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16 October 2014

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Robert Millar: Reclusive Star

Robert Millar relaxes


By winning a mountain stage at an age when most riders are considered not strong enough even to compete in the world's most gruelling sporting event, the shy young Scot had issued a statement of intent, and was considered by many to be a possible future winner of the tour.

This expectation lived with him until the end of the '80s when it was realised that he was not team leader material, and therefore could only focus on winning stages and shorter tours.

The following year, he fulfilled his potential and achieved his greatest success, King of the Mountains and fourth overall in the tour, winning another mountain stage.

Yet only one year later Millar's great promise as a cycling champion seemed to evaporate. On paper, finishing second in the Vuelta de Espana shows another step closer to becoming a great champion, but the manner of Millar's defeat leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Millar was wearing the race leader's yellow jersey on the second last day of the tour with a seemingly unassailable lead of more than six minutes, when he punctured. Two Spanish riders Pedro Delgado and Jose Recio chose this moment to attack and built up a seven-minute lead, making Delgado race leader on the road, while Millar was shaking the hands of his closest rivals believing he had won his first major tour.

Millar's French manager should have kept him up-to-date on what was happening to him and also paying other cyclists to work to get Millar back into first place but he didn't do anything until it was too late. None of the riders in the predominantly Spanish field had much desire to help the quiet young foreigner who wore an earring against the Spaniard Delgado. And so Millar "lost" his first tour.

Robert Millar in Peugeot colours


A touch of conspiracy was also involved. Apparently Millar's Peugeot team were unable to help him at the front of the bunch as they were delayed at a level crossing for a train that never came.

That same year, Millar finished 11th in the Tour de France, a highly respectable place for a 25-year-old, but for Millar, who was having more problems with his French team, nothing compared to his exploits of the previous year. Millar's French team-mates had no desire to work for the out-of-form foreigner, leaving it up to Australian Alan Peiper and Englishman Sean Yates to act as domestiques for the Scot.

Millar moved the following year to the Dutch Panasonic team and then to Fagor in 1988 where he was to ride for Tour winner Stephen Roche. However, this season also ended unhappily as Roche spent the season out injured and Millar took on team leader's duties that he was uncomfortable with.

His career ended rather ignominiously when the team he was riding for, Le Groupement, collapsed mid-season, denying the veteran one last season in the sun.

At present, Millar's whereabouts are unknown. Bilsland describes him as leading a reclusive lifestyle far from the world of cycling and admits he is not even sure what country he now lives in. In 2003, he was awarded with one of only 14 places on the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame but was nowhere to be seen at the awards ceremony.

Written by: Gordon Cairns

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