Britain’s David Millar was, in physical terms, still a broken man a day after a brutal ninth stage on the Tour de France almost left him going home early.
However the Scot, who spent an “embarrassing” 180km on his own during Tuesday’s toughest stage in the Alps, admitted his humbling experience has left him mentally stronger.
“It was an emotional roller-coaster, and I’m so glad I got through it,” Millar told AFP at the start of Wednesday’s 10th stage from Chambery to Gap.
Millar has been racing with injuries to his ribs, as well as a stomach bug in recent days, and was left trailing almost immediately on the mammoth 204.5km ninth stage which featured four high mountain passes.
His worries started when his left side locked up, and subsequent back spasms only served to remind him he was going to be in for a tough day.
Unfortunately for the Garmin-Transitions man, it was a day when the big contenders’ teams started racing hard almost immediately in a bid to eliminate each other.
Millar was quickly left looking for the ‘grupetto’ – the group of sprinters and non-climbing specialists which usually forms on the climb in a collective effort to make it through the day.
To his dismay, no grupetto formed, leaving Millar to complete 180km solo – and with only the fans’ shouts of encouragement stopping him from pulling out of the race.
“It was surreal. I was convinced I was out of the race,” said Millar. “The people helped me enormously. At first it’s a bit embarrassing. I was actually ashamed. But after a while I realised that everyone was really rooting for me, telling me to keep going and not to abandon.”
Millar eventually finished the stage, which took in the 25.5km climb over the legendary Col de la Madeleine, in 181st and last place at 42:45 behind French stage winner Sandy Casar and all the race favourites.
Millar narrowly escaped being eliminated by the time cut, and admitted the performance represented “a brand new entry into my top five worst-ever days on a bike”.
He added: “At 100 kilometres to go I was 30 minutes down on the leaders. All I could see in my head were the contours of the stage from the maps.
“I broke it up into five-kilometre climbs and kept thinking – I have to get through this. The fans on the side of the road were brilliant, they were cheering and telling me not to give up, and that made a huge difference for me.
“By the time I got to the finish, I didn’t know if I’d made the time cut – all I knew was that I’d finished. And at the Tour, it’s about finishing.
“This is not a race you want to leave, or one you’ll give up on without turning yourself inside out. Onward.”
© AFP 2010