What I learned is that cycling is one of the best sports to cover as a journalist…
It’s 11.39am on a Sunday, the heavy din of a man on a PA system accompanied by dance music fills the air and I'm standing in the middle of a road in south Manchester surrounded by professional cyclists at a start line. Behind the barriers are hundreds of people, craning to get a view of the sea of riders that are now swallowing me up. There’s an older gentleman who was in the distance, now very much in the foreground shouting 'out!' at me whilst my newfound partner in crime is asking an Olympian for a selfie. It’s all happening, all at once and there’s no turning back. Welcome to the Tour of Britain!
Why cycling? And why is it perfect for a sports journalist?
Precariously placed, I had a decent spot on Jenkin Road for Froome and co!
Enter Netflix and a new generation of riders getting exposure to a new set of fans with Tour de France: Unchained – from the makers of F1 series Drive to Survive – and it’s got me back in the saddle.
Where could these new fans go for their fix? And who could take them along for the ride? That’s when the ‘On Yer Bike’ podcast was born. In Harriet Muckle I got in a newbie, Katy Madgwick an expert and Red Walters a pro rider, each with their own perspective, leaving no-one behind.
Katy was with us remotely, Red checked in whilst competing in Europe and me and Harriet travelled across the country following every stage – bar one in Harriet’s case - and me at all of them from Goole to Felixstowe.
Katy at the ToB in 2021. Katy publishes her own work on WriteBikeRepeat.com
Red in his team colours, complete with Grenadian National Champion bands!
Tom Pidcock of INEOS Grenadiers talking to young GB riders before Stage 1 of the Tour of Britain
So why is cycling potentially a brilliant sport to cover?
Access: You’re encouraged to talk to athletes!
The refined air of the Premier League permeates throughout football. Talking even to a fourth division manager or player can be tricky. Getting the right accreditation at the cricket can feel like you’re dealing with bouncers at your bonce and with F1, let’s not even go there!
Eddie Hearn was a guest on Test Match Special over the summer and was lamenting a lack of ‘characters’ in cricket. He talked about how that side of the sport is what has made boxing, snooker, and darts so popular in the UK. Well, they exist in cycling that’s for sure. How could they not? To survive a cycling tour there’s an element of madness. How else can you justify all that pain and sacrifice to be there? And then there’s getting straight back in the saddle after an off, battered, bloodied, and bruised.
Back to that Mancunian start line and said Olympian snapped with Harriet was our great British cycling hope, the multi-discipline world champion Tom Pidcock. And how on Earth did we manage such a coup on out new podcast? His accompanying INEOS Grenadiers team media officer, Hannah, just came up to us and asked, “Would you like to talk to Tom?”. No huge email chain, briefing or media scrum to contend with. And there we were, talking to our biggest British superstar and he was as typically honest and straight talking as you’d expect for a man from Yorkshire. Only fellow Yorkshireman, football manager Neil Warnock, 50 years his senior has been so honest in their conversations with me with mic in hand.
Want to talk to pretty much any of the world’s top riders? Get to the mix zone at the rider sign-on and that can be arranged, or just turn up at their team bus/camper! Especially at the Tour of Britain, which as a smaller race is much more relaxed, so I’m told.
Doing my best Martin Brundle impression on various start lines, I ended up getting into in depth conversations with the commissaires (race officials like the FIA in F1), organisers, team bosses, the Shimano guys who drive around with spare wheels and bikes – you name it, they were there and happy to talk. It was all quite surreal. Nobody blocking you off. No-one doing their best Cara Delevingne impression. Me and Harriet did a live broadcast on the start line in Tewkesbury and other than having to keep our blue media vests to hand, we were golden!
An Asian bloke in a bucket hat with a microphone and a woman who’s dressed ready to go on TV at a moment’s notice, walk into the cycling tent mix zone. We stand out. How was that experience? I was prepared for the worst but was pleasantly surprised.
Harriet had issues on day one convincing the young lads on the media desk that she was indeed on the list for parking; I had someone whose opening gambit like a rutting stag was, ‘How long have you been doing this?’; and there was one journo who complained our line of questioning with Wout van Aert was ‘drowning his copy’(?!) BUT… that was basically it. That was the extent of the gatekeeping we experienced over a week of ostensibly becoming cycling journalists.
The Tour of Britain organisation were happy for us to be there, helped us when we needed a few things adjusting to get better access for audio recording and all in all went out of their way to accommodate us! How often can a journalist say that at a major sports event?
Add to that energy, enthusiasm and commitment of Harriet, the wealth of knowledge and patience from Katy as she guided us across the stages, and Red’s rider input whilst out competing and I think we managed to smash those gates wide open. And I haven’t even mentioned Dan Deakins and Anna McEwen, two cycling journalists and super-fans who also joined us along the way, jumping in with both feet in Felixstowe!
Ah, the million-dollar question. Well, in short, I believe so – but in testing economic times you’ve got to be creative, and we’re going to try and do that with On Yer Bike and see what happens! I’m convinced that as Netflix continues covering it, we’ll see new fans coming to the sport. The magnificent coverage from the Global Cycling Network and Eurosport mean for a modest annual outlay, you can follow pretty much any race across men’s and women’s categories. And there’s a huge number of fans on social media that love to talk cycling!!
#OnYerBikePod is absolutely brilliant. Daily love from @TourofBritain. Perfect mix of on-site, “all seeing eye” updates, rider chats, locals, local knowledge and vibe, old hands sharing expertise and new fans falling in love with the sport. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️https://t.co/jyjTVhEbft
By the final episode of our mini-series, we ended up in the commentary box in Caerphilly. Me and Harriet, over the course of a week, had gone from newbies to calling the action as it unfolded. It was only possible because the world of cycling – from riders and teams to officials and organisers, opened their doors to us and let us step into their world. It’s exactly what you want as a broadcaster and journalist wanting to take your listeners right into the heart of the action. What a ride and we ain’t stopping now!
Get On Yer Bike and join us!