David Millar believes the next generation of talented British road cyclists will surpass his own achievements.
The Scot, who won stages in all three Grand Tours in a 16-year professional career that included nearly 1100 days of racing, pointed to the achievement of the Yates twins in their neo pro season as evidence of a second wave of home-grown talent that he believes will build on foundations laid by Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins and former world road race champion Mark Cavendish.
David Millar, one of the first riders supported by the Dave Rayner Fund, told guests at a dinner to celebrate its twentieth anniversary that the next generation of British talent would surpass his achievements. pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
Millar was speaking at the twentieth anniversary dinner of the Dave Rayner Fund, a charity set up in memory of a young British cyclist whose life ended in tragic circumstances after he had reached the top rank of continental road racing in an era when such a breakthrough was almost unheard of. Millar was one of the first riders to receive support from the fund set up in Rayner’s memory.
“This new generation that’s coming up,” Millar told an audience of 500 people at the Leeds dinner, “they’re so much better than I was. They're doing things that I could never imagine doing. Bradley’s won the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish has won the worlds, and these Yates boys…goodness know what they’re going to do. This new British cycling, which I never, ever dreamt was going to happen, is happening, and we have to back it.”
Millar ended a stellar career at the Bec Hill Climb last month as a senior professional who returned from a two-year doping suspension to become an outspoken campaigner for clean sport. Having been stripped of some of his best results, including the 2003 world time-trial championship, Millar came back in 2006 to begin a ‘second’ career that brought him the Commonwealth Games time-trial title, British road and time-trial championships and stage wins in the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.
After footage of his most prestigious victories was shown, Millar admitted that it was the first time he had seen them, revealing that he never watched replays of his performances. Instead, the Scot described the earliest days of his career and the role played by the fledgling Rayner Fund in allowing him to race in Europe, against the prevailing attitude of the national federation.
Millar rolled out in Glasgow in Scottish colours to defend his Commonwealth Games time trial title in August. He ended his career at the Bec Hill Climb two months later. pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
“Twenty years ago, I turned up at Sid Barras’ farm, when I was applying to the Dave Rayner Fund to try and get some support to go to France to race and become professional. The thing with the Dave Rayner Fund was that, at the time, British Cycling didn’t have the Olympic programme. At the time, it [the Dave Rayner Fund] was like the rebellion: ‘We’re going to support these young cyclists to go to the Continent.’
“Today, there’s this lovely thing that happens,” he continued. “There’s this incredible British Cycling system that exists, a phenomenal thing, and then you have the Dave Rayner Fund, which exists in parallel to it, complimentary, that allows some guys to do their thing; to give them opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise. I literally was one of those guys. The Dave Rayner Fund is this lovely, complimentary, parallel universe that we should all back 100 per cent."
Twenty-three riders received support this year from the fund, including Dan McLay, who will race next year as a professional with Bretagne-Séché Environnement, who collected the Lewis 'Spadger’ Barry Memorial Award for a second time. Last year’s winner Adam Yates, who was supported by the fund between 2011 and 2013, told guests that the allotted money was a lifeline, allowing him to buy food while trying to break in to the professional ranks. As a first-year professional with Orica-GreenEDGE,Yates won this year’s Tour of Turkey and competed in his first Grand Tour at the Vuelta a España.
Millar believes that the future of British cycle sport is in safe hands. The Rayner Fund-ed 'class of 2014' received plaudits from Millar and others at a dinner in Leeds to celebrate the fund's twentieth anniversary. pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
Millar pointed to Yates’ performance at the Clásica San Sebastián as evidence to support his claim that the international success of British road cyclists would not end with his generation.
“Adam, the ride he did at Saint Sebastián, which is a Classic,” Millar said, “normally, as a neo pro, it’s not even considered by the greatest teams or the greatest talents. You can’t be at the forefront in the finale of a Classic. Adam did it this year in Saint Sebastián and dominated it - and then crashed like an idiot! My whole generation, my peers, were like, ‘who is this guy?’ Jumping Joaquim Rodriguez, bridging to [Alejandro] Valverde - it’s mad stuff what these guys are doing.”
Millar pledged to remain within cycling, telling Anthony McCrossan, host at the Rayner Fund dinner, that his next project would be something “cool” and commercial. He ended by urging diners to support the young riders at his table and in the room by donating to the fund. “They’re part of the future generation,” Millar said. “They’re on the fringe, and they need to go out there and experiment and learn, and they need that help to go and do this. It’s pretty big; they’re going to sacrifice a lot. They’re going to compromise two or three years of their life. For the majority, sadly, it’s not going to work, but they’re going to have a few bits that are going to be magic, and I think it’s worth it.”
Pictures used with kind permission of SWpix.com