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Britain’s David Millar is relishing his appointment as the sole leader of France’s number one cycling team Cofidis – and an upcoming season which he hopes to top with Olympic time trial gold.
The new-look Cofidis team was unveiled here on Friday with some high-powered new additions intended to make the French outfit a serious rival for the likes of T-Mobile and Quick Step in the various one-day and stage races during the 2004 season.
Australians Stuart O’Grady (Credit Agricole) and Matthew White (U.S. Postal) have joined the fold, and the team now boasts three reigning world champions – Millar, newly-crowned world road race champion Igor Astarloa of Spain (Saeco), and track star Laurent Gane.
Millar claimed the time-trial gold at the world championships in Hamilton in October, a well-deserved reward for the 27-year-old Scot, who seems to be slowly reaching his true potential. Now Cofidis’ new team captain is hoping that fresh responsibility will help him claim the ultimate prize of Olympic gold in Athens.
“I love it, being the guy who everyone comes to, being the guy who looks after everything. I feel at home in that role,” said Millar, who added that he discovered some newfound patriotism on a recent trip to the United Kingdom.
“I went up to Scotland, and visited Edinburgh and suddenly thought: ‘Well, this is my home, you know?’ And I suddenly started to get all patriotic,” he told AFP on Friday. “That’s when the importance of the Olympics really kicked in, and I realized I actually want to do the Olympics for all the right reasons. So that people can get to know about my sport, get to know about me.
“I was getting sick of cycling getting very little kudos in the UK and what we do as cyclists, not getting any respect. So I think that getting something at the Olympics will make people look at us differently.”
Millar will kick off his season looking to taste victory in the Four Days of Dunkirk stage race, and will take part in the Dauphine Libere as a warm-up for the Tour de France before tackling the Tour in July. From there it’s on to prepare for Athens, a challenge which he admits has been on his mind for some time.
“One of the reasons I wanted to win the world championships (in Hamilton) was to use it as a dry run for the Olympics, and to be at the Olympics as the reigning world champion,” Millar said. “I know how it works in this business, and I wanted to scare some people off by winning (the world title) convincingly.
“If I’m announcing now my objectives for the Olympics, some of the big guys out there might start to change their objectives. So I wanted to like stamp my foot on it.”
Cofidis team manager Alain Deloeuil was one of Millar’s doubters this time last year, and the diminutive Frenchman maintains that the big Scot will have to again put his money where his mouth is.
“David is relishing the role, and it’s going to be a big year for him,” Deloeuil said. “But, as I’ve said before, he has to put his words into action. That’s what it’s all about.”
Whatever Millar’s pretensions, it’s all too clear that flying the Union Jack in Greece comes top in his aspirations. It’s all a far cry from 2002, when a seemingly unpatriotic Millar pulled out of the Commonwealth Games at the last minute.
“The key to it all is the relationship I have with certain people in the national team, people I get on really well with like Dave Brailsford – who is basically the boss of British cycling,” Millar said. “I just got on really well with him, and he managed to convince me to come across (to Britain) last November and I spent a month with him. I mean I haven’t spent more than five days in Britain in the past eight or nine years, so it was a big deal.” – Copyright 2003/AFP