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A Wander Through Robert Millar’s Palmarès

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Drew Wilson’s ‘Robert Millar Appreciation Group’ has generated a lot of interest on FaceBook, with 1,185 members – by now everyone must know he was Britain’s greatest stage race rider until Team Sky and their marginal gains came along – we had another name for that ‘back in the day’, but I digress…

Fourth in the Tour de France, second in the Giro d’Italia and twice second in the Vuelta; king of the mountains in the first two and a stage winner in all three.

Fabulous palmarès by any measure but there was much more to the man that with brilliant Worlds rides, excellent rides in the Classics and semi-Classics not to mention podiums, stage and overall wins in most of Europe’s great stage races outside of the ‘big three.’

Here at VeloVeritas we thought we’d take a wander through his career and remind our readers – and ourselves – of what a superb rider he really was.

It was 1976 when he first appeared on the palmarès radars as Scottish Junior Road Race Champion; within a year he was winning the Davie Bell Memorial over the Ayrshire Hills, the classic Tour of the Campsies TT and the Scottish Hill Climb Championship.

In 1978 he’d moved in to a different league with wins in the Drummond Trophy, Tour of the Peak and British Road Race Championship and was second in the season long ‘Star Trophy’ – predecessor to the ‘Premier Calendar’ and a much harder fought competition than it is now.

He also smashed the course record in the Tour of the Trossachs time trial. 

Robert heads to 4th place in the 1979 Amateur Worlds at Valkenberg.

It was apparent that he had too much talent to waste it on this side of the Channel and for 1979 he was based in France with the Parisian ACBB team – with wins in French amateur Classics like Paris-Evreux, GP de Lillers, GP de Grasse; there was a major stage race result with his win in the Route de France ahead of men like Regis Clere and Phil Anderson; and there was even a prestigious time trial win in the Chrono Madeilinois with the icing on the cake his fourth spot in the World Amateur Road Race Championships in Valkenburg – and but for a pulled foot in the finale he’d have been on the podium.

In between all of that he came home to defend his British Amateur Road race title, asking race commissar, the late Gerry McDaid, as he handed him a neatly folded tricot, if he could be presented with this jersey at the finish as it was a nice fit…

As would be expected for an ACBB rider, he joined the Peugeot professional team for 1980 with second in the Tour of the Vaucluse behind classy team mate Michel Laurent, his best result on paper for the year.

Robert Millar
In ACBB colours during the 1979 Paris – Evreux.

Even for a man as talented as Millar it’s a big step up from the amateur ranks to race among the professionals – but he confounded conventional wisdom with a brilliant ride in the 1980 Worlds at Sallanches, a seven-and-a-half hour epic where Bernard Hinault destroyed the field – 107 starters, 15 finishers – with Millar the second last man to succumb to the Breton on the savage climb, taking 11th place among the very best riders in the world.  

We could see that he really was ‘special.’

Robert Millar
Robert’s iconic Peugeot kit in 1980.

The 1981 saw top 10 finishes in the Tour de L’Aude, Tour of Romandie and Dauphine Libere with 1982 seeing him second in the Tour de L’Avenir behind the phenomenon which was a young Greg Lemond.

Second place in the 1983 Dauphine got him his Tour ride and he continued to climb the ladder to the stars with a stage win and a top 20 finish.

The early signs were good for 1984 with a spell in white at Paris-Nice as well as stages in the Midi Libere and Romandie before he produced a stunning ride in the Tour de France with a stage win, a win in the king of the mountains competition and fourth on final GC.

We believed he could win a Grand Tour – and his sixth place in the Worlds on Montjuich in Barcelona added further credence to that idea. 

Robert Millar
Robert shows determination while leading Marino Lejaretta, Eric Caritoux and Francesco Moser on the Montjuic climb at the World Championships in Barcelona, on his way to 6th place. September 1984.

The following season, 1985 is dominated by events in the Vuelta a Espana but that overshadows a win in the Tour of Catalonia and top 10 finishes in Paris-Nice and Dauphine as well as another top 10 in the Worlds.

Yes, that Vuelta rather than my pontifications let’s say what the protagonists said.

Millar looked to be heading for overall victory but on the penultimate stage punctured; Pedro Delgado (Reynolds & Spain) – who was in sixth spot some six minutes down on GC – slipped away (unknowns to Millar until way too late in the day) with compatriot Jose Recio (Kelme & Spain) and took enough time out of the Scot to snatch the lead.

Unsurprisingly Millar was devastated;

“I’ll never return to Spain. 

“Every Spanish team rode against me.”

Delgado was honest in his assessment;

I didn’t win this Vuelta, the Peugeot team lost it.”

Sean Kelly finished ninth that year, winning three stages along the way, his comments are pragmatic and whilst he felt Delgado was an unworthy winner he observed that Peugeot should have been on their guard for an ambush from the insular world of the Spanish pro class.

Kelly also noted that the race was getting more TV coverage than ever and that the camera motos gave unfair advantage to any break which contained Spaniards;

‘”On the second last stage when Delgado and Recio had a lead of 1:40 on the group I was in with 50 kilometres to go I felt sure we could recapture them. 

“My teammates Caritoux and Garde were in the group with me and chasing very hard, all the time believing that a stage win was possible. 

“But what happened? 

“The two leaders almost doubled their advantage.

“That for us was impossible to understand.”

That there were combines and Machiavellian alliances in play there’s no doubt but most of the blame must lay with Peugeot DS Roland Berland who had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

As for team support, I was going through the stage placings for the race and in the stage 17 time trial where Millar successfully defended the jersey with a fine third place ride despite a punc