The experienced cycling commentator reminisces about drinking with world champions, the dangers of scaffholding. He has covered five Olympic Games, the last 18 editions of the Tour de France and tweets
I first became interested in Cycling through my grandad when I was about 11 or 12. We used to go out for long rides together with me looking like I was heading off to the Tour and him in his plus fours. He would tell me I’d be much better off with mudguards, Sturmey Archer gears and a nice set of panniers!
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I once rode the national track championships in Leicester and raced in the Individual Pursuit against a guy named Bretherton. Benny Foster used to do the on site commentary and I remember Brotherton versus Bretherton seemed to do his head in. It didn’t take me long though to realise I might be better at talking about it than doing it.
My parents took me to see the Tour De France in 1985 and I think I’ve seen at least one stage live every year since then bar one. I cover football for the majority of the year for both Match of the Day on TV and on radio for 5 Live but have always enjoyed the change of scene cycling provides at the Tour, Worlds or Olympics. Generally access to the athletes is better and they don’t exist in a bubble like some players do. For example, we were able to raise a glass with the boys in Copenhagen on the night of Mark Cavendish’s World title win. That wouldn’t happen in football for any number of reasons.
Brotherton with Laura Trott at the RideLondon launch in February
Timing is everything and the Tour De France coming to England in 1994 along with the emergence on the road of Chris Boardman opened the door for me to cover it on the radio. The BBC only wanted to do the two English stages but were eventually persuaded by me that we needed to follow the whole thing. Boardman won the prologue in Lille and the next day there was the infamous crash in Armentieres. Suddenly, from being worried about getting on air, I’d reported on a Brit claiming the yellow jersey and a crash that made Radio 4’s ‘Pick of the Week’ the next day.
Coverage of the Tour has changed so much in the past 18 years. In 1994, I travelled in the Cycling Weekly car with William and Alasdair Fotheringham. Upon leaving the start, we would find a phone box in a village to file an update from. Then once I arrived at the finish, I’d run up the finishing straight with my metal reporter phone case, climb into the scaffold structure, move the chain-smoking Spanish radio guys out of my space and then find a France Telecom engineer to come and put my phone line as quickly as they could so soon after lunch.
These days sit in relative luxury in a commentary box with windows, lights, flat screen televisions and computers. The old scaffold set up was rough and ready and had no back on it. Many times I could feel it begin to sway as the riggers started taking it down while I was still trying to file a post-race interview or voice piece.
This article first in appeared in Cycling Weekly, December 22 2011.