He’s got the chequered past, the style conscious image, and a flair for the dramatic gesture; as cyclists go David Millar has always had a touch of the movie star about him. The soon-to-retire-Scot has recently been dipping his toes into that glamorous world as the resident expert on the forthcoming Lance Armstrong biopic, and as an ex-doper turned prominent anti-doping campaigner you could say he’s well placed to advise on all things Armstrong.
Millar sounds quite taken with this new dimension to his career, saying in a recent Guardian interview, “I get to be (director) Stephen Frears’ right hand on set, liaise with him, discuss things with the scriptwriter; I’m literally hanging out with the executives on a major motion picture…it’s another world, mightily impressive.”
Which sounds like fun. Perhaps his retirement at the end of the 2014 season should come as no surprise, considering he has a choice between killing himself and his 37 year old legs on the bike everyday, or hanging around on movie sets and mingling with the stars. But the lure of some new glamorous lifestyle is not the real reason why he’s retiring.
The simple fact of his age is one thing, but with it comes a re-assessment of priorities and it sounds like family life (he has two young boys at home) is exerting a pull; no surprise considering that Millar the pro-cyclist spends most of the year hotel hopping his way around the world.
David Millar Project (www.davidmillarfilm.com)
But before the drift into domestic bliss he has to get himself fit and firing for his swansong year, where he will be very much the star of the show; his final season in the pro peloton is to be captured in what is being described as, ‘an immersive film, capturing the very essence of pro cycling’ .
As director Finlay Pretsell and the movie camera’s follow Millar on his farewell lap of the pro circuit, it’s safe to assume it will be anything but a clichéd fly-on-the-wall documentary; he and Pretsell have bigger ambitions, as they explained recently to Rouleur magazine, saying “we want to create something that people finish and go ‘…that’s what pro bike racing is like. I had no idea it was like that’…(and) to feel you’ve actually ridden the race.”
So what exactly is an immersive movie? We can only wait and see, but there is talk of cameras on bikes right inside that seething mass of bodies that makes up the pro peloton – which through the gaze of a TV camera can look like a pretty civilised, calm and gentle place. I am led to believe it is anything but.
Presumably the story is not yet written, with the ups and downs of Millar’s final year yet to unfold, but with plans to race the Tour de France, the Vuelta Espana and the Commonwealth Games, among others, he has no shortage of glory to aim for. I imagine the team behind the project are hoping that, in a sport where crashes are more commonplace than ever, Millar can at least stay upright for most of the year (although if and when the falls happen, they will tell their own tale).
Of course the film will ultimately follow the path of a cyclist into retirement so how will Millar the man, as apposed to Millar the racer, come into the equation? As Finlay Pretsell describes it (again, in Rouleur), “…I’m much more interested in discovering that human element in David through the race…we might catch glimpses of home from phone calls or people coming to visit him at races or something like that…but I think it’s that kind of (at-the-races) psychology which is fascinating”.
So it’s a film about David Millar the bike racer, but Millar is Millar, and so whatever story they tell will involve at least a brush with doping. As he says, “…it allows us to explain to people in as brief a way as we can… about where I’ve been. It’s kind of a positive finish: I was a doper and I was part of that generation, this is where the sport’s been, this is where the sport is now. The film’s got to be very much be about bike racing now, today…”
Having done more than his fair share of grappling with cycling’s dark side, it would be understandable if he has become a little weary of the constant framing of the sport around doping. As he says, “I just wanted to do something positive. I’m sick of cycling being dark, so dramatic, melodramatic. There is a reason we all fell in love with it, there is a reason we do endure it.”
Hence the focus on the bit that he clearly still loves; the racing.
For fans of bike racing, as apposed to the politics and the murky corners of bike racing…that’s music to the ears.
**The film is being produced by Cycling Films and The Scottish Documentary Institute**