THE LAST DAY OF MY FINAL VUELTA
VUELTA ESPANA - Stage 21 - September 14th, 2014
My last race with the team, and the finish line is on El Final del Camino in Santiago de Compostela, the end of the pilgrims’ trail. I couldn’t have made that up.
This is shaping up to be the worst time trial of my life. I’m in pain, everything hurts, I’m exhausted. I’m so beat down I don’t even warm up. I just sit on a cool box outside the bus in my speedsuit awaiting my start time. I don’t even recon it. I glance at the race book, that’s it. Bingen comes up to me as I sit behind the start ramp and gives me a hug. He has tears in his eyes. I’m totally fine. As far as I’m concerned I may as well be sitting in a café, about to set off and ride home. I think in a way this has made him more sad – he’s only ever known me as the most focused, edgy, occasionally crazy person. He’s only ever known me as David Millar, the racer. I’ve spent over twenty years doing time trials, the majority of them I’ve wanted to win. Everybody will be expecting me to try.
For this, the final one, I don’t even try. I just do what I have to do to make sure I finish inside the time limit. Yet, weirdly, I don’t think I’ve ever suffered so much in a time trial. I can’t even hold the handlebars the final kilometre as it’s on cobblestones, the vibration through the bars making it too painful for me to grip with my mangled hand.
I cross the line and find Luca, one of our soigneurs. I stop next to him and remove my helmet. He takes it and puts it on the floor and, ever so gently, gives me the biggest of hugs. He’s crying for me.
It’s for this reason that, moments later, when I’m interviewed by Matt Rendall for ITV, I can’t help but be emotional. None of my team would have asked me the same questions Matt does. It’s his job to spell out to the viewer what’s going on, to ask me what’s going through my head. Koldo, Bingen, Luca, Ryder, all of them, they know what I’m going through, and none of us want to talk about it.
Nathan finishes his time trial soon after me. I’ve agreed to wait for him. When he gets here we hug and then I suggest a drink. We find the nearest café and order a bottle of Cava and spend the next hour talking about the world and all its weirdness. We’re half cut when we leave to ride back to the start, to where the team bus is parked. It’s a fun ride back to the hotel. We’re happy. I’m not sad any more. I managed to puncture again about two kilometres from the bus. Which seemed perfect.
This evening the team has organised a small farewell dinner for me. It’s strange facing the realisation that I’ll never again be one of them. It still feels like my team, the one I’d helped to build back in 2007. I’ve put my heart and being into it for years. That evening I received neither a message nor a call from Jonathan Vaughters. Nor have I since.
Among the speeches at the meal Nathan chose to read a poem. It was a good choice: although not cold and dead, I was now gone. The team would carry on without me.
‘O Captain! My Captain!’
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up – for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills, For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths – for you the shores a-crowding, For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father! This arm beneath your head! It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still, My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will, The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread, Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.