In Search of Robert Millar – Richard Moore

I realise I’ve been quite grumpy with my recent reviews. And in truth I have been struggling to find a book I can really engage with and lose myself in. This one though makes up for some of those disappointing reads.

This is a sort-of, semi-authorised biography of professional cyclist Robert Millar, written in 2007.

Millar was one of a few professional British cyclists who rode the grand tours in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the days before Brits really competed in the big races and before Team Sky became all-conquering.

The book describes how Moore became fascinated by Millar and his disappearance in the early 2000s. It tells the story of how Millar got into cycling, competitive cycling and professional cycling. It tries to explain Millar’s singularity and insularity, his determination and the contradictions within the man.

A large part of the book concentrates on Millar’s professional career. It describes what life was like for an outsider trying to make it in a world that didn’t welcome incomers from the English speaking world. Having read biographies about later cyclists and their well-funded teams it makes the living conditions of Millar’s era look Spartan and not conducive to the health and wellbeing of professionals who are putting mammoth stresses on their bodies day in and day out on a long Tour.

I loved finding out more about Britain’s most successful professional cyclist before the Brailsford era.

What I didn’t like, at the end of the book, was not really knowing what happened next. I wanted to know whether Millar had become more at ease with himself, did he have a more settled life? Did he find some sense of contentment somewhere? Why did he disappear so completely from view and is he safe and well. It seems odd thinking this about someone who could be such a grumpy so and so but somehow you care what happens or what happened.

A quick Google search just prior to writing this blog thankfully fills in some of those gaps. In the period between 2002, when Millar disappeared, and 2010 when articles by Robert Millar started appearing in journals again, Millar transitioned and became Philippa York. In 2017 she revealed her transition and became a commentator for ITV4 during that year’s Tour de France.

The articles about Philippa suggest she is in a better place, emotionally, than Robert Millar ever was. I hope this continues and wish her every success.

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