Refreshed Millar revels in that leading feeling

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The Independent Online

The sleepy university town of Salamanca was witness to David Millar's return to top-level success on Saturday, when the 24-year-old Scot took the opening stage of the Tour of Spain by 0.354sec from the more experienced Colombian Santiago Botero. Yesterday he held on to the gold jersey of the race leader when he finished only three seconds behind the stage winner Erik Zabel.

On Saturday, Millar succeeded in overcoming the nightmare of his recent Tour de France crash in the Dunkirk prologue, which was followed by a 10-day battle against the leg injury he suffered in his high-speed tumble. He quit the race on the first day in the Alps.

Millar's victory came on a complex out-and-back course, winding through the streets of Salamanca with dangerous narrow corners and poorly tarmacked roads in the early and final sections. An outside favourite, Marcos Serrano of the ONCE-Eroski team, was the most unfortunate victim of the challenging parcours, falling heavily and breaking his collarbone.

Millar was more fortunate, but he admitted that he "took no risks whatsoever" early on. "It was only when I saw I was behind Botero at the mid-way checkpoint that I began really to go flat out for the final victory." He said he was "as proud of this result as when I won the Tour prologue at Futuroscope in 2000, maybe more so, because I had to go much deeper this time".

His ambitions now stretch beyond the Vuelta's two remaining flat time trials, onto the World Championships in October. "I think I am the best time triallist in the world right now, and I want to prove that in the World's," he said.

The Cofidis team leader continued in the Maillot de Oro after the first road stage yesterday, which despite being flat for almost all of the course ended with a kilometre-long climb in Valladolid. On a scorching hot day in the plains of northern Spain little happened of note until the final ascent, with Millar coming in three seconds behind Zabel after four riders peeled off the front in the final 100 metres. Taking ninth place behind the German was more than sufficient, though, to keep him in the lead.

"This was probably the hardest stage to keep the jersey until the real mountains come in on stage five," Millar said, "but really I am going to take this on the day by day. I want to enjoy the feeling of riding well and leading the race rather than thinking too much about what's going to come."

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