Book Review: The Racer

David Millar The Racer

The Racer, Life on The Road As a Pro Cyclist by David Millar

British cycling’s rise seems to have included a publishing phenomenon in its slipstream with many riders publishing their biographies. This new audience seems hungry for accounts from inside the peloton and The Racer sets out to explain plenty as David Millar recounts his final season as a pro.

What sacrifices must a cyclist make to reach the highest levels? What is it like on the bus? In the hotels?

That’s an excerpt from the sleeve of the book. It promises a manual, an insider account. There is a lot of this from explaining how echelons form or Millar’s warm-up routine before a time trial. But it’s also the story of a last season, a goodbye to youth and above all growing frustration with the Garmin/Slipstream team which leads to a fallout and bitter divorce.

“I want to write something else, a book that years from now my children can read and see what it was like.”

The book begins with a description of pre-season training, whether procrastinating when faced with bad weather or advice for the off-season:

“people always ask if I cross train. The answer is no. There’s not really anything else out there that works better for making a cyclist than simply riding a bike. The only thing we sometimes do is weights.”

The early season routines are explained, it’s similar to Michael Barry’s Shadows on the Road at times and races are evaluated. Millar departs from the calendar and routines to introduce friends and team mates. Ryder Hesjedal’s long history of car ownership is used to explain the man. Ramūnas Navardauskas is just explained. Along the way there’s plenty to read from a theory of crashes to TV rights money, the role of a team mechanic to prologue warm-up protocols. There’s info for newcomers and even some handy tactical advice from years of experience that could make the book worth reading for a World Tour pro too.

There’s an air of melancholia as Millar knows this is the bell lap of a pro cycling career but optimism too, he’s sliding out of pro cycling because he’s got a family and if the training is getting harder, he admits no shame in embracing a cyclotouriste attitude.

“The team was no longer what it had once been”

That’s Millar on his team’s declining ability in a team time trial. A factual statement but what the Greeks call parrhesia, meaning to point things out even if it’s polite not to, and it jumps out. It helps prep the reader for later criticism of the team and its management. Millar’s non-selection for the Tour de France is a big part of the book, for starters Millar explains his frustration and, months later, is using the book to unload. There’s no alternative account or attempt to see this though the eyes of others signalling no subsequent reconciliation. Charly Wegelius comes across as a HAL-like figure: “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that” as he tells Millar he is dropped. Colder still is Jonathan Vaughters, despite founding the team together the pair haven’t spoken sine he was dropped from the Tour. The non-selection means knock-on effects, media work during July with British TV and the start of a blossoming commentary tandem with Ned Boulting: goodbye Phil and Paul, hello Ned and Dave? The Vuelta then gets almost daily diary entries as he tries to help Dan Martin and Hesjedal, gets drunk and breaks his hand although not in consequential order.

The book is interspersed with postcards from the season written to his son. It’s cute but doesn’t work in the book, the black and white images defeat the gaudy tack of postcards and the “daddy pedalled hard” prose isn’t meant for us and feels voyeuristic to read.

David Millar

The Verdict
An autobiography, a diary, notes from the peloton? This is all those and more as Millar recounts his final season as a pro. It’s readable and there’s plenty to learn from and laugh at. The 280 pages of the hardback are effortless to read, Millar can write as smoothly as he could pedal. But there’s frustration too, the book seems caught en chasse patate between a manual of the life as a pro cyclist and the diary of Millar’s last year. Few riders get to enjoy a final year own their own terms and this valedictory aspect contrasts with the other parts. For me Millar’s other book Racing Through The Dark is a superior read, a wilder ride but with more structure and purpose and one of the best cyclist autobiographies.

It’s published by Yellow Jersey Press / Penguin Random House. More book reviews at

56 thoughts on “Book Review: The Racer”

  1. Cycling is not a sentimental sport, as fellow Scot Robert Millar put it once. Namesake David still seems to be grappling with this essential truth.

    A Robert Millar auto-biography, now that would be worth reading.

  2. I was left somewhat empty and frustrated with “Racing Through the Dark” because of the intentional omission of detail and information. I have ordered this book after some consideration, but if it turns out to be in a similar vein to Millar’s previous effort, I will remain disappointed and certainly unwilling to purchase any further toms.

    • Much the same for me. I also hope with the few extra years since that book that he’s mellowed a little too – he seemed a mixture of arrogance, entitlement and coldness in his first book, a contrast to how he comes across in interview. I didn’t consider him especially likeable by the end of it, as excellent a book as it was to read.

      • I agree, Racing in the Dark was not too special overall. Though I did think he got across how easy it is to get into doping. I could quickly see how trying to keep racing against the background of the simple living conditions of poor beds in noisy hotels would get one into habitual use of sleeping pills and from there, say, to injecting vitamins, which seems dodgy enough, and then with the pains and results pressures of racing it is an easy path to more serious stuff. All bolstered by the culture within the pro racing bubble. No excuse, but a telling insight nonetheless.

        But leaving doping completely and thinking entirely of healthy matters: it would be interesting for a recently retired rider in print to explore the physiological aspects of ceasing to race after half a life time at the physical extremes. In this regard I note that Marianne Vos now has to rest entirely to bring her body back into balance since injury caught up with her and imposed a drop in her hyper trained levels. I wonder what the healthy withdrawal regime is for a retired pro rider. Not to consider such a physical aspect of retirement in his latest book would show Millar has missed a sequence or corollary to his first.

        • Jens Voigt touched on this a few months ago. He has had medical advice as to the volume and intensity of riding he should do for the next few years. Voigt explained that it was basically his normal training regime but without the racing. As he put it, it was all the work but “without getting to show how awesome I am every weekend!”

      • The Racer is still chock full of entitlement and arrogance. The central premise is that he was entitled to a final Tour of glory, after all he has done for cycling. Those who love and adore Millar don’t even question that, they just accept it as being so, and so they praise The Racer. Question it though and all the so called truth and honesty of The Racer is out the window.

  3. I enjoyed it and easily got through it over three evenings . I agree with you about the postcards to his children, I can see why he did it but I found it a bit annoying. A well written book though and easily one of the better ones not least because of the punches not pulled re his TDF non selection. I suppose the less you have to lose the more you can say what you really think . he’s an articulate observer of the sport and will make a great addition to Ned and Chris or indeed the Eurosport team. We mustn’t be too hard on Phil and Paul they’ve been at it for years and most commentators fall into cliches after a while but I could easily live without hearing about the “suitcase of courage” ever again . Back to the book…better than many, flowing and a window into how hard the pro life is.

    • The length of time that the two Ps have been at this task may explain why they fall into cliché. It doesn’t, however, excuse broadcasters from seemingly not recognising this and at least mixing things up.

      Having said that, Keith, we all like to hear from our old favourites now and again. Imagine, if you will, the two Daves, Millar and Duffield. Now that would be interesting!

    • Phil and Paul are not disliked merely for their obvious incompetence. They have spent years building up commercial interests with unsavoury characters such as a certain Lance Armstrong, a guy they are most one-eyed about. Indeed, even in 2013 Liggett could be heard on public radio describing USADA’s pursuit of the Texan as, and I quote, “a witchhunt”.

      P+P are meant to be journalists and reporters. Yet their commentary is next to useless and their morals seem mostly in the gutter. Judge them by their friends I say.

  4. “…goodbye Phil and Paul, hello Ned and Dave?”

    Millar was superb on the coverage of the Vuelta. I’ve been watching televised racing for many years but learned much from Dave’s insights over those three weeks.

    ITV will win me from eurosport on permanent basis if they do indeed replace Liggett and Sherwin who are getting worse every race they commentate on it seems.

    • I don’t quite know how the commentators are chosen, but it seems to me the UCI is supplying Phil and Paul as the “pre-packaged” voice over feed for English speakers.

      • That’s funny. The broadcast pictures from the TdF originates from the Tour’s ‘host’ TV company, France TV, and made available as per the contractual requirements for the Tour. And the various commentators utilised by the broadcasters around the world over the TdF pictures are nothing to do with the UCI.

        Your burning desire to link everything to the UCI is amusing. What next? The refugee crisis?

          • Be fair, Noel.

            He has set up an independent committee to investigate the problem and expects them to report back with significant proposals to provide additional support in favour of strengthening the progress towards a ‘new Syria’ by Christmas.

            That’s Christmas 2020, obviously.

    • Millar has been excellent in the commentary box. As much as I like Ned he is much better reporting than commentating. For me, Rob Hatch is head and shoulders above all others in terms of commentating. Declan Quigley is quite good too.

  5. One of the best parts of this book for me was when Millar describes his breakaway on the Champs Elysees in what was (unknown to him at the time) his last ever Tour. The physical, mental and topographical analysis is well written, explaining what it is like to be out on your own for so long on the final day into Paris. I also found that the book provided an interesting take on some other episodes and controversies- it was fascinating to revisit some episodes that made the news over the years except this time viewed from within the peloton. However my favourite part was Millar describing him and Ryder Hesjedal watching Tony Martin’s legendary Vuelta breakaway on TV- as well as reliving watching that myself it was refreshing to see pros acting like real fans!

  6. I have almost finished reading this book on my Kindle. The pictures of the postcard are too small to be readable in this e-format, which I had been pretty annoyed about – so it is good to hear that they don’t really add too much!
    I am enjoying the book immensely. I find Millar to be highly articulate & open and his descriptions of the panic in the peloton at times is brilliant (Saxo ripping the race to pieces as an unexpected crosswind appears from nowhere in the Vuelta, for example).
    I certainly agree with the other comments here that Millar is a superb addition to the commenting team (I’d like to hear him with Sean Kelly discussing who is going to make the next selection, personally!)

      • It would be for Kelly – only a matter of time before he finally snaps and chins Kirby.
        Or perhaps that’s just in my fantasies.
        Eurosport could also to with better ‘analysts’ than Ashley and Flecha.

          • Although we in the US have no dog in the commentator fight. ( we are just grateful to get video, regardless of who is the commentator) The few times I saw Lemond on Euro/feeds? he seemed to be good, great feel for the tactics and timing. Although he may not be up to speed on individual team domestiques etc.

            How would he be for commenting the whole race?

  7. Good writeup. I enjoyed the book but like you skipped the postcards; it was nice that he wrote them for his kids but I think better left just for them, not every cycling nerd with an Amazon account.

    I found the pacing of the book quite challenging at first – it seemed like there was a new chapter or theme every other page, often unrelated to the one before, but once I got into the rhythm of it I enjoyed it more, and the actual stories and writing themselves were great no matter what he was writing about.

    Would also be interested in hearing Vaughters’ defence of his portrayal here as he comes off terribly. I guess his argument would be similar to Dave Brailsford’s regarding Wiggo in the 2014 Tour, eg. that emotions shouldn’t overrule sending the best, fittest team possible, but in Garmin’s case I don’t think that would have been as strong an argument given Millar was a cofounder.

    More please, David!

      • Which comments he actually takes back in this second book, saying he feels he now understands more about the emotions and circumstances driving Wiggins at the time

    • I know that JV might come across on Twitter in a certain way, but its no particular secret that he’s not the best on the personal interaction communications front where his riders are concerned. Other riders have spoken of getting sharp emails from him rather than him picking up the phone and talking to them. Reading Millar’s book, its the double whammy of being dropped combined with JV doing it all via Wegelius. There is a argument that was cowardly, given their particular 7 years history together which goes way way beyond that of a team owner/manager and a rider.

  8. Good stuff, will you be doing G’s book? Millar, Thomas and The Race against the Stasi are battling for two spots on my Chrimbo list.

    Do like Millar’s commentary, such a shock for him to tell you what is about to happen, and then it happening live rather than the usual misreporting of what happened 5 minutes ago.

    • Both Millar and G arrived for me this week, so I’ll be devouring them shortly. Well, once I’ve made it through the huge pile of other ones I have to read.

    • This: “Do like Millar’s commentary, such a shock for him to tell you what is about to happen, and then it happening live rather than the usual misreporting of what happened 5 minutes ago.” +1

      • This is one thing that the pros absolutely can bring to the commentary table.

        How and why so much sports broadcasting in Britain put up for so long with the banal inanities of “he’ll be disappointed with that” from ex-pro colour commentators borders on the criminal.

        Best I’ve ever heard at this – still, and it’s 30 years ago and more – was Hank Stram on radio commentary of the NFL.

  9. I think that Chris Horner would be a good US commentator! love to see him replace CV for Amgen, Utah, and hopefully Colorado.

    Some of you please don’t throw your doping tomatoes!

  10. I always quite liked Millar as a rider, he seemed intelligent, a bit different and looked better than anyone on a bike, but his books have sort of put me off a bit. He comes across as a classic posh kid, with the accompanying sense of entitlement and hearty guffaws as he relates the “epic” night out him and his mates just had.

    I also object to the way every anecdote he tells comes back to David Millar. Wouter Weylandt dies in the Giro? Well it’s up to old Dave to make sure the show goes on. Dave in a months long funk after not getting picked for the Tour? Nathan Haas pulls him out of it by reminding him that David Millar is the heart and soul of the team and they are nothing without him.

    The overall tone reminds me of Alan Partridges first autobiography “Bouncing Back”, which famously contained the phrase “needless to say, I had the last laugh” seventeen times.

  11. Currently reading this myself and have about 30 pages left, reading it in ebook format I too couldn’t read the postcards. However judging by the content, I agree probably something to be kept private but do like how they became an obsessive pursuit for him and his team to find post cards in the different places they visited.

    I have enjoyed the book but don’t feel it is as good as his first book. He also grated on me in places, with his excuses and blame on others when things don’t go to plan. At these times he comes across as arrogant and self-righteous painting a picture of the sort of person I don’t like, basically the type of person Disgruntledgoat has described above.

    That said, like his first book he is honest in his accounts of the realisation his powers are diminished, his heart is no longer in it and he is winding down to retirement. It is a fascinating insight into the pro peloton and his final year interspersed with entertaining anecdotes.

    He is very articulate in explaining the different aspects of being a pro – the pain in a breakaway, crashes, cross winds etc.

    I am relatively new to the sport and found it really broadened my understanding of the different areas he covers. I also thoroughly enjoy his punditry and commentary as he explains everything brilliantly from what is happening and specifically why. You can see he enjoys explaining the minor details without coming across as a bore.

      • Many a biography / autobiography will contain letters from the subject / author or will reproduce private conversation, it is the nature of the beast. Millar reproduced private conversation, the Wegelius phone call, and that’s not voyeuristic in your book but the postcards are? For my mind Millar reproducing his Tweets was far more offensive than some badly reproduced postcards that were barely legible despite the top drawer penmanship.

Comments are closed.