Everyone’s better, the seasons are longer, every race is harder. It’s always hard in relation to the era, but now it’s at its hardest level. And it’s more dangerous; there are so many crashes now.”
Room for improvement
So if everyone’s getting better, what technological gains can we expect for road bikes? Are there still big advances to be made? “I think so, there always is room for improvement,” he said. “Electronic shifting was a big surprise, but it works so well and is ubiquitous now.”
“With all this progress, bikes will get simpler and simpler and better and better. In a few years we won’t see any cables anywhere or brakes or probably even gear mechanisms, they’ll probably look like fixies in a few years. I think probably in ten, fifteen years the bikes we ride today will look very old fashioned.”
But – and it’s a big but – that doesn’t mean we can expect major performance increases, says Millar. “The biggest gains are always to be made with the human athletes. The nutrition and training make the biggest shifts, the marginal gains really are the equipment.”
Cycling’s Worst Looks
Now we move onto a subject famously close to the Scotsman’s heart – how to be ‘bella in sella’, or ‘beautiful in the saddle’. Does Millar have a few examples of the worst looks he’s seen in the pro peloton over the years?
“I hate short socks. [Alejandro] Valverde is one of the coolest cyclists in terms of how he rides the bike, yet he always wears short socks,” Millar said. “That always used to crack me up. And the helmet pushed slightly backwards on your head – Fabian Cancellara, again, is an amazing bike rider, yet he often rides with the helmet slapped back on his head. It’s just little things which add to the quirkiness of them. I’m just a bit more militant, I guess.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Millar is quick to highlight what he calls the best-looking bikes and clothing. He lists his own Chpt. III clothing created for Castelli, naturally, but also Factor Bikes and Pinarello’s F8. “They’re simple, elegant and have a clean design.”
David Millar is an ambassador for Maserati GB, the title sponsor of the Maserati Team Cycle Challenge www.maserati.co.uk