Tour de France: A Millar light Tour does not hurt cycling’s progression – Downing

Great Britain cyclist David Millar
Great Britain cyclist David Millar
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The decision to drop veteran David Millar earlier this week has decreased the number of Britons in the race. Nick Westby reports.

A Tour de France in Yorkshire was sold on the names.

Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish, David Millar, Ben Swift, Steve Cummings, Alex Dowsett, Geraint Thomas and Pete Kennaugh.

Stars British cycling fans had grown up on would be right here on our very own doorstep, competing in the Tour de France.

Yet as the race has drawn closer, the preparations have been fine-tuned and the teams finalised – those big names of British cycling have falle by the way side.

Because as it stands, just three Britons will stand on the startline of a Tour de France here in Britain.

Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Mark Cavendish are the ones to have made the grade.

Wiggins’s ommission was confirmed last Friday when Sir Dave Brailsford named a Team Sky squad heavily loaded with domestiques to support Froome.

Thomas made the grade, but there was no space for former winner and pioneer Wiggins, Kennaugh or Rotherham’s Swift – the two men who finished first and second at the British road race championships on Sunday.

Then, on Monday, two more Britons who were ‘nailed on’ were told they would have to make do with the television coverage.

Dowsett was pulled by Spanish team Movistar because he has an infection, and Millar, who was all set to make a 13th and final appearance in the Tour de France, was withdrawn from Garmin Sharp’s squad because of a dip in form.

Throw in a broken elbow for Cummings at BMC Racing, and no room at the inn for the explosive talents of the Yates brothers, Adam and Simon, at Orica GreenEDGE, plus an omission from the NetApp Endura squad of Yorkshire’s own Scott Thwaites, and suddenly counting the amount of British riders that are out of the race becomes a more arduous task than counting how many have made it.

For Dean Downing, a long-standing member of the British peloton, the amount of withdrawals and cyclists being overlooked, while disappointing, should not detract from the rising standards in the sport in this country.

“It’s more bad luck and circumstance than anything,” says Downing, 39, who has been a leading member of Welcome to Yorkshire’s on-the-ground support staff.

“Teams want to go into the Tour de France with the best possible line-ups to suit their primary goal.

“Sky are built around Froome. David Millar has not got the form and people like Steve Cummings and Alex Dowsett have been very unlucky with injury and illness.

“But British cycling is still strong. Take the British championships at the weekend. There were 16 guys who are all ride at world tour level, plus the likes of Scott Thwaites and a couple of other from NetApp who are from the level below.

“Compare that with just over a decade ago when Roger Hammond and Jeremy Hunt were the only two at world tour level, that’s a significant increase.”

Of all those to miss out, the absence of Millar struck a particular chord.

Wiggins’s absence might be more apparent, but the lateness of Millar’s ommission, just three days before the team presentation, seemed a cruel footnote to one of the most remarkable careers in the sport.

Millar has sampled the highest of highs, wearing the yellow jersey after a win on his first stage in the race, to the lowest of lows, being villified by his nation for falling into the same doping trap that engulfed the sport.

His career can be split into two portions – before and during the time when he was sucked into the inevitable doping of the era, to post-ban, which saw Millar rebuild his reputation to the point where his position in the peloton is now of evangelist.

Millar’s career is so enchanting because it spans so many eras of the sport.

His mentor at his first pro team, Cofidis, was Cyrille Guimard, who guided Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon to Tour victories in the 1970s and was also the guiding hand behind 1980s superstar Gerg LeMond.

Millar had regular battles with Lance Armstrong, beating the defending champion in the 2000 Tour de France prologue – his first ever stage – to slip into the yellow jersey, but because he was of that era, his legacy is forever stained.

Then, in 2011, he played a pivotal role in helping Mark Cavendish become Britain’s first world road race champion since Simpson with a typically selfless ride. He was also welcomed back into the Olympic fold when he contested the road race in London.

Downing added: “It’s very sad for David – as a former stage winner, he deserved his chance to go out with one last Tour.”