The high point of the cycling year is almost upon us — the epic three-week spectacle that is the Tour de France, commonly described as endurance sport’s toughest challenge, played out against a magical backdrop of mountains, vineyards, boulevards, fields of sunflowers, and roadside picnic tables groaning under the weight of saucisson sec and bottles of Cotes du Rhone.
This year’s race starts on Saturday 1st July in Dusseldorf, and I for one am quite excited.
The Tour is also the high point of the year for my Podcast of the Week — the weekly Cycling Podcast, which in the four years since it covered its first Tour in 2013 (the year after Bradley Wiggins became the first ever British rider to win the event), has established itself as one of the most admired of sports podcasts, shortlisted in the sports category at this year’s inaugural British Podcast Awards.
The Cycling Podcast’s presiding spirit is one of cycling’s most established and respected voices both on air and in print, Scotsman Richard Moore, an ex-pro cyclist with numerous cycling books to his name. Alongside him are fellow cycling writers Daniel Friebe and Lionel Birnie, but because Friebe is juggling other duties at this year’s Tour, a new name will be joining the team, French cycling writer Francois Thomazeau, who has additional credentials as both a crime writer and a member of a band.
What these gentlemen don’t know about cycling wouldn’t fill the width of a bike tyre, and sometimes they discuss the nuances of professional cycling — a complex scene at the best of times — to a degree which might leave the non-expert struggling to stay with the peloton.
But only sometimes. I find it a very rewarding podcast — nice and laid-back and quite understated. I learn a lot from it but Moore says he is conscious that an important part of the podcast’s role is to convey atmosphere and local colour along with the finer details of the action.
“It’s like cycling coverage has come full circle,” he says. “When Channel 4 first picked up on cycling in the 1980s there were no British riders to speak of, the audience was a very general one, and their highlights programmes were almost like travelogues. Then suddenly we had all this British success and the sport was what mattered. But at this year’s Giro d’Italia we talked a lot about the local food and culture, and that seemed to work.”
It sounds like we can expect more of that at the Tour when the podcast moves from weekly to daily, with half-hour editions posted mid-evening that look back on the day’s events and include what Moore says will be short, punchy interviews. The first of these will go out on the eve of the race, Friday 30 June.
“With audio you can be so quick to react,” he says. “People might remember last year when Chris Froome crashed and ended up running up Mont Ventoux without his bike. I was at the finish and no one really knew what was happening, and then Richie Porte, one of the other riders who’d been in the crash, came across the line and he was very agitated and we caught the whole thing.
“There’s an openness about podcasting. With ours you get three opinions not just one, and there are so many different ways of reading a bike race. It’s like there’s a story for every rider.”
In addition to the evening podcast, there will be a 15-minute, mid-morning podcast every weekday called Kilometre 0, picking up on an aspect of the Tour or a key personality.
And with the recent launch of the Cycling Podcast Féminin — a monthly show dedicated to women’s cycling which Moore co-hosts with Orla Chennaoui — the operation continues to expand, and it’s hitting big numbers. The Cycling Podcast was averaging 55,000 listens per edition going into this year’s Giro, when that number grew to between 60,000 and 70,000. Another big leap can be expected over the next three weeks.
Find out where to listen and subscribe at the Cycling Podcast website
Podcast of the Week – previous picks
Something about the Beatles
Strong and Stable/Talking Politics
Soundtracking with Edith Bowman
The National Theatre podcast
A Gay and a NonGay
Short Cuts with Josie Long