Scotsman David Millar is one of only two Britons to have worn the leader’s jersey at all three Grands Tours, is a lifelong Maserati fan and lists the Maserati Ghibli II 2.8 GT as his dream car. Follow him on twitter
It’s strange that people are surprised when they hear cyclists are into cars. They must think that in order to be a top cyclist you also have to be a member of Greenpeace. Well, I’m sorry to be the one that shatters this tree-hugging dream but most of the top cyclists I’ve ever known have been petrolheads at some time in their lives. It normally begins at the point in their career when they are making enough money to buy the car of their dreams, and more often than not ends around the time they crash it, or come perilously close.
This is something that perhaps isn’t so surprising: cyclists aren’t as good at driving cars as they are at racing bicycles – we start off thinking we are, then quickly learn that although we spend the majority of our lives racing on roads and understand the general principles of braking and cornering, the only thing bikes and cars have in common are wheels, and even they are vastly different. The modern racing driver and modern racing cyclist have as little in common as their machines, although this isn’t to say it was always this way.
I’m a big fan of motor racing, especially the time from the ’30s to the ’60s. The stories from these years have the same madness about them as the first stories I read about bike racing: there is a pioneer spirit and camaraderie to it all, not to mention tragedy and romance. The Mille Miglia and Targa Florio are races that seem to have been created in the same vein as the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. The competitors came from different ends of society, cyclists were poor country boys, racing drivers tended to be bourgeoisie, yet both shared a need to race and to push themselves. For cyclists that meant discovering the limits of their sufferance, for drivers that meant pushing forever closer to the edge of their, and their machine’s, abilities – death being the likely outcome if they did discover it. We don’t have to suffer as much in cycling anymore, our equipment and support teams alleviate this, and thankfully racing drivers don’t die as often, yet the essence remains in some abstract way.
What are left are the brands, Ferrari, Mercedes, Alfa Romeo, Lotus, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley, and my personal favourite, Maserati, to mention a few. Some have never stopped racing, others come and go, yet their names still mean something, and much of that comes from their racing heritage and the stories that accompany them. Maserati hasn’t raced in Formula One since 1957 when it won the Championship with Fangio, yet when we hear that name and see the trident we know there is a rich heritage even if we can’t say why or when. We don’t have many bike manufacturers that have stood the test of time in the same way; we have the riders, Garin, Lapize, Bartali, Coppi, Bobet, Anquetil, and of course, ‘The Cannibal’, Eddy Merckx. So I suppose in some way cycling and motor racing have something in common, even today we find inspiration from those early pioneers, their adventure spirit being something we could all do with rediscovering – cyclists and drivers alike.