Review: Racing Through the Dark, The Fall and Rise of David Millar

This autobiography (Orion Books, London, 2011) is almost completely about the “Fall,” about David Millar’s progress into doping. It starts with the moment he is taken into Police custody, charged with doping offences in France. Then, in his own voice, he spends 80% of the book working his way up to this point.

Its a great biography, his childhood is as real as a movie, his ambition as pungent as sweat from the second training session of the day. This book is more than the story of one cyclist, it is the confirmation of the unchanging nature of the cycling industry – a contemporary view on expendable talent, the new hard labourers, youth without prospects 2.0.

100 plus years on, road racing is still a brutal pathway out of powerlessness, a twisted adoption agency for young men seeking a pathway to freedom. As a record of the facets of ambition, it is a stunning read.

It’s a little more average and less enlightening on the passage from unbalanced and self-centred egotist to driving force assisting others to cleaner cycling. It is there for you to read, it’s just not as interesting to him or I and presented in relation to his state and rather lacking in details.

This is not the first accessible, engaging biography by a road cyclist from a broken home. It’s a big, universal theme – finding your home /father on the dark or light side of the force. I really like how much the pulse of success and power thrills Millar.

His house in Biarritz, all night parties, the stunning, swimming opulence of it all. Everything before being busted is a journey inside the successful, elite athlete’s youthful mind.  The drug he is on is youth. It distorts, it deranges ( to misquote another Scot), it suffers, adapts, wins and accepts no limits. It is a natural fit to artificial stimulants. Parents, Scotland, breaking in to the pro ranks, different kinds of successes, doping. Vivid reading.

Aging or maturing reads like visiting a drying room full of old towels. Slipstream Sports and all that jazz is all good stuff and worthy. Its a very measured description of his recovery or ‘rise’.

The biography moves to staking a claim in history- a few great facts in this I’m sure. But I wonder about the details, about JV, MW and other people in this hot topic. Can this book ever be more than a work of fiction, written as it is as a persons ‘state of mind’? There is just not enough here.

I don’t think this book is good history, and I’m just not sure that cycling is as clean as Millar describes. The book tells a riveting story however and as the blurb says, it illustrates how doping in sport isn’t black and white. He is a great champion and his story just maybe takes us to an extreme version of ourselves, in youth.

K2 Cycle Race is long enough for nuance

K2 2014 1

There are an infamous number of climbs and they are decent, long and steep. With 200 odd kms to ride, a good night’s sleep before and a big breakfast won’t get you through. You need to fuel smartly to finish well and absolutely know yourself (or your numbers). If you can push ahead on any one of the bigger or smaller climbs, you are spending energy from a limited source – may even find its needed at 180 kms. Like I did….

The Coromandel start matters. Finishing the course over Whangapoua Hill is not the same as any other finish. A 3.4 km climb 10-20% gradient is an unforgettable nuance.

This is a real cycling experience. Subtropical forest hills, pink sand beaches with green harbours. And the requirement to plan and prepare like a pro. Unfinished business for me.

K2 profiles

Startline for K2

Coromandel township is bustling at 7.30am. We are a whirring, flashing fleet of nervousness. Bright kit, bling bikes, big expectations.



Two Days to K2


BMC SLT01. Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels, 3T Ergosum Team bars, chain, cluster and chainrings are all part of the preparation for K2.

Three months of focus in training, bike service and preparation, travel arrangements, it all comes to this point. Two days to New Zealand’s icon 200km event. Am I ready?

Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula

Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula

Winter weeks of base building

The slow miles are hard to manage. Building distance in a manageable way – with a low heart rate and progressive time / distance is a challenge. The urge to ‘go long’ straight of the bat is strong.

Sunny day mid winter, cycling towards Makara.

Sunny day mid winter, cycling towards Makara.

Island Bay Wellington is part of a regular cycling circuit.

Island Bay Wellington is part of a regular cycling circuit.

Over-reaching training week done (tick). My computer spat the dummy. #cycling #training

“00000” jammed up on the training screen, covering all data, 60 kms into the ride yesterday – the polar has popped its clogs. Or more strangely, got it exactly right, I am at 0. Fully empty, nothing left to give and ready for a rest, an easy week.

Motivation... cycling Karapoti 2014?

Motivation… cycling Karapoti 2014?

Back on the road, cycling, base training for Taupo

Bits of loose bone. Cracked ribs. Things weren’t looking too good 9 months ago. This morning I was back in the morning mist, breath heavy and damp dropping like cotton wool towards the blacktop as it rattled and rasped under black chilli tyres. I am coming back.

Moonshine Rd, Wellington.

Moonshine Rd, Wellington.







Bike Hutt Cyclocross, Moonshine Park

I’m not riding today, what end of holiday motorist madness will there be today?

“you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic. 63 percent of fatal or injury crashes involving bicycles are the sole fault of motorists. 23 percent of crashes are caused by the cyclist.

The argument that cyclists don’t contribute to roading costs assumes roads cost less than car rego and petrol taxes collected – not close to correct. Anyone who pays taxes contributes towards the building of infrastructure – see the roading projects and you see motorways at the top of the list. Cyclists can’t ride on these. Anyone who owns or rents a home contributes through their rates. While petrol taxes and car registration fees do contribute towards motorways and state highways, who needs these and damages these – trucks.

Cycling makes people healthier, reducing future costs to the health system. A University of Auckland study found the estimated the net health effect of shifting 5 percent of short trips from cars to bikes would be a saving of about $193 million per year.

My kids can’t cycle to their local schools. An interchange / turnpike is not for young kids.


Mid-Winter mildness, means early morning base rides

Wellington Harbour, 7am in Winter

Wellington Harbour, 7am in Winter

A mild Saturday morning in the second warmest July (winter) on record…. Just before dawn I get the legs spinning fast with no load. Winter adaption, easy base miles, call it what you like. Its before the cars create traffic, before the whistles and bangs of humanity, its a spin as a god in paradise. I’m tired from asking a lot of chipped up bones, but with slowly increasing kms, week on week, tendons, muscles and my state of mind are all strengthening.

Seven Days and Nights in Melbourne

Hot routes used by local cyclists

Hot routes used by local cyclists

A rented apartment in St. Kilda Melbourne, road pedals and kit in my Rapha race bag, the bunch ride guide from Cyclingtips, 7 heavenly days.

The map above shows the routes most commonly recorded on strava in red. The heavier the line, the higher the traffic.  With a rented Giant, it was an easy task to find the morning bunch rides. They pass in waves down past St. Kilda Beach on the shore front, in a 45km there and back route down the South coast.

Listed as 5.45am rides by CyclingTips, leaving from a BP on the Nepean Highway, in reality bunches run in waves down this route (the only BP is further up at St Kilda) with groups at all fitness levels.  Local groups of friends all have their own kit, the largest kit group aims to own the front of the bunch.

Longer rides look to run to the mountains or coast further east. There’s a midweek (Thursday) ride and a weekend ride on these routes. The Raceshape hotmap, zoomed in to Melbourne gives you a picture of how locals get to the mountains and the roads they use in this cycle friendly city.

A perfect winter evening ride

Its cool – 10 degrees C – the stars and satellites are running across a translucent , curving watery blue  horizon. Its also somehow warm, like the rush hour crush of red car lights, are radiating heat. There is the odd new crack in the tar seal on state highway 2, a reminder of the earthquake 5 days ago and also the pressure  to manage ‘critical incident’ communications for work. 6 kms of straight line cycleway along the harbour, ironically a sheer cliff on one side from pre-historic movements of  the main fault through Wellington. The early week drops away, rolling behind in this pristine evening ride. A friend I haven’t seen for a year rolls up out of nowhere, we’ve both been returning from incidents. This is as good as mid-week winter gets.

2012 Giro top 10 riders in a single word…

Mark Cavendish – Skinny. The pasta king has lost the chub and looks sharp as a tack. Or perhaps the word is envy. Thats what everyone else riding experiences.

Matt Goss – YouBeaut. Australian for ‘looking really competitive’, one stage in the bag and pulling up almost alongside Skinny in stage 5 last night, without the same leadout.

NAVARDAUSKAS, Ramunas – Taxi. An iron man from Latvia, oops thats Lithuania. Those in-the-know say he can kneecap entire teams, leaving them broken in his wake. A kid to watch.

Robbie Hunter, Ryder, Christian and Garmin team mates in general – Oxygen. They are all around you.

Joaquin Rodriguez, Smokin. Purito has “hot chance” written all over him after Katusha’s performance in the team time trial. Can he stay with it into the mountains, a really great position for him to be in.

Geraint Thomas, Torch. Thats what he’s aiming for, the Olympic games and off to a pretty good lead in with 2nd in the opening time trial.

BOARO, Manuele, you know I’m not really sure. 2nd at Circuit de la Sarthe this year, 25 years old and in his second year at Saxo Bank…. Mist perhaps.

KRISTOFF, Alexander, Thor 2.0 . 25 year old Norwegian has been national road race champion at U23 and elite.

Second great weekend of the Giro D’Italia ahead….



2012 Giro D’Italia notes and surprises from first TT

In such an even year, there are some sweet surprises. The first stage, a short time trial in Denmark went to Taylor Phinney. So young to be successful at this level.And so is kiwi Jesse Serjent.  The pleasant surprises were many, that Garmin has so many top 20 places in the TT. This looks really good for the team time trial later in the week. A good result in both will improve Hesjedals GC ambitions a great deal. He’s looking pretty good, did well in the TT at 17th, at 29 seconds.

The obvious surprise, Ivan Basso is going well, right amongst the expected contenders. Given that he has been plagued with falls and injury this spring, this surprise is comfortable – afterall Basso already has 2 Giro titles – Basso doing well is like coming home to a hot dinner after a wet winter ride.

What of Marco Pinotti? Known for a bit of TTing, he’s been doing well overall in recent years. A rider to watch. Kreuziger showing his form too, while Scarponi and Schleck didn’t really. Still, its a long race, with so very many mountain stages at the end!


Stage 1
Position Name Nationality Team Time

The most ‘balanced’ Giro in recent history

2012 is just less extreme. Less ‘star’ blinded, less stratospheric, less….  appauling, rediculous, mind stopping. Hopefully less tragic.

There are no hyped supermodel riders under drug investigation. Charges of sadism are not likely over the selection of climbs. And balanced riders who can TT as well as climb get a good shot with both a turning point TTT late in week one and an important long TT, nearly 32 kms, back in as the traditional final stage.

Which isn’t to say the route lacks drama. Tight Italian roads, unimaginable climbs, snow, countryside, coastline….  and Denmark, its all still there.

Most balanced about 2012 are the predictions around GC contenders. With the team lists posted, there are ‘considerations’ around every team leader.

Frank Schleck is a late call up, who looked to be aiming for a much later peak. Basso has been utterly invisible in preceeding weeks after a series of crashes and other incidents (Liquigas hardman Smzyd has looked strong in spring). Joaquin Rodriquez won a classic and has form (don’t mention the TT issue). Hesjedal… there or thereabouts. Roman Kreuziger has had as good a lead in as anyone else and following a forceful spring, Astana are looking as tough and eastern block as soviet tanks. Rigoberto Uran, Michele Scarponi (who many give top odds to win)…  Its like a conversation at a drunken table of fans, any name can come out of the hat. Stirrers and breakaway stage winners, Cunego, Geraint Thomas, Tschopp, Ballan.

It all sparks my interest. Less hollywood = more believable, more challenging. My favourite grand tour is back. With two Kiwi riders, Bauer and Serjent!

Karapoti 2012 MTB race, Specialized Epic Erasure!

Postponed for the first time in 27 years after a weather bomb on 3 March, “Karapoti Take2” two weeks later was a stunner! Perfect, still, clear and half the size of the normally crowded event. Lush New Zealand forest, gut busting climbs and rapid descents through the Akatarawas, pleased to be here instead of the regional road event passing by the startline on the same day.

Akatarawa range in the morning.

Mountain racing is unforgiving – there is no way to hide ‘lack of form’. No drafting. No weakness goes undiscovered in relentless climbs that keep you in the red zone until you see spots dancing like moths in your vision. Ten months on from surgery (stitching an achilles back together), I have a secret weapon to build confidence  –  a new bike.

Start of the Karapoti race is a run through the river. Specialized Epic sure is clean.

The start bursts through a thigh deep running river and on to a sealed section for a short drag race to the start of the gorge track. Sitting in with the front runners is as easy as… road cycling. Spinning up the gorge drops riders who can’t hold intensity, at this point a riding buddy and I are feeling pretty happy about the clear track ahead and the choice of the easier ‘weekend warriors group’.

An hour in, two climbs done and my pace is pretty nice – within 2 minutes of the ‘gold standard’ 3 hour finishing mark that the experts aim for. This snippet of deficit I expect I can make up on the last, long climb. In the past I’ve been strong there.

The Epic was smooth and supple, its an experience I call “Epic Erasure” – all the doubts of 2011 erased by a bike that climbs and descends.

Epic fork.

Can't describe how much better the ride is compared to an old Trek 6700 hard tail.

But it wasn’t to last. The middle section of the race pushed me back into the humble corner. Failing to get any food in the first hour (couldn’t get my hands off the bars into my pockets), with complaining legs, I faded across the top of Deadwood and compounded it with a slow passage down the technical rock garden descent. 12 minutes gone from 3 hour target time! A big hunk of time to lose. Mainly about skills really. Watched some beautiful lines as a group of seven riders caught up and dropped down the jagged route.

Grabbed gels during the slow descent (finally able to reach rear pockets) in time to feel refreshed for the bike-carry-run up Devil’s Staircase.

This is 4 or so kms of grovel – pitching up to 30% in places. Its clay-ish. You’re climbing in cleats. Small steps 10 cm wide are just visible in the nearly vertical trail. A decent time means attempting to run with your bike up this.

Achilles recovey is slowest for hill running – its the last part of strenth to return, relying on a strong hamstring and some real power to ‘pop’ you up the step. Even strength, left to right sides, is also needed. I was nervous about this, building a lot of running into my build up (too much in fact).

It went well! Only a small margin on 3 hour finish time lost here (seconds) and no discernable additional agony over and above the zone 5 heart rate and general exhaustion.

Picked up the group of seven on the climb and powered on (3kms/hr) to the top.

The race may only be 50 kms, but it feels like you left civilization back in time. The 4 wheel drive tracks are really narrow slashes cut into forest like a claw across fleeing prey. There is mud. At one point a narrow supple branch caught in the vents in my helmet. I expected it to flick out. It just hung in there, until its spring force popped me backwards off the bike. Jurassic park moment.

The big descent to the last climb opens out into fast and loose gravel trails. Lost my second big hunk of time here.

The final climb is a solid 600 vertical metres in a few kms. Much longer than you expect, it pitches up to the top…. then does it again, each time you think you are there. Each time the pitch is steeper again. Rode through the ‘prams’ – pushing their bikes, pulled back some minutes and set myself up for a TT style effort back down the gorge to the finish.

Full tilt back down the gorge to the finish of Karapoti 2012. Epic's porcelain paint job 'erased'.

Final time in the 3:20s – not awesome but not bad. Less running more riding required. I feel like I’ve completed a uniquely kiwi rite of passage. And removed all lagging doubts about the ankle.

The circuit breaker ride, pristine day, over the top of the range between work and home

The grass was long, brown and waving in the wind. The trail wound upwards around the crags and civilization was far below. My android phone double beeped and died – Strava app sucking all the juice trying to find a GPS signal. The high valleys peeter out, smoothed by the wind into curves that taper into clefts and crags and finally peaks. Its beautiful, and also unbelievably steep.

Injury recovery, work concerns, previous race placings – everything from the everyday was burnt up with the calories fueling the climb. 18% I guess, over 4wd and stock trails. There are no other wheel prints. Alone, narrow peaks, wind – its elemental and testing on a range.

This was a real circuit breaker ride yesterday. After the effort, I felt un-burdened at the top. Details look like ants, nurtured in the warmth of the summer day, way below on the coast. Up here, its cold, fresh and vital.

6 month update, acute achilles rupture recovery….

Six months and one week on from surgery using ‘firewire’ to reconnect my snapped achilles I can report that everything looks bright! Today’s workouts include 40 minutes freestyle over lunchtime in the pool, reintroduction to running (30 mins walk/run programme) and due to poor weather, probably 90mins on the bike on a trainer tonight. At half-way to full recovery, my ‘recuperation journey’ is at Kuratau on the Taupo Challenge:

My recovery as the Taupo Cycle Challenge.

I am still performing 3 sets of 2 different achilles stretches, twice daily as well as ballet style exercises (standing on my toes, wearing a tramping back-pack full of hand weights ski boots, the odd encyclopaedia….another improvised workout.) I can walk quickly, no issue with stairs, cycle indefinately and run weakly. 30 day plan to strengthen running has just begun.

Hypertrophy of the calf is occurring and it is nearly the same size as the good left hand one. Getting a strong spring back into my step is the current project – the foot acts like a series of spring loaded joins in a cantilever bridge and all the little foot muscles need more ‘pop’. Athletic tape across my foot arch helped to focus the mind on this while walking around during the day. And of course, more overall ankle strength is still needed, to support and match the range of movement of the other leg. There are niggles of weakness – slowly less and less – but I feel like training is progressing nicely through aerobic base and full recovery is at the end of the flat ride ahead!

My old-fashionned cycling training plan, found some sweat identity in the Akatarawas

Finding 15 hours of training in a week is a success in itself. Its an old-fashionned approach to cycling, aiming to get as much time as I can (schedule) on the bike. Nothing fancy, no fast track, no “executives’ shortcut” or time-crunched plan. Which by the way, just sounds really 1980s – flouro sweat bands, afro hair, snickers in hand? Just time in the saddle, converting cell and muscle patterns, synapses and reactions, aerobic, lactate and energy systems back into cycling form. No chocolate, no racing, no Masters ego-trips. Before digital training plans, old school coaches knew that a large (and simple) block of slow aerobic base, provides the metabolic and physical infrastructure for performance. This means riding every single day.  Moderate 15min climbs, ideally 4 x 4-hour-long steady-paced rides each week for 3 weeks, ‘normal’ group rides… Above all, daily frequency. And no strength work. No races.

Its coming, slowly. On Sunday, a five hour ride took me to the top of the Akatarawas in Wellington. Not a massive climb, but a steady 10kms up through native bush. Ferns and large 300 year old trees dripping in moisture, the rain becoming steady and cold towards the top. I love this climb –  it closed for the rebuilding of the bridges at the same time that I dropped out of cycling – snapped my achilles. And just reopened.

You feel the warmth of your breath, climbing in the rain. I found the cadence that keeps my knees warm and lactate free. And get into the pattern of breathing and spinning. Its a fairly fast 6% average incline (guestimate) and I can feel some resilience in my legs from the last 6 weeks riding. You find yourself, climbing. Testing yourself, the big reasons for riding – endurance of the spirit.

6 months on from surgery, I’m not there yet. But my training recovery is improving – another big benefit of aerobic base. I’ve entered the Taupo ride in 5 weeks – 160 km Taupo challenge, not the race.  I think it’ll feel like the first time.