Book Review: In Search of Robert Millar

Most cycling fans will probably have read Richard Moore’s In Search of Robert Millar, but having read it I might as well offer my take on it. Coming to it as someone who has recently got into road cycling, a recap of Scotland (and Britain’s) greatest ever road cyclist was a treat for me, but the book is much more than a charting of his career.

The story is framed around the author’s search for Robert Millar, after he retreated from public life in retirement. This gives the book a personal perspective, even something of the historical detective work to it. Moore carried out meticulous research, travelling all over the UK and France to talk to people connected to Millar. After the first few chapters, it falls a little more into the standard biography format, recounting the facts of his career, but the ‘personal journey’ aspect of the search does continue, with Moore’s own responses, and the emotional reactions the riders and coaches he visited, colouring the narrative.

The book is occasionally imbued with a sense of tension, a sort of moral insecurity — Richard Moore is aware Robert Millar wanted to avoid the limelight in retirement, and is anxious not to run roughshod over this wish, whilst remaining keen to produce a book that was essential to the cycling canon. Millar was a complex character- at times painfully shy, while at others mysteriously solitary and detatched, or cuttingly dismissive of a foolish journalist. You can see how it would be awkward to write a book about him if he himself didn’t endorse it.

Book ReviewL In Search of Robert Millar
Robert Millar, scanned by Steve Selwood from an original slide, used with permission.

Moore’s search eventually led to a series of emails that provide an insightful epilogue, that allow the book to close on Robert Millar’s terms (as Moore puts it). The electronic medium is actually one that allows Millar to communicate with cycling fans on an ongoing basis- witness the famous ‘Robert Millar thread’ on Bikeradar.

That the book led the ever-tactful Daily Mail to track down Robert Millar and publish the intrusive ‘sex change story’ must have been a huge disappointment to Moore, who felt he had tackled Millar’s wish for privacy with respect, even while exploring his character in the depth that was required. Even more painful must have been that Millar blamed Moore for the renewed interest in his whereabouts.

I can relate to this in a much more minor context. Since starting this blog, I have published one or two things that have asked to be taken down. My new-found enthusiasm for cycling has led me to put my foot in it on occasion and it is a delicate balance when today’s web services allow you to publish at a moment’s notice without recourse to editors or any due process. No relation to Moore’s creative process, of course, but a small connection for me.