The great British enigma

“Frankly, there is no story to tell other than that Robert failed to engage, communicate or evidence any activity of any significance that led me to think he was suited to a formal professional coaching position. Competing and coaching in sport are two very different things, even though they clearly have many things in common. Professional coaching in a highly accountable publicly funded role is a task that requires very specific skill sets, attitudes and insights, that in my judgement Robert did not possess. There have been many things I did in my tenure at British Cycling that, on reflection, I regret or would have done differently. Letting Robert go was not one of them.”


In March 1997, more than a year and a half after he had ridden his last professional race, Britain’s best ever Tour de France cyclist Robert Millar was appointed as a coach for the British road cycling team. Not long afterward, money from the National Lottery began pouring it’s way into British Cycling as their quest for Olympic domination on the track began. Peter Keen, the man charged with leading the new conquest, wasted no time in unceremoniously getting rid of Millar from the setup.

In Richard Moore’s 2008 biography ‘In Search of Robert Millar’, he asks the elusive climber about this incident:

“I didn’t consider driving a car around cycle races three times a year a future for me…it wasn’t what I had to offer and I don’t find it particularly interesting, so when I was told quite clearly I wasn’t going to be part of this big World Class Performance Plan being put together by Peter Keen, the chapter was closed.

“So when I look back at it now what has changed at the British Cycling Federation?… it’s now called British Cycling aaaaaand that’s about it. The same people are back there in the same seats, going on the same trips with the same results, making the same plans with their same ideas of how things are done. You can’t change unless you want to.”

These days Millar keeps himself to himself but remains involved around the fringes of the sport by contributing columns to and Rouleur. His writing is always interesting as he provides the kind of honest insight that perhaps those a bit closer to the sport would be reluctant to commit to print. His columns are often witty, intelligent, pragmatic and devoid of a level of emotion which might cloud one’s ability to assess a situation in a sober fashion.

But that cannot be said of his most recent column where he shares his opinion on Bradley Wiggins’s announcement that he doesn’t expect to be part of Team Sky’s lineup for the Tour de France, which starts in Yorkshire in just over three weeks.

Millar’s usual pragmatism is lacking throughout the article. For example he says:

Saying Wiggins isn’t good enough to merit a place at the Tour is tosh, saying he’s arrogant, disruptive and doesn’t fit in the team is tosh as well.”

He also makes a mistake when he attributes this announcement to Dave Brailsford rather than Wiggins, who took it upon himself to do several interviews with the BBC. It’s a subtle distinction but an important one given the context of the story and it’s a distinction which a less emotional Millar wouldn’t usually overlook in one of his columns.

But then, this column was never about Wiggins or Brailsford or Team Sky. This column was about Millar himself and the animosity he still harbours for British Cycling after his ejection from the setup 17 years ago.


It’s clear from Millar’s contributions to Moore’s book that he is bitter about that incident. He describes his attitude towards the British Cycling approach:

Bradley Wiggins is one of the most enigmatic riders in the peloton.

Bradley Wiggins is one of the most enigmatic riders in the peloton (via Peter Broster –

“There’s no creativity, it’s all numbers and figures, which is great in a fixed environment like track racing i.e. if you have this number of watts you’ll go this fast and we’ll know you can reach this level of competition. It’s like painting by numbers, fill in the boxes and you’ll complete the picture… wooohooooo isn’t that clever. Trouble is, road racing isn’t that controllable and if Picasso turned up for a job at the BCF paint school they’d tell him he was barking up the wrong tree. When I read about coaching tips and the like I get the impression that people involved in just about every aspect of training and racing in the UK have forgotten they are racing with other people.”

These words from Millar are from 2008, shortly before Team Sky was launched and the British began to stamp their authority all over the Tour de France. For Millar, he watched the organisation he was shunned from, do exactly what he said was impossible, win the Tour de France by numbers. Team Sky had, by and large, successfully transferred their approach to track cycling on to the road.

Now that Millar can no longer question the validity of the Team Sky approach, he has chosen instead to focus on personality. He says in his recent column:

Chris Froome might be a better bike rider than Bradley Wiggins, he might be more considered in his interviews, never saying the wrong thing or swearing, but in terms of character it’s the politician versus the rock star. PR spiel or an actual opinion, now there’s an easy choice.”

This also is not about Wiggins, but about Millar himself. Millar has a quirky personality and during his racing career he was considered a bit of a curveball. He appreciates the fact that Wiggins is similar to him. They’re both moody, enigmatic and obscure, so Millar empathises with his plight. He boils down the Wiggins/Froome debate to respect:

It’s pretty low to take that opportunity from him [riding the 2014 Tour de France]. The team can try to hide behind excuses and so-called reasoning but it shows a total lack of respect for what he has given to Team Sky.”

It was Millar’s personality which ultimately led to the lack of respect shown to him by British Cycling and he sees it happening again and he doesn’t like it.


Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 and has not ridden the race since. It’s conceivable that he will never ride the race again. A first time Tour winner never riding the race again has only happened twice in the history of the Tour (René Pottier 1906 and Roger Lapébie 1937).

Robert Millar wearing the hideous Le Groupement jersey in 1995 (via thewashingmachinepost.n

Although Millar obviously never won the Tour, it’s worth noting that he was also not afforded the opportunity to ride the world’s biggest race one last time on his own terms. His last participation was in 1993 but he didn’t retire until two years later. In 1994, still part of the Dutch TVM team where he had been for a few years, he was injured in a Spanish stage race during the Spring and didn’t fully recover in time. The 1994 Tour visited Britain for the first time in 20 years and the only time during Millar’s career.

Twelve months later he was riding for Le Groupement, he had won the British road race for the first time and was all set to ride his final Tour de France. But the financiers behind the team were exposed as frauds and the team imploded the week before the race. Not only did Millar never ride the Tour again, he never rode another race.

Millar wrote in a previous column back in January of this year when talk had already begun of whether Froome and Wiggins would both be at the Tour:

One thing is clear – no last Tour outing for Britain’s best-known cyclist would be a massive disappointment for Sky, for ASO, for Yorkshire, the cycling public and for the Sir Bradley Wiggins camp.”

With his latest column, Millar has inadvertently (or, perhaps, entirely deliberately) revealed to us his feelings towards Team Sky and British Cycling and just how disappointed he was during his own career that there was no last Tour outing for Britain’s best-known cyclist.

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