Words: David Millar - Images: Graham Watson
Rooming a neo-professional cyclist with an older pro was, and I hope still is, part of professional cycling. The apprentice-master relationship in full effect. Of course, as everything in the journey of life, it comes down to luck. I was lucky enough to room with Maurizio Fondriest. I still remember the 1997 Tour de Luxembourg and turning up to race sign-on with my team/roommate Maurizio and following him like a spirit animal to the start village. He beelined for the table where Johan Musseuw and Gianni Bugno were sitting alone - both raced for Mapei at the time and were in their pomp. I was told to sit with them. Two Mapei riders and two Cofidis riders. Four years before I was the Flying Ball loiterer, now I was at a table with three world champions - Maurizio introduced me and said they should watch my future. I still find it head-exploding 22 years later.
Fondriest was the consummate pro, he was marginal gaining before gains became marginal. The tech geek in me loved the fact he’d had bespoke apparel made for the brutal mountain winters he endured - he didn’t go to fairer climates, instead, he got a thermal bodysuit with a balaclava. The point of me telling these things is that I got to know him well, and still do, yet I wonder if he remembers one of the evenings we lay in our adjacent single beds, him reading a book (rare for a pro cyclist in those days), while I repeatedly threw a coiled inner-tube up and down, up and down, up and down - to the point where he stopped reading and asked me, in French (back then the lingua franca of the peloton was French), “Daveed, a quoi tu penses?”
My persistent annoying had worked, he was kind enough to give in to it. “I felt terrible all day today, then the final 20km I was okay, I don’t understand.” He didn’t answer immediately, then said something I’ll always remember, “David, that’s bike racing. It’s always going to be hard, it will always hurt, you only have to feel good at the end.” He went back to his book.
That’s Milan San Remo.