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12 days ago
By Matt Birt

1000 to 1, Miller defies the odds

Having been criticized and questioned for over a season and a half, Jack Miller silenced his critics with an against the odds win in Assen.

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

When Jack Miller walked into the Assen paddock last Thursday, he did so as a rank outsider with odds of 1000-1 to win the Dutch TT.

Bookmakers thought it more plausible for the Loch Ness Monster to be discovered (500-1) and you could get the same odds of 1000-1 on U2 lead singer Bono being the next Pope and alien life being discovered before 2017.

History and the odds certainly seemed stacked against Miller pulling off a giant-killing act in Assen.

Add Miller’s name to an illustrious list that includes Findlay, Doohan, Gardner, Stoner, McCoy, Magee, Beattie, Vermeulen and Bayliss.

No Independent Team rider had won a premier class race since Toni Elias triumphed by the width of a hair against Valentino Rossi in Estoril 10 years earlier.

No Australian had won a premier class race since Casey Stoner won the last of his remarkable sequence of six successive wins at Phillip Island in 2012.

No rider other than Stoner, Rossi, Lorenzo,  Marquez and Pedrosa had won a MotoGP™ race since Ben Spies was victorious at Assen in 2011.

The odds may have seemed excessively long but not ludicrously unjust when you consider too that it took Miller 24 races just to break into the top 10.

And his only visit to the top 10 had come just three weeks earlier when he finished 10th at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

He’s qualified no higher than 15th and prior to Assen had scored 25-points in 24 races.

And now here is. The first rider to win a Moto3™ and MotoGP™ race, the 10th youngest premier class victor in history and the 12th member of Australia’s exclusive MotoGP™ winners club.

Add Miller’s name to an illustrious list that includes Findlay, Doohan, Gardner, Stoner, McCoy, Magee, Beattie, Vermeulen and Bayliss.

In 12 incident-packed laps that followed a red flag for biblical rain, it was Miller time.

Time for him to silence merciless critics who have berated him for not being good enough after Honda gambled on fast tracking him out of Moto3™ on an unprecedented three-year factory contract.

Time to silence those who said he was foolish for bypassing the conventional route through Moto2™ to MotoGP™.

Time to repay Honda’s faith in him and to show that HRC’s big risk to promote him off the back of six wins in a breakthrough Moto3™ year at KTM in 2014 hasn’t been an ill-judged experiment that’s hopelessly backfired.

Time to stick two fingers up to those that questioned his dedication to physical and mental preparation.

Time to show those that feared he rode hard but partied even harder that he does have the application to back up the undeniable talent.

And time to show that he was not an idiot (his words not mine) that many had fallen into the trap of thinking he was.

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Miller: "It still feels surreal"

Miller’s is a true tale of blood, sweat and tears to get to the pinnacle of world motorcycle racing. The tears, like the beers, flowed freely on Sunday as he remembered the blood and sweat that’s gone before.

He’d busted 27 bones by the time he was aged 14 and unlike so many of the big name European talents he now races against, he didn’t start road racing until he was 14 in 2009 because of Australia’s strict age restrictions on when you can transition to tarmac.

That’s some journey going from raw novice to MotoGP™ winner in seven years.

It was a trail that had been blazed before. Much like Stoner and his family, Miller’s parents Peter and Sonya quit Australia to live the nomadic life in Europe, putting themselves on the brink of financial ruin to chase a day like their son experienced on Sunday.

His early career was spent scratching around in low budget teams riding machinery that he was more likely to break bones on than lap records.

Yet he never gave up. Not once did his belief falter and he once told me that starting out on slow machinery was actually a Godsend.  It made him hungrier to prove himself and he learnt how to scrap for every precious tenth-of-a-second.

It was still tough to gain recognition and had the offer not to join the Red Bull KTM Ajo squad in 2014 materialised, his parents were poised to remortgage their home in Australia for one final push for the big time.

Now he’s a MotoGP™ race winner.

Last year, Miller and HRC were vilified for what was an underwhelming season.

But it’s easy to forget the Honda RC213V-RS Open class machine he was cutting his premier class teeth on was a toothless motorcycle. He might as well have been asked to sell ice to an Eskimo.

The argument that he wasn’t mentally or physically prepared sufficiently to go from a 60bhp Moto3™ bike to a fire-breathing 250bhp 1000cc prototype definitely carried some weight. A bit like Miller did in 2015 to be fair!

The Miller of pre-season 2015 was around 7kg overweight. He trained but not in the right way. Give him a motocross bike over a mirror in a gymnasium any day of the week.

But you have to give him enormous credit for understanding that talent will only take you so far when you are competing against the elite on two wheels.

You’ve got be razor sharp mentally and have fitness levels not lagging too far behind Olympic athlete standard.

"He’s the first rider I saw breakdance in a gravel trap after a win and he’s the first I’ve seen drink Cava out of his boot on the podium." Matthew Birt

Riding a MotoGP™ bike on the ragged edge for close to 45 minutes is a brutal examination of mind and body. That test becomes a sterner one when you are riding Honda’s RC213V, which is fast but a nightmare to control.

I think one man who must also take big credit is Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS team boss Michael Bartholemy.

He recognised Miller’s potential in 2014 and thought he had signed him for the Belgium team’s Moto2™ project in 2015.

HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto then intervened and went on a personal crusade to move Miller straight out of Moto3™ to MotoGP™. Nakamoto’s ‘gut feeling’ and ‘crazy idea’ that Miller could prosper came at the cost of Marc VDS’s own aspirations.

Despite their turbulent history, Bartholemy had no hesitation in bringing Miller into the Marc VDS fold.

And Bartholemy’s no-nonsense approach might just well have come into Miller’s career at the right time.

Bartholemy can be a hard taskmaster. He demands the same drive, determination and passion that he puts in from his rider’s. He will cut you slack and give you the chance to escape the danger and pressure of earning a living at 200mph.

But the rest of the time expects a work ethic and approach befitting an elite level professional sportsman.

Bartholemy has played the role of lion tamer before. He tried tirelessly to keep John Hopkins on the straight and narrow at Kawasaki before he turned Scott Redding from a rough diamond into a rider that came close to winning the 2013 Moto2™ title.

Redding’s formative time with Marc VDS reminds me so much of Miller’s. Redding had talent to burn but without a clear grasp on how to unleash it. He was a young man living the dream. Paid to travel the world and race motorcycles as a teenager, with all the temptations that come with it. In his position, I’d have done exactly the same thing. He raced hard and played hard.

But he got to a stage in his career where he had the light bulb moment. He realised that without immersing himself into a strict training regime both for his head and body that he wouldn’t be showcasing his true potential.

All aspects of his life were looked at. What he ate, how he trained, his mental prep, when, where and with whom he socialised. No stone was left unturned to ensure his talent wasn’t wasted.

Miller’s hell raiser reputation has been calmed of late. He still loves to let his hair down but anybody questioning his commitment to the cause hasn’t seen him work so hard to recover from a pre-season double leg break.

And this came after a punishing winter training regime that saw him return in 2016 looking a shadow of the man he was 12 months earlier. Leaner, meaner, stronger, that was the Miller at the start of 2016.

I’ve got to admit that I’ve always been a big fan of Miller’s. He’s the first rider I saw breakdance in a gravel trap after a win and he’s the first I’ve seen drink Cava out of his boot on the podium.

He’s always been frank and funny and he’s proper loveable rogue.

He’s jokingly called a TV presenter a w****r on the grid in Australia after it was suggested his aspirations of a top 10 were over optimistic.

And he dropped the F-bomb to a global TV audience in a Parc Ferme interview in Qatar after his first ever Moto3™ win in 2014.

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Qatar 2014 - Moto3 - RACE - Full

He’s a mischievous character but one with a heart of gold. Once when his parents went away for a week, he persuaded the babysitter to drain the swimming pool so he could turn it into a skate park.

Miller is such a likeable character that when he punted off teammate Cal Crutchlow at Silverstone last year, the Briton couldn’t bring himself to be even remotely angry, despite being torpedoed out of a potential podium battle in his home Grand Prix.

In the two weeks leading up to Assen, Miller lodged with Crutchlow at his Isle of Man home and ran errands galore for Cal’s heavily pregnant wife Lucy.

This is the side of Miller many don’t see. The Miller that’s so good-natured that he would walk an old lady across the road and rescue a cat out of a tree without a second's hesitation.

I hope we don’t have to wait too long to see him on the podium again soon. Sunday’s masterful win in Assen’s wet and wild conditions showed he’s got the brain, heart and courage to go a long way in MotoGP™.

After Gardner, Doohan and Stoner, maybe we have got another Wizard of Oz emerging after all.

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