Millar is enriched by pain and suffering

Scottish cyclist produces both the potential and survival instinct necessary to be a winner of the Tour de France
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The Independent Online

The Scottish flags flew on the Champs Elysées. It was Millar time again, according to his fans' T-shirts, and David Millar finished his first Tour de France with a flourish. Just as he had started it.

The Scottish flags flew on the Champs Elysées. It was Millar time again, according to his fans' T-shirts, and David Millar finished his first Tour de France with a flourish. Just as he had started it.

In between that first yellow jersey at the Futuroscope theme park and his big but abortive attack in Paris there was pain, suffering and 3,662 kilometres. "I have learned a lot over three weeks," Millar said, and one sharp lesson was how to battle on although your body is battered from a crash.

He fell twice, but the second on the road to the Ventoux mountain almost two weeks ago left the Scot in agony. His neck bore an angry burn from a spinning tyre and an X-ray showed a dislocated collarbone. He was in agony, but soldiered on aided by pain-killers.

"After my Ventoux crash I was creeping, but as I improved I just took it easy. I never had a thought about quitting," he said, and on one mountain when he was with a group of stragglers Millar sportingly pushed a struggling Magnus Backstedt to keep the Swede going. That moment on the podium in the yellow jersey seemed distant on those days of suffering through the Alps, but there was only one remaining objective, Paris or bust.

He was told by team official Alain Bondue that it was necessary to feel the real agony of three days in the Alps to prepare himself for greater times on future Tours. One Alpine stage lasted eight and a half hours, and those with the survival instinct plugged away to reach the finish before the elimination deadline.

"You are just in your own little world. No one talks. You are all too tired," Millar said. Sunday night in Paris was party-time as he and other riders, plus his family and schoolfriends who flew in from Hong Kong, relaxed after a debut that heralds a great future.

"He has the potential to be a Tour winner in a few years," Bondue, of Millar's Cofidis team, said, only the fall ruining more chances of seeing that potential in action. Teamwork is crucial in the Tour, but Millar would not have reached such racing heights without the help of an unseen team.

For now he can unwind, with three yellow jerseys in his bag. A new one is awarded each day a rider leads, and a bunch of former internationals will be hoping that one of those jerseys is coming their way. "Last year we raised £800 by auctioning one of Lance Armstrong's yellow jerseys," said Keith Lambert, one of seven ex-racers who vet talented applicants seekingfinancial support from the Dave Rayner Fund.

In 1996 Millar was the first they funded towards setting up a European career. "Since then David has kept telling us 'if it was not for you guys I would not have made it'," Lambert said. "His performance is beyond our wildest dreams. We thought the fund would wane after five years but it is just getting stronger, and this is sure to help. Riders get a monthly payment to help them out, but they have to be hungry for success, too."

Millar became a professional at 20 for French sponsors Cofidis when Armstrong was in the team. "I was around before British cycling had its World Class Performance programme and a proper national team," Millar said. "That is one of the reasons I turned professional so early. I did not have much option."

Millar is not alone on the success trail thanks to the fund. Charly Wegelius races for the world's No 1 team, Mapei of Italy, and Jamie Burrow last year was ranked the best under-22 in the world. He is with Armstrong's team, US Postal Services. "We never thought we would get three as good as that in such a short time. Dave Rayner would have been proud of what has been achieved. Our reward is seeing these lads succeed," Lambert said of the Yorkshireman who raced for a Dutch professional team, but died six years ago.

Millar is the 50th Briton to start a Tour de France, since Charles Holland in 1937, and the 22nd to go the full distance. He finished 62nd, more than two hours and 13 minutes behind Armstrong, who put into perspective the feeling of completing the Tour. "Three weeks is a long time whether you are first or 101st. It's a special feeling, and a real sense of accomplishment, and it changes a rider for the rest of his career."

That certainly rings true for Santiago Botero,who was crowned King of the Mountains, the first Colombian to take that title since LuchoHerrera in 1987.