I remember as a teenager when TV in the UK first starting showing the Tour de France. It was incredibly exciting, although there wasn’t much home talent to cheer on. The came the mercurial Scottish rider Robert Millar, climbing through the alps to win that year’s Polka Dot Jersey. ‘Fame’ followed by appearing on the boxes of Kellog’s ‘Start’ cereal. It was also very obvious that Robert didn’t in the least enjoy the fame side of professional cycling. Some interviews with him were hard to watch as he gave single word answers, while other he could be very informative. This book is written by a former team mate of Robert’s. Initially he wanted to write an official biography with direct input from Robert, but as he became a recluse at the end of his professional career, the book became slightly detective in nature.
The author travels around Europe interviewing friends, colleagues and team mate of Robert’s, from his days growing up in Glasgow to his brief time as a team manager. Robert was definitely ahead of his time as he was far more focused on his diet, whereas all other professional cyclists were having steak most nights.
Over the course of the book we find out so much about Robert, and despite his reputation for being difficult, hardly anyone has a bad word to say about him. There are also many anecdotes throughout the book, including one where he is mentoring a group of young UK professionals and he tells them not to ask about the Tour de France as none of them will ever be going there to race. Harsh, but true. He didn’t mince his words. Also interesting is how he was ‘robbed’ of winning the Tour of Spain as the Spanish teams worked together for a Spanish win. Undoubtedly Robert should have been the first English speaking Grand Tour winner.
The book also touches on the controversy surrounding his hermit like status in the years after he retired, including being hounded by the tabloid press. The book was written in 2008, ten years before Millar re-emerged as Philippa York. The Wikipedia entry is far more interesting than anything the tabloids might say, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s none of my business. Robert/Philippa remains one of the greatest British cyclists of all time, and paved the way for many other talented riders from these shores to follow his/her footsteps. An amazing cyclist and an amazing person.