If visions of yellow jerseys slipping through his fingertips took up a fair part of David Millar's dreams last night, the Scot could hardly be to blame.
A superb ride in yesterday's windlashed time trial at Cholet saw the Garmin-Chipotle team leader come within a maddeningly close 12 seconds of taking cycling's biggest prize, the Tour de France maillot jaune. It was arguably the best chance Millar had of taking the Tour race lead since 2003, when he was within 100 metres of victory in the opening prologue in Paris when his chain broke – and the win went to Australian Bradley McGee.
Yesterday Millar, whose only spell in yellow dates from when he won the race's opening team time trial as a Tour rookie back in 2000, had no such mishaps.
Clocking 10 seconds behind the fastest time split after 11 kilometres showed Millar was well within the frame. Even more encouragingly, Millar was five seconds ahead of overwhelming favourite Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland. Instead the Scot's principal rival looked set to be German Stefan Schumacher, ahead of the rest of the field in the time trial's early phase.
Not rated as a time triallist, by rights Schumacher – no relation to the Formula One star, by the way – should have started to fall off the pace in the second half of the race.
But instead the Gerolsteiner rider stuck to his guns on the rolling, untechnical time trial course , finishing with an 18second margin over Luxembourg's Kim Kirchen, with Millar in third place.
Overall, Schumacher's ride propelled the German into yellow, while Millar moved from seventh to third overall – but still 12 seconds adrift of the lead. Millar took his near miss as well as he could, insisting that he had to be pleased with his ride despite the disappointment.
"I went 100 per cent but I can accept the result because I was beaten by better riders," Millar said afterwards.
For the Scot, yesterday's result was his best in the Tour since he came back from a two-year ban for doping in July 2006. "It was two years away and I think it's taken two years to get back," he pointed out. "Now I've got my confidence back to pinpoint objectives" – like yesterday's – "and sacrificing other races for them. This is the most I've ever enjoyed cycling, I've helped build the Garmin team and so obviously I'm very happy because it reflects my personality."
All is not lost in the battle for yellow for Millar by any means. Tomorrow's summit finish at Superbesse, deep in the Massif Centrale, is a good climb for the Scot on paper – long, steady and with few major changes of rhythm – and could be a great opportunity for him to take the lead.
"Kim Kirchen is in the way a little bit, it's going to be exciting and anything could happen."
Millar reflected: "I'm climbing really well at the moment, and I'll see what happens in the days ahead, but I think I'm going to be better than anybody has ever seen me before."
Schumacher was not so optimistic about his chances, pointing out that the Superbesse –"Is not good for me. All I wanted was a stage win and a day in the lead. If I can hang on [tomorrow] it will be a big bonus."
Schumacher said he anticipates far fewer problems on today's stage, which is widely expected to end in a bunch sprint.
Millar will not be a challenger in the 70kmh dash for the line at Chateauroux – but for Great Britain's fastman Mark Cavendish, the flat finish represents an opportunity for success the Manxman will not want to let go by.
Alasdair Fotheringham writes for www.cyclingweekly.co.ukReuse content