Alex Massie

Whatever happened to Robert Millar?

Text settings

Naturally I should have mentioned this a month ago before the Tour de France began, not now that it's finished - though thoughts on the Tour and the continued jackassery of much cycling coverage will be posted when my blood has recovered from a) boiling and b) my own EPO transfers (kidding).

Anyway, sports buffs shouldn't miss out on the best cycling book of the year. True, it's written by a friend of mine but don't hold that against Richard Moore. His In Search of Robert Millar is a terrific rendering of the rise, triumph, disappointment and eventual disappearance of Britain's most successful Grand Tour cyclist.

Like Richard and many other Britons in their 30s, Millar's exploits - shown on grainy footage by ITV and then the fledgling Channel 4 - introduced us to the Tour de France and helped ensure that we'd be hooked on cycling for good. His triumphs in his beloved Pyrenees were stirring moments indeed. When he won the King of the Mountains title in the 1984 Tour (becoming the first and thus far only Briton to be on the podium in Paris) and finished fourth overall he, remarkably, was voted the Scottish  Sporting Personality of the Year. Quite something in football-daft Caledonia.

But he was, as Richard demonstrates, always an eccentric figure within the peloton. His approach to diet, training and fitness was ahead of his time and if his team-mates and managers never quite knew what to make of the odd little Scotsman he didn't much care so long as he was left along to do his own thing.

Perhaps this cost him. He was robbed of the 1986 Vuelta by an alliance between all the Spanish teams; while injuries and a series of haphazard, incompetent teams helped disrupt some of his best years. Still, he also won the Dauphine Libere and finished second, taking the King of the Mountains title in the Giro d'Italia too. Not bad for a wee laddie from the Gorbals.

Then he disappeared. Right now it's thought he may be living in Devon, but no-one can be quite certain. Even his oldest and closest friends have no idea where he is or what he does now. Periodically rumours arise that he's had a sex change operation. What on earth happened to Millar? And why?

That's the story Richard Moore tells and he does so in fine style. As they say, if you only read one cycling book this year make this the one. It will tell you much about life on the road and inside the peloton that you might not have been aware of before. Reading it you'll appreciate it's not a wonder that more of these guys aren't crazy, it's startling that any of them aren't.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleBook Reviewscyclingscotland