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A rider wrapped up in an enigma
on 31 May 2007
The riddle being, the whereabouts of Robert Millar, the finest grand tour cyclist ever to come from Britain. The enigma being the contrast of Robert Millar's personas - the same man that performed so spectacularly and explosively in the arena of the high mountain passes in the biggest bike races in the world was also the man who gave monosyllabic answers to journalistic queries. In a way Robert Millar refused to provide his fans with any gratifying, instant emotional fix. Something that sits poorly with the modern confessional culture. The questions are simple enough, but Richard Moore's book `In Search of Robert Millar' takes us on a fascinating journey.
Richard Moore is a journalist, a breed that was traditionally afforded very little sympathy from the man that is Robert Millar. This is the perceived wisdom, but Moore digs deeper than that. There's no doubt that Robert Millar was a complex man and not easy to know, but when he spoke it was always something worth listening to. He never provided the usual `lazy' race analysis. He was always more pithy and constructively critical. Perhaps this is why he wrote so well once he stopped riding a bike for a living and maybe this is also why he never really made the opportunity to impart his undoubted wisdom to the British domestic racing scene.
Moore's book does a fine job of exploring the seeming contradictions of the lives of Robert Millar. He's a self professed fan of Millar the man and Millar the athlete, but this doesn't get in the way of his task, indeed it makes him research and write all the harder. I've read quite a lot of Richard Moores' journalism and the book is certainly journalistic, as well as covering ground that is familiar to any cycle fan, he gives me the feeling that I am being written to directly about my `heroes'. For me, this is good sports journalism. More than this, good journalism is story telling and Moore also paints the bigger picture, giving the reader a context for events. In this respect I was reminded of the writing of Maynard Hershon, of the (late lamented) Winning magazine fame. Yes, Richard Moore's book is that good. Along with many others, I have a fascination with Robert Millar and Moore explores the rumours and innuendo around the man. The book has sent me off on my own trip down memory lane, truly lovely stuff.
Even if you don't have such an appetite for attempting to solve riddles, this is a cracking good read. There is a lot of raw emotion, with interesting and valid parallels being drawn with those of similar mercurial climbing tragic talent: Pantani, Jiminez and Claveyrolat. There is also a lot of sometimes surprising character references from Robert Millar's old teammates, friends and managers. Robert Millar, for reasons that become clear when reading the book, had nothing to do with the writing of the book. A fact that make this volume all the more valid as far as I'm concerned. You are left to draw your own conclusions. This is one of the reasons why I found this to be more satisfying than Chris Sidwells' A Peiper's Tale', which, although an excellent read about another ex pro cyclist having wrestled and resolved many of his demons, is somehow too conclusive and not as imaginative or inspiring. An email correspondence with Robert Millar in the end of the book is really quite touching and leaves the intrigue open.
This book was well overdue in my opinion. On the internet, in chat rooms, out on a club run, you could take part in the `Robert Millar debate' with all the curiosity and frustrations that this would entail. The debate that would flare up, die down and reignite at some later date. It's all here - the rumours, the nonsense and the passion. Yes, for all that was perceived about Millar he is a man of passion. An over used phrase certainly, and one that might not sit well with such a phlegmatic Scot, but in the opinion of this reviewer, it is appropriate. You won't `know' Robert Millar by the end of the book, but you will understand a lot more about him, about the sport of cycling and what makes some of the athletes tick. This truly is the book that we've all been looking for. Perversely there's a part of me that would find it pretty disappointing if he now turned up in the Eurosport studios. Buy the book and read it, you will not be disappointed.