Millar was part of the early draft of the fund, which was set up after the tragic death of Yorkshire pro Dave Rayner in 1995. Its aim was to help young British riders make the leap from domestic racing to the European professional peloton in an era long before British Cycling’s increased funding.
Millar sent a letter to the fund at the tail end of 1995 and was selected for a season’s backing in 1996. He moved to France and rode for VC St-Quentin before landing a professional contract with Cofidis in 1997.
“You sent a letter asking for funding, and at the time it was quite a weird experience because there was no national vehicle or set of development programmes. You really had to find your own way in Europe and you really were on your own,” Millar told Cyclingnews.
“With the Rayner fund it felt like you were getting some kind of backing from your homeland. To be honest the majority of the people in British Cycling weren’t strong advocates for heading straight over to the continent. It went against the grain of the system so the Rayner Fund was a form of affirmation for a lot of young guys who wanted to go across and become continental pros.”
This Saturday evening Millar will be a guest at the Dave Rayner Fund’s twentieth anniversary dinner in Leeds, and will be joined by some of the almost 200 riders who have also benefited from the fund. Some of the most recent beneficiaries include Adam Yates and Ian Stannard.
“I think we went up to Sid Barras’ farm in an old borrowed van and stayed there for a couple of days. We had an interview and they whittled it down to just a few. The Fund was a massive help. It made what was already going to be pretty difficult year a lot more possible,” he added.
“So to have guys like Sid and these respected ex-pros, who didn’t think that I was totally mad, made a massive difference. It gave moral support and it gave me a footing back in the UK.”
The cycling landscape within the United Kingdom is very different to the one from which Millar surfaced in the mid-1990s. British Cycling has received lottery funding and has enjoyed success on the road and track, making it one of the strongest national federations in terms of support, development and results. Yet the Rayner Fund still has an integral part in cycling.
“I think it’s very similar to when I was on it. It gives some of the guys who are on the fringe, and it’s maybe a different fringe to the one I was on back in those days, to have another opportunity. It gives a chance to some of the pure road guys to pursue things along a different path.