Every year since he stopped riding the Tour de France, sports editors have sent young (and not-so-young) reporters on an annual search for Robert Millar.

The Scottish cyclist who won the King of the Mountains title in 1984, and finished fourth overall, would lie dormant in their minds until weeks before the Tour.

Articulate and waspish-tongued, Millar was also humourous and eloquent in print on the evidence of work he did for specialist cycling magazines. He had seen and done it all. He had been about to ride a 12th Grande Boucle when his team went broke. Millar quit the saddle, wrote a little, and worked as GB team manager, generally maintaining a low profile.

The statistics don't lie. He was twice runner-up in the Vuelta (Tour of Spain), and once in the Giro (Tour of Italy). He won the Dauphine Libere and remains the only Brit to have won a general classification in the Tour de France and to have stood on the final podium in Paris. So approaching the Tour each year, the boss would demand: "Bring me the pen of Robert Millar."

Not only was it not for hire, but Robert was nowhere to be found. Millar's tale was not to be told. Good old tricks of our trade (door-stepping, ie camping outside the subject's home until he shows up) were useless. Robert had lived in France for 15 years, most recently with his French wife, Sylvie, and son Edward, at Troyes, near Paris. Phone calls there indicated the couple had separated.

Even his closest friends said nothing. A justifiable thought was that they were protecting him. One red-top Sunday tabloid had located Millar, door-stepping his home in Daventry for a week in the belief that he had undergone sex-change surgery. Then they ran a grubby and unsubstantiated story. Firm grounds for protecting anyone.

Though he resurfaced briefly at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Millar disappeared again. He has since been spotted variously: all over Europe, in Australia, with a pony-tail dyed bright red, at a taekwondo club where he was a member for three years (without ever letting on he'd been a pro cyclist or giving out his phone number), and in Dorset.

With people idolising him, and the cycling fraternity indifferent to his orientation, this seems much more complex than simply running from a seemy and apparently untrue story. Even those with his best interests at heart have lost touch.

Arthur Campbell "had been like a father" to young Millar. A senior official of the world body, the UCI, Campbell had helped find Millar a place to serve his domestique apprenticeship in France. Before the youngster quit Scotland, Campbell, who is fluent, gave him French lessons.

Billy Bilsland, Campbell's son-in-law, was an early mentor, pro rider himself on the continent and a long-term friend. He has a cycle shop in Glasgow's Saltmarket where, almost un-noticed and high on the wall, is the slightly-faded polka-dot and black shorts ensemble of the King of the Mountains winner. Alongside is another framed kit, from Eddie Merckx, the five-times Tour winner.

Millar thought enough of Bilsland to hand over his coveted 1984 strip. Yet even they have lost touch. When Millar was inducted into the Scottish Sport Hall of Fame in 2003, none of Bilsland, Campbell, or a team of experienced researchers, could find a trace. In the end, Bilsland collected the honour on his friend's behalf.

With the Tour again approaching, and this year's edition starting in London, it's find-Millar time again.

You could write a book about it. And finally one of our number has: In search of Robert Millar.

Richard Moore is a respected freelance journalist. He first saw Millar on TV when he was just 11. He watched with his father as Millar won stage 11 of the Tour de France in the Pyrenees, leaving Luis Herrera and Pedro Delgado trailing, en route to capturing that 1984 polka-dot jersey.

The 11-year-old Moore was hooked, and wrote to Jim'll Fix It, asking if he could arrange for him to go cycling with Millar. Apparently, Savile, a former Tour of Britain rider, couldn't find Millar then either, but this didn't prevent Moore from becoming obsessed by the Gorbals-born rider.

Four years later, the future author rode with Millar on a training weekend, and eventually graduated to ride the nine-day Prutour event around Britain when Millar was team manager.

Moore also competed for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games but, for many years, he has been seeking Millar and, though yet to find him, he has written a book.

He obtained an e-mail address, but Millar didn't respond. Then he did, saying he couldn't help - "call it self-protection" - but, eventually, he explained the backgound to his axing from British Cycling, by Peter Keen, and cast light on doping and other issues.

Keen is the man responsible for the GB system which has helped deliver Scotland's now most famous rider, the Olympic and world track champion Chris Hoy.

Keen and Millar had a spat on their first meeting, which may explain why Millar is now marginalised. He was dismissive, the scientific approach introduced by Keen: "no creativity, it's all numbers and figures . . . like painting by numbers . . . Trouble is, road racing isn't that controllable and, if Picasso turned up for a job at the BCF paint school, they'd tell him he was barking up the wrong tree."

He denied the need for a book, but agreed he couldn't prevent one from being written: "There's a morbid attitude to privacy in this country . . . It's bizarre the need to diminish other people so that they can feel better about themselves . . . I've shared a part of my life as a professional cyclist, now that career is finished I have the same right to privacy and a quiet time as the next person."

Moore has attempted to strip away that right, as gently as one can when dealing with a personal idol, yet has not buried darker details, like drugs or tabloid intrusion.

When he ran the Australian rider Phil Anderson to earth in retirement off Ocean Drive, near Melbourne, Moore was greeted: "So, is it true Robert's a sheila?" Having arrived at the same spartan Paris digs with the Boulogne-Billancourt team within hours of Millar as a young men, he knew Millar well.

It's suggested that the sex-change "story" was what prompted Millar to go to earth. If so, why did he continue writing for Procycling for a further 18 months?

Later, when he helped the Scottish Commonwealth team in 2002, Millar rode the course with the road team. Pointedly, he stripped off his shirt in front of them. Revealing exactly what you'd expect of a male cyclist.

Millar is a man of contradictions: disparaging his roots, moaning about Glasgow's climate, and saying in the columns of this newspaper that he would never return. Yet he would modify his race number on the Tour. Twelve yellow stars on the blue EU logo would be coloured in with a blue pen, then he would scratch a cross on the blue, converting it to a Saltire.

It's questionable whether Millar would have responded to invitations to write about the Tour. He once railed at a colleague: "There could be a Chernobyl in France, and all people would talk about is the Tour de France."

Moore has done a prodigious work of research, and delivers overdue illumination of a fascinating Scot.

The title works at two levels. Yet Millar's final email - "No more questions", it read - leaves many unanswered about this enigma.

It's hard to avoid the suspicion that Robert Millar himself may still be in search of Robert Millar. In Search of Robert Millar; HarperSport, £15.99, by Richard Moore