Monday, April 26, 2010

Millar, redux: racing for love

The following is from Bill Strickland's blog over at Bicycling. It's the conclusion of an ad hoc interview with David Millar, who is quickly becoming my favorite rider. I like him becasue he's articulate and candid, but also because he's one of the only racers caught doping who broke the omerta code. He never tested positive--but he owned up to what he did, paid his penalty, and has worked tirelessly to atone for his transgressions against the sport.

Many people doped, but Millar admitted it and had tried to fix the culture which catalyzed his mistakes.

This paragraph is about his love of the sport that's been rekindled by his return: 

Strickland: It’s just hard to talk about it without sounding like some kind of emotional goofball. Even at my level, Cat 3 amateur, it’s just not cool to get all wet-eyed about a great moment on the bike.   
Millar: "Yes, the thing is, it’s just different paradigms, isn’t it? At Flanders, I was sitting in the front group when Ty [teammate Tyler Farrar, who won the field sprint to finish fifth] came up and said, “I’ve only got a hundred meters in me, Dave.” I was – it was mad. But I was like, okay, we can do this. Yeah. I can bring him up to the front and lead him out as long as I can and drop him where he needs to be. I knew that he had suffered, he had suffered more than me to get to where he was. Even though I’d been off the front and I was shaking and I was a mess, when he came up to me and said, “Dave, I’ve only got a hundred meters in me” — and that’s the only thing he said to me — I just glanced and I thought, okay. He’s such a little hard bastard, I knew he wouldn’t flake off or lose my wheel. He might have been cramping in his hands, he’d crashed twice, almost been out of the race, but if he says he has a hundred meters, he’ll give it a hundred meters. He stuck to my wheel the last 2k or K and half, and he did it. Then sitting there together after the finish line, it may as well have been a junior race. Or a club race, an amateur club race. We had a real moment, sitting there. We’d just done Flanders and ripped Flanders to pieces at the end, but we were like club teammates who had just helped each other at the weekly race. It’s the same sensations! We were just fucking fucked gibbering, but it could have been at the local crit race, you’d still have the same thing. The level you ride at might change, and if you’re very lucky like me, eventually you might end up sitting at the edge of the road at the barriers of the Tour of Flanders. But you’re just a bike racer like any other."

*       *       *

The strongest woman I've ever ridden with bawled like a child at a race. She'd been isolated on a technical, slanted crit course by three riders from another team, and they attacked her relentlessly, lap after lap. She covered about 10 moves before she cracked, and when she did, she just pulled off to the side of the road and wept, draped all over the bars of her machine. I was the first teammate to reach her, so I wrapped my arms around her and tried to get her to forgive herself, to give herself credit for the valiant attempt she'd just made. When she looked in my eyes, I saw a despair and self-hatred so intense that it frightened me. She gave literally everything she had trying to keep those other women from riding away from her, and losing tore her apart. 

Two years later, I watched her get crashed in a corner of another crit. She went down hard, and I was again the first one to reach her. But when she looked at me this time, I saw only a scary anger and determination in her eyes. I asked her if she was okay while someone else else straightened her bars and adjusted her wheel. She didn't saw anything, but as she watched the pack fly by on the next lap, she clenched her jaw. 

As I held her by the saddle, waiting in the pit to push her in after her free lap, I whispered in her ear, "Go show them. Show them who you are. Don't ever forget that this was your race." 

"I'm going to kill them,"  she said.

She won the race in a field sprint by three bike lengths. 

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