Cycling: Millar time for the road crew

Andrew Longmore says Britain's cyclists are now following a genuine leader

At the head of the British team in cycling's world road-race championships in San Sebastian this week will be a slight, craggy, figure respected, beloved even, by cycling's true followers. A few might blink at the sight of it. Robert Millar never had much time for officialdom, either on the bike or off it. He was one of life's loners, slow to trust, quick to question, entirely unpredictable.

So perhaps it should be true to form that in retirement he should become national road-race coach for the British Cycling Federation, a role few who knew him would have chosen for his post-retirement cv. "I think there were two reactions to Robert's appointment," John Herety, an old team- mate of Millar's, said. "The first was 'Wow, that's strange' and the second was 'Hey, that's good'. He was a very anti-establishment figure, but he always had a lot to give, it was just a question of asking him to give it."

As the manager of the Adidas-Scicon team, run by Chris Boardman's Level Four company, Herety has seen at first-hand the effect Millar's laid-back Scottish drawl has already had on his young riders. "They treated what Rob said as almost Godlike. It was only what I'd been telling them for weeks, but he's held in such high esteem, it meant more."

For the BCF, the appointment of the most respected British road-racer of the past 30 years signalled a change of attitude and, after a year of political turmoil, a fresh start. The membership wanted a big name and, as regular Tour contender and one-time king of the mountains, Millar's was the biggest in the land. The surprise was that the Scot with the irascible reputation was open to offers. "It was the only job available," he said. "I didn't want it to be seen as an official thing, with blazer and tie and all that crap. I don't do that stuff and it's not what I presume the job to be. But, equally, I've got to learn how the job is done. The cycling bit I know about, it's the administration and fitting into places I don't know much about."

This week, in his first official non-blazered assignment as team manager, Millar will fetch the right start numbers, advise the 29-strong team of juniors and seniors on tactics, schedules and diet, drive the team car and busy himself with all the minutiae of life on the road which others took care of in his career. "That's the way I look at it. What did I want as a cyclist? You don't want to be thinking of how you're going to get home or what the family's doing or whatever, you just want to concentrate on racing. A lot of it is just listening and talking to people, sorting out their problems. That's a bit new to me. Before, I only had to worry about myself."

Millar has already targeted the junior squad for special attention. When his juniors compete in senior races, Millar rides too. His initial introductions were made to groups of riders in the car parks after races where the message was typically spartan. You will only get out of this sport what you put in. True to his belief that "you don't have to speak much to be a bike rider," talk will not be cheap. Journalists who spent a decade trying to extract a pearl from Millar's lips will not be shocked to hear that some of the more senior riders have yet to hear a word from their new boss. Over-23s, Millar says, know where to find him. Thrust at an early age into the hurly-burly of continental professional cycling, Millar had to fend for himself and expects others to do the same.

The current state of Britain's road-racing resources will be revealed to the new coach this week. Medals will be the measure of success, but attitudes will be equally critical as Millar assesses the extent of the talent and outlines plans for the future. "The sport needs more money thrown at it," he said. "We have to get the set-up more professional and the promotion better. The talent is out there. It's getting the thing presented right so we get more kids on to bikes." When six or seven British riders line up for the start of the Tour, Millar believes, cycling will command the attention of the media and big business. The boom will follow.

If anyone can set the wheel turning, it is Millar, who still keeps fit by racing mountain bikes. "People won't agree with all Rob's ideas," Herety added. "But at least he's got some ideas. He's not afraid to give opinions and then see what the effects are. I hope he sticks it because he's got so much to offer."

An inspiration or a good idea that wasn't? The winter will be telling, when the riders follow Millar's training schedules for the first time. "It'll be good to see if something that worked for me will work for them. The satisfaction will come if they get it right. If it's crap, then I'll be crap."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power