This time last year David Millar came back to the Tour de France with the air of a débutant trying to find his way in the race hierarchy.
Ahead of the first stage on Saturday, a 197.5km ride over undulating terrain between here and Plumelec, the 31-year-old Scot is now harbouring realistic aims of winning another prestigious stage on the world‘s biggest bike race.
And maybe even ending his eight-year wait to regain the yellow jersey, if it all goes well inside the first week.
At the presentation of his newly-renamed team, Garmin, on Thursday Millar said the three weeks of gruelling racing on the Giro d’Italia, along with several weeks of training at high altitude, have rekindled his hopes for success.
“In all honesty, we’re starting the Tour in great condition. It’s a huge goal for us,” said Millar, who returned to the Tour last year following an absence due to a doping ban for using the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin).
“For me personally the Tour has been my whole focus for this year. The Giro was a great race but it only served as preparation for this.
“I’m nervous because I’ve based my whole year around it, but I’m also excited to get racing. Right now I feel 100 percent. I haven’t felt this good in years.”
For Millar, it seems a lifetime ago that he exploded on to the world cycling scene when he won the 2000 Tour prologue on his debut.
It was a feat that handed him the race’s yellow jersey for three days, and one he’d love to get reacquainted with – especially given the ups and downs of his career.
After winning the world time trial crown in 2003, he was later stripped of the title after he admitted under police questioning, while riding as part of the disgraced Cofidis team, that he had used EPO.
Plenty of soul-searching preceded his return to elite cycling in 2007, when he raced the Tour with the aim of simply finishing the race.
Now the leader of the newly-renamed Garmin team – which has joined the professional ranks on a strict no-doping card – Millar is hoping to step it up a level, despite the lack of an opening prologue.
“The fact there’s no prologue means it’s going to open up the race to a lot of opportunists,” added Millar, who is hoping to place himself favourably in the fourth stage time trial for a later charge at the yellow jersey.
“I feel I’m back to 100 percent now, which I haven’t been in a while.”
He added: “I’m not the favourite for the time trial but I’m hoping to finish ahead of most of the yellow jersey favourites, then we’ll see in the first mountains stages.
“I’m confident. I’m in the best form I’ve been in years.”
The Tour, raced anti-clockwise this year, will get straight down to action in a first week which is lacking the usual number of flat stages most coveted by the sprinters.
Australia’s Cadel Evans, the runner-up last year, is the big yellow jersey favourite ahead of Spanish ace Alejandro Valverde and they are set to do battle in the Alps.
The reigning champion is another Spaniard, Alberto Contador, but his team were left off the invitees’ list because of their involvement in a doping scandal last year while they were under different management.
After years of dealing with the unwanted attention of drugs cheats, the Tour – 10 years after the infamous Festina doping scandal – is again hoping for a fresh start.
A wind of change is said to be blowing through cycling’s new generation, and Millar believes they are on the right track.
“There’s been a real change of attitude towards the whole drugs problem, not just in the peloton but with the sponsors, team managers and race organisers,” he said.
“Everyone is starting to realise we all have to be responsible for the future of this sport. I believe that this year’s race will be one the fans want to watch, and that it will be clean.”