Photography by Mr Michael Bodium | Styling by Mr Toby Grimditch
Words by Mr Simon Mills
A bonafide cycling superstar, Mr Millar is the only British rider to have worn the leader's jersey in all three Grand Tours and one of just four to have worn the hallowed yellow jersey in the Tour de France. In total, he's won three stages of the Tour de France, two at the Vuelta de España and a stage of the Giro d'Italia. Mr Millar earned a silver medal at the World Time Trial Championships, a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and earlier this year was captain of the British team that led Mr Mark Cavendish to victory at the World Championships in Copenhagen.
Mr Millar's career, as described in his bestselling autobiography, has been a relentlessly rolling road of highs and lows; breakneck sprints, white-knuckle descents, brutal climbs and spirit-sapping uphill challenges. But as well as being rather useful in the saddle, MR PORTER wants to know, is he also something of a clothes horse?
The French press have dubbed you "le dandy" of cycling while the author, Ms Freya North [who talked to Mr Millar as part of her research for her novel Cat said you didn't look like a cyclist, "more like a member of a student indie rock group". Which description is the most accurate?
I always hated the "dandy" thing. I like Paul Smith and classic English tailoring, but I'd like to think I just have an aesthetic eye, meaning that I care about how things should look, including myself on and off the bike. When I first became interested in professional cycling, I kept coming across these fantastically stylish old photos of champion cyclists who looked so dashing. I liked the way their style juxtaposed with the monotony of their team clothing. There was an eccentricity in their dress. I just liked the sheer class of it all.
What's your approach to style?
It's constantly changing, although I do find myself sticking to one look at a time and that's thanks mainly to my friendship with Paul Smith. He's re-ignited my love for clothes. My wardrobe reflects my mood; my best days are those after a big night out. On the morning after I tend not to give a damn what people think and dress how I'd like to think the arty version of myself would, had I let that part of me blossom. I travel a lot too, so packing is a big thing for me. Clear plastic allows for the organised separation of clothing. It took me a decade of being a pro to come up with this system. I'm very proud of it.
You have a slight and rather wiry frame. What kind of clothes suit you best?
I'm lucky in that most designers' clothes fit me well, I'll probably have trouble fitting into them when I retire from racing, so I have to make the most out of it now. My favourite clothes take their style from the 1920s, I think that was the time when it would have been the most fun to be into clothes.
What first attracted you to cycling?
I had three introductions. The first was during the mid-1980s during the BMX boom. I then had a few years away from cycling till the mountain biking boom of the early 1990s - the trend is becoming clear. I did what I thought was the cool thing to be doing. So, why I then went into road cycling is a mystery, because at the time, it certainly wasn't cool. In my adolescence, I must have wanted to be different. I started learning about the sport and I was enchanted. It seemed romantic but also tragic - people would be winning but then lose it all, or crash but fight on, break bones but get back on their bikes and try to finish. Just getting to the end was an achievement in itself. It's somehow old-fashioned, gladiatorial. Often the best guys are those that can suffer longer, who don't give up. And it's so easy to give up, when you're on a mountain and it's really hurting.
If you weren't a cyclist, what would you be?
I was two weeks away from beginning an art foundation when I ran away to join the cycling circus. Where this would have taken me, I don't know. To something arty and creative, I like to think.
What kind of bike do you ride and why?
Cervélo. I ride it because my professional team [Garmin-Cervélo] is sponsored by them. They also happen to be considered the best bikes money can buy. I'm lucky to be on a team where we take great pride in equipping ourselves with the very best stuff, unlike some teams who would rather take the money and ride rubbish bikes.
Where in the world is your favourite training ride?
Any ride in Girona, Catalonia in Spain, with fellow professional and friend Michael Barry, during December. It's closed season, a time of the year where we can pretend to be club cyclists with no professional obligations. It might seem odd that Michael rides for Team Sky, a rival outfit to my team, but in my sport no one cares too much about that sort of thing, and we often train together. I think that kind of relaxed attitude is pretty much unique to cycling.
What's the best thing about your job?
The random nature of it. I get to travel the world - China, the US, Italy, Australia - meet people I'd never know and experience things few people would think possible. I'll miss the day I'm not chasing a long line of cyclists down an Alpine mountainside or battling through the rain after 260km racing to make it into a corner first.
What made you write your autobiography Racing Through the Dark before you retired?
I needed to tell my side of a rather complicated story. I love reading - Bret Easton Ellis, JG Ballard, James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy - and I've grown to love writing. In the UK publishers come knocking on a star's door even when he has no story to tell and has never even written a birthday card. At first I thought it was stupid to attempt my own book, but then I realised I had an interesting story that was an easy one to write. I was lucky to have people around me who allowed it to become the book that I wanted, rather than a clichéd sports biography. It was a technical challenge rather than an emotional one.
What have been the most profound memories of your career so far?
This year I've had two very poignant moments. First leading the peloton in tribute to the death of a fellow rider, Wouter Weylandt, during the Giro d'Italia while wearing the pink jersey. The second, captaining the GB team to Mark Cavendish's victory at the worlds in Copenhagen.
I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention. A few obvious moments come to mind. If you want to know more, you'll have to read my book...