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Cycling

Robert Millar: Reclusive Star

Robert Millar displays his King of the Mountains jersey

© BBC

For many, Scottish cyclist Robert Millar is this country's greatest road cyclist ever. His fourth place in the Tour de France of 1984 is the highest finish by a British cyclist and the King of the Mountains' polka-dot jersey he won in the same event is the only jersey won by a cyclist from this country in the hundred-year history of cycling's premier event.

And with David Millar's current difficulties, it is unlikely Millar's achievements will be matched in the foreseeable future.

Yet if it had not been for a series of unfortunate events at the Vuelta de Espana in 1985, the diminutive Scot's achievements could have been even greater, as the first Britain to win one of the sport's three major tours.

Yet Millar could probably walk down any major street in Scotland without being recognised. In today's world of television channels devoted to sport, Millar's greatest success of only 20 years ago could have came from another era, as it was not broadcast here on any television channel.

Millar's first trainer Billy Bilsland is unequivocal when he assesses his place in the pantheon of Scotland's sporting stars. He says: "Robert Millar is the most successful Scottish athlete ever. No Scottish athlete has achieved what he has done on the European Continent."

Millar was part of the first wave of English-speaking cyclists which took the European world of cycling by storm in the 1980s. That group included American Greg Lemond, Irishmen Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly and Australia's Phil Anderson.

However, the success of the "English" caused a lot of resentment not only amongst the fans and the continental peloton, but also amongst their own teammates, which makes Millar's achievements even more remarkable.

Robert Millar takes a left-hand bend

© SCRAN

Bilsland, like Millar, rode for the French Peugeot team for six years and understands well the pressures of riding on the Continent. He said: "When you arrive on the Continent you are alone. First of all you have got to learn to speak French and even then you are still seen as the outsider.

"A lot of great British cyclists couldn't stand being alone on the Continent, staring at the wallpaper every night after training. But Robert was single-minded and could hack the loneliness."

Millar, born in 1958 and brought up in Shawlands in Glasgow's south side, moved to Paris in 1979 after being offered a place on the top French amateur team ACBB.

Almost immediately he became a success, winning the Merlin Plage, a trophy for best amateur of the season in 1979. He soon won a place with the French professional Peugeot team and he immediately gave notice of his ability in 1983 by winning the Pyrenean mountain stage to Pau of the Tour de France at only 23.

That night, Millar described his first ever-professional victory to an English journalist with his customary coolness: "I looked round at three kilometres to go, and I could see the guy [Delgado] coming. So I put myself on the rivet again. And then at 500 metres, I took the hat out for publicity, put the hat on-nice. And put the arms up. Always have to remember that."

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