TWENTY & NO QUESTIONS™ WITH DAVID MILLAR
You are Scottish. You were born in Malta. You grew up in Hong Kong. You live in Spain. What are you and how do you identify yourself? Like, in terms of nationality, and maybe more importantly, in terms of culture? And please don’t say “a citizen of the world,” you’re better than that! Unless you can tell us what it “really” means to be a citizen of the world (COTW)—we’re suspicious about whether or not that’s an actual and real thing. Perhaps your accent, which is tough to pin down, is Exhibit A in this regard. Here’s another way to think of it, who and what do you cheer for?
I’m Scottish, that’s for sure, I know this because no matter where I am in the world when I meet Scots I find similarities that could only exist through deeply embedded cultural history and behaviour, e.g. we drink a lot and become great friends yet never need see each other ever again. Scots are weird like that, we’re the most anti-social social people created, very similar to the Irish and Aussies yet so different in that we don’t want to actually live near each other. Saying that, I don’t really know where my home is, Hong Kong and Biarritz were the closest. Now I’m making one in Catalunya. I like it here, it’s relaxed, we renovated a house, I’ve become a gardener, I’d be happy never to move again.
What was your dream car growing up, what do you drive now, and do you think about your next car? Manual or automatic? Motorcycles, yes or no. What about boats?
A Lotus Esprit. My Dad had Lotuses, so I liked them. James Bond did too actually, the Roger Moore Bond, it was white and turned into a submarine, that was coolasfuck. Then Maserati, I loved the Ghibli of the 1990’s, mainly because nobody else did and it had hints of a Delorean to it with its boxy shape. I had a Porsche 996 GT3 for a little while, I didn’t crash it, so that was a success. I’ve written off three other cars. Now I’m living my dream, I have a Maserati Ghibli, the modern one though, and a Citroen Berlingo in VCRC club colours, and a Citroen 2CV. I aspire to owning a Cafe Racer motorbike, one day, before that I’ll do motorcross as that’s The Sport in Catalunya and all my friends do it. I don’t want a boat, I grew up with boats, I now have friends with boats.
As far as drinking goes, your rock bottom came at a fine restaurant in Monaco, when Armstrong and Merckx saw you very drunk in the middle of the day. Not to diminish your problems at the time, but isn’t it amazing that even your rock bottom was a classy affair, in a beautiful location with cameos by famous professional cyclists? Most people we know who hit rock bottom do so in an alley behind a bar at like 3:00 am, you know, about to give a handjob to a drug dealer. We understand and appreciate that it (life) is all relative—your rock bottom is no less emotionally painful than anyone else’s. Anyway, what got you out of that situation—family, friends, a commitment, a goal?
To be honest I’d been doing some time in some pretty dodgy places as well, those are the dangerous places because you actually feel like you’ve got your shit together compared to the skank around you. Problem was I took that confidence with me, so when I did go back into general society I thought I had my shit together. Monte Carlo exclusive beach situation wasn’t rolling with my derelict style, which was a good thing, made me realise I was the skank. That was a healthy realisation to have, I’d become something I abhorred, there was no more looking down waiting to hit the bottom, I’d been down there long enough to become a bottom feeder, it was time to start looking up again and to stop scaring and worrying the people close to me, including Lance. It was his call to my sister to say he was worried about me that triggered her to call me up and tell me to get my head out of my arse and stop being a fucking loser.
You’ve said that as a kid, cycling struck you as “romantic but also tragic”. Looking back on your career, do you still find that to be true? Has your experience as a professional shuffled the deck (so to speak), to the point that things you thought were romantic as a neo-pro now seem tragic, or the other way around? Can you give us examples?
I think I created my own self-fulfilling prophecy. Racing Through The Dark was the fulfillment.
Which is worse: Le Dandy or Millar-Time? Did you ever wish or try to think of nicknames for yourself as a kid? If you could give yourself one now what would it be? Be honest! Along those lines, do you ever name your bikes, or cars, or other inanimate objects?
Blackhawk. That would be a cool nickname – in fact Chrisitan Meier came up with that when I said he or Vande Velde needed a nickname so we didn’t have two Christians on the bus confusing everything, he said he’d like to be called Blackhawk, I heard Black Cock. He’s still Black Cock to me, six years later. Millar-Time was good, only because Ryder used it and he said it Ryderstyle, which made it sound cool. Le Dandy is so French, they should never nickname anybody or anything.”
Speaking of names and name-calling and slander, what’s the worst thing that’s ever been said about you? Conversely, what’s the best or most accurate thing that was ever written about you (don’t cheat and tell us it was in your autobiography)?
Ouf, too much name-calling and slander has been directed at me to mention. In fact I stopped paying attention to it years ago, I realised they were a minority empowered by the internet, in the recent words of a father of one of the GB boys I’m now looking after, “…keyboard warriors are a scourge in all discourse. I’ve often found the majority on any division is silent, rather like the visible verses the invisible dimensions of an iceberg.” It hurts to read what people say, that’s why I stopped reading it. Sadly it stresses my family out as they can’t help but read the stuff, like moths to a flame. Tom Southam wrote a great description of me in an article once, I’ll have to track it down, it was one of the first times I felt somebody had described me in a way that surprised me with it’s accuracy.
Professional skateboarders do this thing called “focusing.” If they can’t make a trick and they’ve been at it for hours and maybe they’re filming for a video segment so everybody is waiting for them, in a fit of anger/frustration they will stomp on their board in-between the wheels (like karate kick-style) and break their board in two. They call this focusing, it’s like, a “thing.” Anyway, who had the best form when it came to throwing a bike in anger. You, Riis, or Wiggins? Or did Kittel beat all of you with his Pete Townshend bike-smash antics?
I suppose each of us had our id imprinted in the style with which we dispatched our bikes. Mine was very much, “I’m out. Oh wait, I’m still in.”
Within professional sports, it has been difficult for gay athletes to be out of the closet while still competing. Do you think we’ll see an openly gay professional cyclist in the near future? Would this be an issue in the professional peloton now?
I would imagine so, according to statistics there should be quite a few gay cyclists. I can’t imagine a sport more suited to it really, pro cyclists are all quite gay in a pro athlete kind of way. The pro peloton would be a great place to be gay, I’d support them for sure, I have a feeling the majority of the peloton would also be supportive. I’d like to think so, maybe that’s my natural naivety (read optimism) shining through.
A psychologist once told you that you were completely normal, which came as a shock to you. Why? Did you think you were unusual, exceptional or perhaps broken? Let’s be honest, when it comes down to it, all of us are a little crazy. What’s up with you? What are your problems? What’s on your mind? We’re worried about water (in terms of a natural resource), water is the next thing right, the new oil. And also, nobody respects us, we think about legitimacy a lot. What are your “things?”
I think the soil in my garden is too clayey and that we’re going to have dig our well deeper in order to get enough water to irrigate as well as drink and wash. A job, I need a job that pays money, I don’t really have one, I miss having a pay cheque. My oldest child, Archibald, who is four, already speaks three languages and asks me to do the same, this is a concern as he’s better than me already so I speak French to him as he doesn’t speak that, and yet he understands, this is great I know, but I feel bad I’m not good enough for him. I need to read more books, I don’t do that anymore, I prefer gardening.
In retrospect, do you think that perhaps you were far too oily and moist-looking on the cover of your book?
Are you joking? We could have gone for much more.
If you wrote a guidebook or some guidelines regarding how to be a proper cycling fan – what would it say, what would it be about? Would you mind outlining some do’s and dont’s for fans out there? Are you aware that sometimes people run alongside of you in the mountains totally naked or in a costume or with a viking hat on? Did you like it? Should fans be encouraged or discouraged from doing those kinds of antics?
Create a base camp, picnic table, chairs – do this off the road, please.
Take a picnic, include wine, cool box to hold wine.
Have a speaker, play recordings of a French radio station commentating on a bike race, doesn’t matter which race or when it was, it’s for the atmosphere, of course if there is a radio station that has commentary listen to this, atmosphere AND information. Although once you’ve begun drinking the wine you won’t care about the information, only atmosphere matters.
When the race arrives cheer everybody, the guys at the front will be so focused they won’t notice you, the guys in the middle won’t be that bothered, but the guys off the back will be relying on you to lift their morale. Do it for them.
Don’t think you’re just going to watch bike racers, you’re going to watch a bike race, that’s the difference, make it a day out and don’t stress.
Which leads me to planning, anticipate road closures and weather conditions, you’ll be stuck out there, better the planning less the stress, in other words: BE PREPARED, you’re not in a stadium, you’re like Bear Grylls out there.
Wear a cycling cap, your favourite team’s jersey, that sort of thing.
Go naked if you please, dress up at will, it all adds to the atmos.
Don’t stand in front of the bike racers.
Don’t run in front or next to the bike racers, behind is ok.
Don’t keep asking stupid questions to your fellow fans, bluff if you have to, and if you don’t have a very favourite team or rider make one up, adds to the atmos.
You were a consultant for that cycling movie that was made about Lance. At any point, did you consider telling them something that was completely erroneous, just to see if they’d take your word? Like, “Uh, when professionals start a big climb, they always point to their butthole three times for good luck. It’s a pretty universal thing that purists will recognize if it’s missing from the movie.” Did your experience working as consultant convince you that world’s perception of professional cycling is accurate? Or were you like, “Oh man, people have no clue”.
I don’t think many people have a clue, the film people know more than most fans know, they got that into it. The funny thing was, the more they got into it and the more they learnt the more they thought the whole pro cycling world was completely and utterly bonkers. Seeing it through their eyes I began to agree. There was no need to create anything completely erroneous as to be fair they were so blown away about all of it that there was no need to make shit up in order for me to have fun at their expense. The “butthole three times” scenario would have been too easy to make happen…
What’s the best, most invaluable advice you were ever given about racing. From who? What were the circumstances?
Maurizio Fondriest, he was my idol, and we were rooming together at one of the races my first year pro (his last it turned out). He asked me how the race went. I said, “I was so bad at the beginning, then towards the end I felt better.” Maurizio replied, 'Good, doesn’t matter how you are at the beginning, it’s how you are at the end that matters.' There’s a life lesson there.”
You were/are allergic to the sun, the most goth of all allergies to have. FYI, my girlfriend’s mom has this same deal, she’s always wearing white gloves to the beach and shit like that. Another side note, she lives in Florida where it’s sunny 345 days a year, what’s up with that? Anyway, you must own the largest collection of sunblock known to man. Any tips you can give us regarding sunblock, suncare, skincare or the like? Do you own white gloves for the beach?
I do wear one of those surf shirt things, itchyscratchything? What are they called? I should know that, I lived in Biarritz for seven years for god’s sake, mind you, I didn’t surf once. L’Oreal do this spray on stuff, it’s clear, alcohol based. Nothing less than 30SPF, spray that shit on, don’t touch it and let the alcohol evaporate. It creates almost a second skin. That was the only thing that worked, could last a seven hour mountain stage in the Tour de France, I tried EVERYTHING else, nothing else could last, only when they came out with that stuff was I saved. Downside of being a vampire.
You are a member of Mr. Porter’s Style Council, a list that includes the “most stylish and connected men” in the world. Do you take it as a point of pride that you were asked to join? Do you know other members, and if so, what do you guys talk about? Are you ranked? Does style require money?
When you’re younger style doesn’t require money, the older you get the more expensive it becomes. Beautiful clothes cost money, and then there’s the upkeep, they have to be washed differently, hung properly, packed carefully, it’s a pain, but I suppose that’s the way it should be, you learn to look after your stuff, like the olden days, I mean, how the hell did guys in the American West wear suits and hats? They must have had to be so careful, place was dirty, and they didn’t have good washing facilities. I think about that sort of thing.
Don’t you think that the song “5-Piece Chicken Dinner” really breaks up the flow of Paul’s Boutique?
It does, but Egg Man had already set the tone, they were going full Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. They were mind-bending the hip hop universe.
What do you miss about being a professional? Or racing? Are they 100% the same, or do you miss aspects of the job that AREN’T racing?
I miss my team, the camaraderie. I miss the races where I was at the front actually racing, making decisions, attacking, I loved that more than anything. I miss the days I knew I was going fast in a TT, they were special, being in that place of flow.
Is living in Girona a bit like an old lady’s knitting circle where everyone gossips? No names needed, but… will you tell us the five dumbest/lamest/most-dangerous/WTF things you ever witnessed a pro in or out of a race do? You don’t even have to tell us the race, or the year if you don’t want to.
I once heard a guy ask me what was French for baguette. FACT. Brave New World, the lingua franca of the peloton used to be French, now it’s English, not so sure that’s a good thing.
At night, before bed, my kids and I do this ritual called High Points and Low Points. We go around the room, and each of us shares with the group our highlights, the good ones and the bad ones. high points, low point. Sooooooooooooo David, you just had a pretty amazing career as a professional cyclist. What was your single greatest high point, and what was your single suckiest low point?