For the first few minutes Time Trial feels oddly unengaging. Cyclist David Millar, the subject of Finlay Pretsell’s new documentary, does not have the intimidating magnetism of Lance Armstrong and as a result the film lacks the intensity of a work like Alex Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the aim of this film is not to tackle Millar’s doping ban — he freely admits very early in the documentary: “I fucked up” — and the immediate aftermath but instead to study Millar’s attempt to come back to the sport following his two-year suspension.
His comeback is marred however, by the realisation that age has caught up with him and he is no longer able to compete with younger, stronger riders. Millar’s wrestling with this fact is the crux of almost every interaction, interview and piece of footage in the film. In one clip he chats with one of the other competitors and bemoans the fact that the pace has been so slow that near the end of the race there are still a “a bunch of muppets who shouldn’t be there (at the front).” Yet at the same time Millar looks tired and heavy-legged and appears oblivious to the fact that he, at the age of 37, is one of those “muppets”. During another race, he takes it upon himself to distribute water and snacks to his teammates and in doing so gives the impression that he is sacrificing himself for the good of the group, yet all the while there is a sense that he is avoiding pushing himself to compete as an individual.
This sense of frustration is epitomised by a several minute long take in which Millar, cycling alongside his support car, struggles to put on a new pair of gloves and change his jacket. His team can’t find the gloves he is certain he packed, and he fights for what feels like an eternity with the zip on his jacket. Such mundane actions have rarely been so nerve-shredding or arresting. Mid-race encounters such as these, where no thought is being paid to the camera, feel like the most honest portrayals of Millar and his fellow racers and, as a result, are the most engaging moments of a film which occasionally struggles to be visually cinematic.