Britain’s David Millar has a reputation for being laid-back, but the Garmin team rider is hoping his new, relaxed attitude on the bike transforms to big results on this year’s Tour de France.
Millar, 32, has had a tumultuous career which kicked off nearly a decade ago with a famous prologue win ahead of Lance Armstrong in 2000 – and which has really only got back on the rails following a two-year ban for doping.
After a solid 2008 season in which he came close to stage victories on the Tour de France, Millar’s plans for this year were disrupted by injuries sustained in a crash earlier this season.
But spending four weeks laid up and totally off the bike proved a blessing in disguise.
Forever analysing results, scientific data and looking for the right recipes for racing success, Millar found that rest and recovery was having significant effects.
Since that revelation at the Giro d’Italia last month, Millar has continued with a strict dieting regime which has given him the belief that he can challenge the other 179 riders on the race for a shot at a coveted stage victory.
“Physically, I’ve got very good form and because of that I’m very relaxed. The better the form, the more relaxed I am,” Millar told AFP prior to his 14th place finish in the opening stage time trial on Saturday.
“The biggest thing was breaking my collarbone, which meant I was off completely for four weeks. When I jumped back on my bike it didn’t take me long to get fit and that made me realise a few things.
“I rode Giro (d’Italia) without any pressure, and started to feel really good. Then it clicked mentally that I should start to take it a lot easier outside of races.
“Since then I’ve been dieting a lot. I’m four kilos lighter than I was last year, which is huge. It’s been a real wake-up call for me. Now I climb better, I enjoy the race a lot more.”
In cycling, riders the height of Millar, who stands 1.92 metres tall, are usually at a disadvantage in the mountains.
“It’s all about power to weight ration,” he explained.
And in a sport where all the material is designed to be as legally light as possible, that means that losing even a few pounds off the waistline can make a significant difference to performance.
It all goes back to the old cycling rules of racing hard, and then eating as little as humanly possible.
But Millar believes the sacrifices are worth it if it means he gets to challenge for a victory among the world’s best.
“They’re sacrifices for sure, but they’re only sacrifices if you’re not getting anything back,” he added.
“It’s kind of going back to basics – riding my bike and racing a lot harder and not banging my head against a wall and measuring every possible quantifiable number.”
At last year’s Tour – his seventh, but third after returning from a 2004 doping ban for using the banned blood-booster EPO – Millar worked himself into the ground to help teammate Christian Vande Velde to an impressive fifth place finish.
A similar result, in a race which now includes Spaniard Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong – who were absent last year – for Vande Velde is unlikely given he has only recently returned from injury.
As a result Garmin, who have four time trial specialists in their team, will look for opportunities to win stages, beginning with the team time trial in Montpellier on stage four.
Recently criticised by some rivals for basing their racing strategy on the races against the clock, Millar
“I’m really proud of the way we race and what we are,” he said.
“We’re continuing to develop and I think we’re going to have a very good race here because it’s the first time in a long time we’ve had all our guys on near 100 percent.
“The team time trial on Tuesday is our big goal, so there’s plenty to aim at. I’m excited to see what that will bring us.”
© AFP 2009…