In Search of Robert Millar

2009-08-14, , , , Comments

Strangely, the cyclists who seem to cope least well when the curtain falls on their careers are the climbers. I mean the pure climbers — the very few who, when the road soars upwards, are able to take flight, as if they are fleeing those whom Millar nick-named the “animals” — all-rounders like Hinault, LeMond, Indurain, Armstrong. Necessarily, the climbing specialists are small, fragile, birdlike in build, power-to-weight ratio being all important in the mountains. And perhaps, in some cases, a rider’s physical build is not so easily separated from his psychological make-up.

— Richard Moore, “In Search of Robert Millar”

Book cover. In Search of Robert Millar

Richard Moore’s superb book, “In Search of Robert Millar”, has provided me with the perfect come down after the thrills of this year’s Tour de France. Any talk of Bradley Wiggins being the best ever British tour rider is premature: no one can seriously dispute the book’s tagline, “Unravelling the mystery surrounding Britain’s most successful Tour de France cyclist” — unless, that is, they want to remove any qualification of Millar’s achievements and nominate him simply as Britain’s most successful road cyclist.

Millar’s palmares includes king of the mountains in the Giro and the Tour, a 4th place finish in the 1984 Tour, 2nd places in the Vuelta and the Giro, and victory in the Dauphiné Libéré.

The book is no hagiography. Millar is revealed as a complex and contradictory character; a man who defies any attempt to get close to him. He comes across as awkward, shy, and abrasive. Many people fail to get his sense of humour. Moore believes Millar had the ability and drive to win a grand tour but lacked the personality. Winning such a race requires the respect of your team and indeed of the peleton, political skills which Millar lacks; and Moore identifies this weakness as the main cause of the conspiracy which tricked him out of victory in the 1985 Vuelta. Millar eventually seemed happier as a super-domestique, a professional who would work for the team, but who remained capable of stealing stages.

Millar refuses to play the media game. He has often been rude to commentators and journalists. Yet he has also proved himself to be an articulate thinker and writer.

Since retiring from the sport Millar has again taken flight. Where is he now? What is he up to? Few people know. Email is the only way of reaching him, and in the book’s epilogue Moore does at last make contact with Millar. He reprints their brief email exchange, ending his book with Millar’s own words:

No more questions.

This is a satisfying, thoroughly researched, well written book. Certainly it asks and investigates difficult questions, but the answers aren’t always forthcoming. The story continues …