Scottish cyclist David Millar, subject of IDFA feature-length competition entry Time Trial, has an unlikely connection with fashion designer, Paul Smith. The duo encountered one another in 2004, when Millar was banned for doping offences.
“I had to go to court and I needed a suit. He said I’ll sort you out with a suit,” Millar recalls. The designer was a passionate cycling fan long “before it was cool,” and had had to abandon his own cycling career due to injury. He and Millar struck up an immediate rapport.
“From then on, we always crossed paths. We get on really well. Our lives went in different directions. He wanted to be a professional cyclist and got cut short. I was going to go to art college, but became a professional cyclist. We both love what the other one is doing.”
The link between Millar and Smith was underlined when, during IDFA earlier this week, Millar came to the Amsterdam branch of Paul Smith to sign posters and give interviews.
Millar is very happy with the insight Time Trial gives into the day-to-day life of the athletes during the Tour de France. He was mic’d up and cameras followed his every move during the race.
“It’s quite paradoxical in a way. Although it feels [to the viewer] like a ‘reveal’ and intimate, in the peloton nothing is private. You’ve got helicopters overhead. You’ve got people by the side of the road … we have already signed off our privacy. Whatever you say, you know is in the public domain somehow or other.”
Time Trial offers a very different vision of professional cycling from that found in recent films like Stephen Frears’ The Trial or Alex Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie. It is not about skulduggery, doping and EPO behind the scenes. Nor is it a talking heads-style account of Millar’s life and career. Instead, it captures the exhilaration, tedium and physical grind of road racing, as well as the camaraderie among the riders.
“This is what bike racing is about,” Millar suggests. “It’s about the beauty of it … we got into it because we loved the thrill of it, the weirdness, the cult nature of it and just how spectacular it all is. We’re a circus performance, travelling from town to town. It’s exactly the same sport it was 80 years ago. It hasn’t really changed. The hotels are a bit better but we still share rooms.”
It is one sport where you “can have the champions go by and touch them if you want.” The riders may be in teams, but Millar believes they’re all individuals at heart. “It’s the ultimate paradox. Almost every professional cyclist was a loner at school. That’s the reason they got into it. It’s not a school sport. It’s not a peer pressure sport. It is something you do for individualism, for escape, because you are fundamentally a loner … the really good guys, if they turn professional, enter a super team sport. So you’ve got this bunch of hyper-loners that have to operate at one of the highest levels of team operation you have in any sport in the world!”