Review: David Millar Time Trial film
David Millar only ever wanted one Tour de France and he ended up taking part in 12. The thing is, he really, really, really wanted it to be 13.
He looks exhausted, emotional. His head has fallen back, he rubs his eyes, he's clearly had enough. "I only ever wanted to do one." Millar retired from professional cycling in 2014 but you would think he'd finished yesterday. The memories of that final season remain raw, and often bitter. Miller had a distinguished 18-year career in professional cycling but it's evident from Time Trial's opening monologue that in Millar's eyes at least, it didn't end well.
But it begins with so much promise. In the first scene of Time Trial we follow Millar doing what he did best, an actual time trial. Millar is taking corners as if he's on rails, mic'd up so we can hear the whirring of the gears, his breathing, street noise and wind whistling through his helmet. It's as if we're there, with Millar as his lungs scream and the blood pulses in his ears.
This intimacy with the subject is what attracted Millar to director Finlay Pretsell in the first place. Millar's sister Fran had sent him a DVD of an earlier Pretsell short film based in a velodrome. Millar said he became hooked on Standing Start.
Pretsell takes the viewer to places he really shouldn't be. In the case of Time Trial this was slap bang in the middle of the peloton. We are privy to the smalltalk prior to the race proper, when it resembles a group ride; we chuckle at the banter in the team car. Pretsell makes everything pop with sharp editing and a vivid, technicolour style that is a feast for the senses - you can feel the speed, almost taste the air.
The early races of the 2014 season were a shocker for all involved. Italy in the spring can be a grim and unpredictable place to ride a bike and the weather can turn at the flick of a switch. Pretsell uses the weather to carry us through Millar's journey. The opening scenes play out in brilliant spring sunshine, in line with the optimism that comes with a new season. The skies darken with Millar's mood. By the time we get to Milan San-Remo, we've got biblical downpours and temperatures nudging zero. There's only one way things can go from here; Millar has an on-bike meltdown while riding alongside the team car at, presumably, quite a pace. He can't zip his jacket up, someone has stolen his gloves.
On one level, Time Trial is an examination of a professional rider's descent into despair as he comes to the grim realisation that he ain't the man he once was. On another it's a fascinating insight into what goes on between riders in the peloton, footage that no TV race coverage will ever show you. Then there's the drama in the team car and the chatter between roommates -glimpses of an unseen side of cycling.
Time Trial also has some laugh-out-load moments and instances of truly awe inspiring cinematography. The crowd waiting at the top of the mountain as the peloton arrives with the impact of a herd of snorting buffalo is one such example.
We have the odd cameo from some of the stars of our time, including Mark Cavendish as he and Millar attempt to rein sparky racers in from going off the front and a hilarious interlude from Geraint Thomas as he rides away from Millar, clearly unwilling to listen to his moaning any longer.
Millar had an incredible career as a professional cyclist - long, distinguished and fascinating enough for him to have written two books about it - Racing Through the Dark and The Racer. But that doping scandal will always hang over him and in a way we should be grateful for it to have happened, because he has opened up about his life like no cyclist ever has before and to have invited such an intimate portrait of his final season is a commendable case in point.
This brutal honesty combined with mesmerising film-making and a banging soundtrack sets Time Trial alongside Sunday in Hell as one of the only two films about professional cycling worth watching.
We all know how this ends. Millar's in tears, the interviewer has finally broken him down completely. "I only ever wanted one, but I did 12. I'd never thought of it like that."
The end was really the beginning, as it turns out, of a new chapter away from the pro circus. But to know the outcome makes Time Trial no less of a spectacle.
This is a snapshot of modern professional cycling that will be referenced for years to come.