Spend a few days with David Millar and you will at some point end up having a few drinks with him.
He loves to talk, listen and pose questions. And after a few drinks, David becomes even more passionate about what he’s up to and what makes him tick.
So, what is he up to these days? Well, most excitingly, he is the UK brand ambassador for Maserati, which is why we are in Italy together. In his owns words, he’s also a writer, designer, commentator, coach and father.
The designing part is going very well: his aptly named Chapter III is available in a hand-picked selection of cycling shops all around the world. What’s in the name? Well, David splits his life so far into three: the first part of his career up to the ban, then the comeback and now the third chapter.
We want to talk about cars, though, so what is David’s earliest memory of the automobile?
“My first memory is being in the back of my father’s Lotus Elite,. Sports cars were there from an early age, my father was also in the Air Force so I was surrounded by cool cars and planes from an early age. I wanted to be a fighter pilot until I was 11.”
Born in Malta, David grew up in various parts of the world travelling with family. David is the first to admit he is a risk-taker, albeit a rational one. By the age of 14, he had broken his collarbone three times and would regularly be the test pilot for the bigger kids’ BMX jumps during his years in Hong Kong.
“I’ve always been a rational risk-taker”
As someone with a highly developed instinct for self-preservation, I am constantly in awe of those who push the boundaries, find the limits and go beyond traditional human expectations. Watching David on track during our Master Premium driving course, I can see he’s not afraid of speed but also very aware of his own skill set, listening and taking on board the instructor’s feedback.
Within a few hours, David is lapping the circuit in similar lap times to more experienced drivers. It’s impressive stuff.
“life would be pretty boring if you didn’t believe in your ability to do things”
I ask David if driving on track gives a similar buzz to his time as a road-racing cyclist?
“Obviously it’s faster, I’m trained as a cyclist, so when I get in a car on a race track, I have respect and even some fear. I always drive within my limits, which is still fast. It’s nice finding that limit and then reigning yourself in, the concentration levels are so high.”
The partnership with Maserati is an obvious choice: advanced technology has made top-level cycling an expensive sport and if you can afford electronic gearchanges, you can probably afford to consider a Maserati in your garage. More than that, though, Maserati is a very classy, sophisticated brand and aligns perfectly with David’s own views on style and design.
“I think the stars are aligned, it ties in perfectly: very understated, very cool, but still fast. I love 1950s and 60s motor racing, that creation period of Formula One. There are so many interesting characters and stories. Cycling and motor racing have a very similar narrative. I enjoy discovering the stories and learning about motor-racing history.”
What does cycling mean to David these days?
“I’m excited about it. I rebelled in the first few months of retirement from racing: I got a new bike, stripped it of decals and had it resprayed with no branding. Now I’ve gone full circle, developing bikes with Factor, so I get to create my own bikes, which I never got to do as a pro. I look forward to going out and riding my bike just for fun, to escape and clear my head like so many cyclists do. It’s not about the numbers for me anymore.”
In the world of cycling and motor sports, there are many personalities. I ask David whether true icons still exist, like those of the 60s and 70s.
“They are still out there, but are now virtually forced to have no opinion. It’s a shame, we wanted sports to get bigger, but in doing that it has closed down. This is why we hark back to glory days so often and it’s almost impossible to find icons from the 90s or 00s. I think a lot of media agencies have got it wrong; they need to allow their athletes to be themselves. It’s time we started creating new icons before we exhaust the old ones. Athletes these days are just endorsement machines.”
Before things get too deep, I turn the conversation back to cars and importantly whether David has a local favourite route he likes to drive. It springs to mind instantly.
“I can drive out of my house in Girona up to Olot where there’s a 30-kilometre mountain road to Ripoll. It’s quite technical, but I have ridden it hundreds of times, so know every bump. Then from Ripoll there’s a fast mountain pass. At the right time of day there’s nobody there – it’s like having your own race track.”
By the end of the two-day course we are both fairly evenly matched out on the track and in our final timed challenge David pips me by just seven hundredths of a second to second place overall. I’m happy with third, but I want a rematch – just ideally not on a bicycle.
Thanks to Maserati UK and Timothy Everest. Photos: Amy Shore