Bec-Hill-Climb-David-Millar

David Millar’s Hill Climb Farewell

An array of baked goods to make the Womens’ Institute weep, that was the point at which I noted just how eccentric British cycling still is in the era of ‘Wiggins Cool’. The cake stall perched precariously on White Lane’s foreboding gradient offered its ‘anti-bonk’ remedies at prices fitting of the inaugural open Bec CC Hill Climb in 1956. The sight which would have met any stranger peeping through the surrounding woodland would have been a surreal one for the uninitiated; a variety of men and women in garish lycra. Most attempting their best to sashay down the soggy leaf strewn hill upon rigid cleats, icy expressions disguising the peril at the prospect of slipping; sending hot tea and Victoria sponge skywards before the gathered crowd of self-proclaimed cycling buffs.

There is one man however who appears separate from the ongoing raft of peacocking enthusiasts; dapper and happily chatting with friends – the man is David Millar. A drizzly country lane in the middle of nowhere, hidden by a stretching canopy of indecisive autumnal leaves. Those which have fallen, now form a path of burnt amber cobbles which pave this vicious tongue of slicked tarmac. It is not just summer which ends here today.

David Millar is arguably Britain’s finest export to a cycling mad continent, yet there are no droves of people swarming around the charismatic Scot here, just the casual nod or smile of familiarity over butter icing and steam. He is the only British born rider to have worn all three Grand Tour leader’s jerseys, a career which could justify a bold and brash statement – statues, monuments, velodromes could all bear the name ‘David Millar’. But no, an understated cycling fête is instead the last hurrah; but why should he deem such a modest action so fitting?

Though a great, his name remains burdened by decisions of a past-life within the sport, a contributing factor to this modest departure perhaps. Doping stories cut through cycling’s history and its riders like the estuaries and tributaries of the Dutch coast. The professional redemption of David Millar has been well documented, primarily due to the positive impact he has had upon the sport and other riders who have found themselves boxed into similarly compromising positions. However, not everyone is so easily forgiving when looking upon Millar’s past; his critics accuse the British mainstream cycling press of being overly eager to serve the veteran his redemption so swiftly.

The UK’s recent spike of interest for the sport has resulted in a greater amount of public opinion of David Millar’s doping, but not necessarily one which is informed by experience of the era in which these crimes occurred. A growing notion of ‘one strike and you are out’ is understandable for people who have come to the sport before the backdrop of Armstrong’s downfall and the disintegration of a hierarchy which knowingly protected him. Though such crimes committed in a post-Armstrong era may well be treated more black and white, to convict or redeem any individual similar to Millar is an intensely complex debate.

It is a struggle to decide whether I truly remember David Millar pre-suspension; vicariously acquired memories from Eurosport’s highlights as a child being more likely. His career since however has a designated area of my mind to itself, earned by stylish time trials and breakaways garnished with panache. Though I enjoyed the sight of racing as a child, people such as Lance Armstrong or Jan Ulrich held little fascination for me, thus I desperately needed somebody to back.

The concept of supporting an entire team is new to the world of cycling, born predominantly from the brand dominance of Rapha and Team Sky. Drawing in the middle aged man who applies the same notion as backing your local Football or Rugby team. Unlike supporting a club which represents where in the world you come from, as well as a raft of common stereotypes, cycling has always been focused upon backing riders which exhibit the attributes you find iconic in a competitor. For me, David Millar expressed what I thought a true athlete should when in the midst of competition; he was equally determined when sacrificing all for a team leader, as he was when attacking with his nose to the grindstone.

But most of all, he remained a gentlemen of the peloton at all times, never inclined to benefit from another’s misfortune; nor shy away when things had gone wrong. Eloquent enough to inform and educate cycling fans; I was never interested in how the bland Armstrong had won another stage, tactical analysis and honesty of the day’s struggles was (still is) more engrossing.

Two hours had passed while standing on White Lane beneath the lazy drizzle. Between each rider’s moment of heroics, memories of Millar bubbled with greater effervescence. Yellow jerseys won against the clock, a disastrous mechanical in the miserable Italian rain, victory written in the name of Tom Simpson. Perhaps holding command of the British squad in Copenhagen will be looked most fondly upon, turning years of qualification points into a rainbow jersey made alchemy look child’s play. A lifelong blur of medals, jerseys, podiums and mountains of all kinds would appear to warrant a similarly extraordinary farewell gesture. That is exactly what it got.

Though a bamboozling announcement at first, ending his career in the middle of nowhere amongst a crowd of enthusiasts who consider waiting in a lay-by on a Sunday morning fun, it became obvious how typically ‘Millar-ish’ this move was. The great Scot had ignited his career when cycling  (especially Time Trialling) was a rather eccentric British past time for the few who did pursue it. Since then, Britain’s profile has grown to gargantuan proportions on both the road and track; bearing the household names of Wiggins, Trott, Froome and Pendleton. Yet one facet of the sport has remained uniquely British, untouched by the globalisation of the nation’s riders as a product; the Hill Climb.

A lung busting event perpetuated by the amateur, bereft of the effortless scything of air heard at road races, the soundtrack to a Hill Climb is the gasping of bodies attempting to draw in any extra ounce of energy from the gathered crowd. These riders’ engine rooms were screaming for more when nothing was left to give, while some seemed to be in a state of suspended animation, faces yet to be etched deep with the effort until the top had been crested. Other members of the Millar clan, clad in the effortlessly cool VC Rocacorba livery, had already done their best to soften the gradient for David’s run. The conveyor belt of those brave (or stupid) enough to challenge White Lane had been rapid, now providing everyone with the sudden dawning of who was next to duel this tarmac tongued beast.

Steadily at first, at the base of the hill, where out of sight a soft gale was blowing. This was no meteorological event, it was historic, Millar was on course. With the passing of thirty seconds this gale had built to a howling Mistral as a rangy figure broke through the foliage some distance below. Whether wall or Willow, brother or sister, everything was a perch in an attempt to see the main attraction. Never will I again hear such a cacophony emanate from a country lane in the middle of nowhere, like a unifying battle cry willing David Millar to the summit, they wanted this man to win.

 

Within the space of three seconds he was in front of me, parallel and then gone. Leaving the crowd to crane their ears towards the tannoy in anticipation of Millar’s time once he had burst past the cake stand and across the finish line. It was modest, he had not turned up to claim the win or trophy, rather to leave us with something instead. A glorious spark in time which put one of Britain’s finest riders before the backdrop of one of the nation’s most bizarre pursuits. He had ensured himself a farewell alongside fans who appreciated why he had chosen this gesture to draw a curtain across his career.

David Millar was once a keen enthusiast waiting in a lay-by for the start of his time trial. He has since accumulated a treasure trove of merits from the top tier of cycling, in both his darkest times and brightest too. But by riding the Bec CC Hill Climb he achieved possibly the most impressive feat of all; stepping back in time and becoming an amateur once more.

Advertisements
Madison-Genesis-New-Roster

Madison-Genesis Roster 2015

Though the world of rider transfers has been a quiet affair as of late, this has not necessarily meant teams have been struggling to recruit new talent. British team Madison Genesis are sufficiently happy with their latest acquisitions that they have already confirmed their roster for the 2015 season. Despite only being a presence on the domestic scene for two years thus far, Roger Hammond’s men have already displayed great strength and depth across the board; from town centre criteriums and one day classics (such as Lincoln Grand Prix) to Tour of Britain prominence. Such success has ensured that the services of Tobyn Horton, Tom Scully, Mike Northey, Tom Stewart and Liam Holohan have all been retained for another year. Alongside the afore mentioned riders, who are rapidly becoming fixtures under the management of Roger Hammond, are several additions of both experience and talented youth.

Mark McNally is the reigning Tour of Britain King of The Mountains after a successful year at An-Post, but will be leaving the continent (5 years based in Belgium) in order to bolster Madison Genesis’ impact upon the ToB. Alongside McNally is Northern Irishman Martyn Irvine, a versatile rider on both track and road who may find favour in the Tour Series criteriums next year. The purchase of Erick Rowsell from Team NetApp-Endura may prove to be an inspired move, as the 24 year old seems able to turn his hand to a variety of disciplines with great success. A transfer from within the domestic scene comes in the form of Matt Cronshaw; a fixture for several years now (despite being only 25) he has ridden for the various guises of Rapha, Raleigh, Sigma Sport and Giordana – no doubt offering a wealth of tactical nous because of it.

Possibly the biggest coup Hammond has achieved in the market is signing the extremely talented James Mclaughlin for 2015. The Guernsey born rider has achieved great success this year with impressive showings as a Time Trialist – most notably being the first non-WorldTour rider home (5th) at the Commonwealth Games ITT. The 19 year old Joe Evans has also made the move to Madison Genesis after progressing well from his 2013 National Time Trial title, while also displaying an aptitude on the track too.

The official Madison Genesis press release is as follows:

Madison Genesis 2015 Team Line-up

Matt Cronshaw
Matt joins the team after a strong 2014 season during which he was one of the most consistent riders throughout the year. Matt’s attacking and aggressive style of racing will make him a valuable asset for Madison Genesis in 2015.

Joe Evans
A National Junior Time Trial Champion in 2013, Joe attracted the attention of the national team for 2014 which saw him win the Isle of Man Junior Tour plus medalling in both the Team Pursuit and Madison at the European Championships. At just 19 years old Joe will be one of the youngest riders in the team.

Matt Holmes
Returning for his second year with the team, Matt more than earned his place with a very solid 2014 despite several setbacks early on, including being run over the day before his first international appearance with the team. His never-say-die attitude ensured he regained full fitness and was a reliable teammate.

Liam Holohan
Liam is returning for the third year to the Madison Genesis team. The coffee obsessed climber has had a very good 2014 season, winning a stage of the UCI categorised An Post Rás in Ireland and followed that up with a very creditable eleventh place in the National Road Race Championships.

Tobyn Horton
Despite an illness stricken 2014, fast finisher Tobyn was a consistent performer in criteriums in the UK, winning both the Canary Wharf stage of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series and the London Nocturne.

Martyn Irvine
Martyn is a hugely versatile rider, steadily building his reputation as a world class cyclist on both the track and the road. A world scratch race title in 2013 was confirmation of his quality. That quality has also translated to the road, a former multi-national criterium champion as well as high profile UCI races make him a hugely experienced member of the team.

Dom Jelfs
A member of the inaugural Madison Genesis team, Dom has been a valued member ever since. Despite an illness stricken 2014, Dom finished a very respectful sixth in the National Irish Road Race Championships. Now recovered, 2015 should see Dom back as one of the strongest riders in the UK peloton.

James Mclaughlin
James had a breakthrough year in 2014 by finishing tenth in the Commonwealth Games Individual Time Trial. That made him the highest placed non-world tour rider in that event – a testament to his ability to time trial. With a power to weight ratio equivalent to the best in the world, James is an exciting prospect when the road goes up.

Mark McNally
A former U23 European Track Champion, Mark has been forging his career on the road in Belgium for the last five years, with huge amounts of success. A versatile rider, Mark was part of a Tour Series winning team in the UK before heading off to Europe and winning the overall of La Mi-août En Bretagne. This year he also won the King of the Mountains classification at the Tour of Britain.

Mike Northey
Mike has been the corner stone of the team this past year. Equally effective in the Tour of Britain and criteriums, the versatile New Zealander’s positive outlook has seen him win at Beverly and podium in the classic Lincoln Grand Prix.

Tristan Robbins
A bright young prospect for the future, Tristan won both the National Junior Road Race and Points Race this year. Despite his tender years, he recently finished a highly commendable fourth in the Points Race at the Open National Championship Points. In 2015 it will be interesting to see how far he can go on the road.

Erick Rowsell
One of the most accomplished juniors of his generation, winning both the Junior National Time Trial and Road Race (2007 and 2008) Erick confirmed that promise by winning a stage of the Tour of Normandie as a professional. His tactical nous and experience makes Erick a great addition to the team.

Tom Scully
Tom returns for his second year with Madison Genesis after a hugely successful 2014 which saw him win the Commonwealth Games Points race. The formidable Kiwi is accomplished at winning races alone and in bunch sprints and will once again bring a huge amount of firepower to the team.

Tom Stewart
After a breakthrough 2013 season, Tom firmly established himself on both the UK and international circuit with a fantastic season with Madison Genesis. He won two rounds of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series, achieved a top ten in the National Road Race Championships and capped it off with a podium spot on stage six of the Tour of Britain after a stage long breakaway with arguably two of the biggest stars of world cycling.

Overall, Roger Hammond seems to have successfully built himself a squad which will cement the team’s place amongst the favourites of the Tour Series and Premier Calendar, but also add fuel to their achievable ambitions of being competitive at the Tour of Britain. An interesting note is the prominence of riders who are either currently riding track programmes or have previous top level success on the boards – perhaps a way of targeting those he think best suited to the obligatory criteriums his team shall face.

The most notable departures from Madison Genesis this season are hot prospect Alex Peters (joins newly formed SEG Racing), track specialist Andy Tennant (says he will be part of Bradley Wiggins’ new venture) and the fan favourite Ian Bibby (transfer unknown currently).

News Round-Up

Froome Changes Mind and Goals:

Having previously been touted to avoid 2015’s Tour de France due to a lack of time trials, Chris Froome is now rumoured to not only be set to compete in France but also ride September’s subsequent Vuelta too. The British rider rode both of the afore mentioned Grand Tours in 2014 due to his horrendous misfortune suffered in the opening week of the Tour de France, leaving him with a shot at the Vuelta in order to save his season. Froome exceeded expectation in Spain, riding himself into some solid form which saw him secure a podium place despite falling short of Alberto Contador’s attacking prowess. With an ill-fitting Tour de France and recent good experiences from riding the Vuelta, Chris Froome looks set to ride both again in 2015, but with a stronger aim upon September’s Grand Tour due to hosting a favourable time trial for the Sky man compared to Le Tour.

Team-Sky-News

Alonso is Still Dreaming:

The closest thing to a rock and roll superstar joining the world of cycling was expected to be Formula 1’s Fernando Alonso starting his own professional racing team at WorldTour level. The Spaniard’s attempts to get a new team registered in the last year have been repeatedly unsuccessful and now it appears we are set to wait even longer for ‘Team Alonso’. Despite securing a license from the outgoing Euskaltel-Euskadi team and then backing from Middle Eastern financiers, the plan is on the rocks yet again with confirmation that there will be no team in 2015.

York Get Their Sums’ Wrong:

It does not take much prompting from the world of cycling to agree just how great a success Yorkshire’s Grand Depart was for Britain, though it has come to light that this was not necessarily mirrored in the finances. Large underestimation’s of how many stewards and barriers would be required was one such glaring miscalculation, but the greatest error came in the shape of an £187,000 loss for the so-called ‘Grand Departy’ which cost £206,000 to organise but returned less than £20,000. Despite such poor planning, the experience of hosting the Tour’s departure seems to have left its mark upon Yorkshire; helping to raise the county’s profile internationally and boost the profits of local businesses.

Team LottoNL-Jumbo

Yello-No! – Team LottoNL-Jumbo Costume Change

Despite having only conducted their debut team presentation a little over a week ago, Team LottoNL-Jumbo have already encountered the wrong side of cycling’s governing body – the UCI. Team Belkin’s transformation into the new Dutch lottery funded team had also included a transition from the previous green and black jerseys (clashing pleasingly with Bianchi’s celeste frames) to a yellow and black ensemble. Despite being festooned with the usual array of garish cycling sponsors, the UCI deemed this was not enough to prevent the team being confused with the yellow leader’s jersey of several high profile races including the Tour de France and Paris Nice.

Belkin-Bianchi

Could this colour clash be bettered next year?

S0 back to the drawing board it is for Team LottoNL-Jumbo, but whether or not they will chose a radically different design is yet to be seen. Famously ONCE had to alter their Tour de France clashing jersey’s to a Giro pink exclusively for the three week race; on this occasion the UCI have not even allowed the team such a compromise. Britain’s Team HARIBO-Beacon had a similar colour palette to that of Belkin’s new incarnation last season, but using a greater amount of black; something it is said the UCI is eager to quell in regards to the surge of black kits amongst the peloton as of late. Suffice to say Team LottoNL-Jumbo have a headache before a single wheel has been turned in anger.

Team-Haribo-Beacon

No need to worry about confusion in Le Tour de France here.