ITV’s face of the Tour de France Ned Boulting brings new show to Bury St Edmunds and Chelmsford
- Credit: Archant
Ned Boulting has been the face of ITV’s Tour de France coverage since 2003. Event posed some questions about his new show Bikeology, his relationship with cycling, his career and some of the biggest talking points in the sport today.
Most of us have experienced that childhood delight of pushing off, wobbling but triumphant, without the support of an adult. Bikeology is journey into the confused and lonely soul of our love affair with the humble bicycle – from the eccentric rural German origins of the pushbike to the highest mountains of the Tour de France.
It will pose fundamental questions like what is Champois Cream? Has Chris Froome ever actually been to Britain? And if cycling is the new golf, then what does that mean for its female membership?
Q: When did you first get into cycling?
A: After a period of 20 years during which I neither owned, nor rode a bike, I was reaquainted with cycling when I was introduced to the Tour de France. Knowing nothing about cycling, I was sent by ITV to Paris to cover the race. As entry level drugs go, the Tour de France is pretty strong hit. I was hooked from the start. I did ride, as a kid. I rode to school – the same one dad taught at (he drove). When I turned 18, I kind of stopped cycling. I picked it up again in my mid-30s.
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ITV had acquired the rights to show the race from Channel Four who had dropped it in favour of cricket. To be honest, they didn’t really know what to do with it, so they cobbled togther a production team which was mostly inherited from the hugely popular Channel Four team, including Gary Imlach and Phil Liggett. Then they added me; a football journalist with zero knwledge or interest in the sport. It was a stroke of fortune and it’s no exaggeration to suggest it changed my life.
Q: What is your favourite Tour moment of all time?
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A: It’s hard to see past the sight of Bradley Wiggins in the yellow jersey, working for his teammate Mark Cavendish, in the world champion’s Rainbow bands on his way to a fourth consecutive win on the Champs Élysées.
Q: What’s your favourite behind the scenes story?
A: Wiggins producing the ride of his life, to that point, in Andorra in 2009, only to find when he got to the finish line up the mountain his team car was locked and he had nowhere to even sit down. Then it started raining. That always struck me as a very Tour de France image. It’s a frighteningly amateur sport sometimes.
Q: What is the most notable way the Tour de France has changed during your 14 summers of covering it?
A: When I started there were very few English speaking riders and the common language of cycling was French. The economics and globalisation of the sport have changed all of that. It’s now a thoroughly anglophone environment, with even the French riders succumbing to English. It’s a shame, really.
Q: Before the 2016 Tour de France, you said you were expecting it to be Chris Froome’s hardest test yet. He went on to become the first British three time winner. How impressed were you with him this summer?
A: He has partially re-invented himself, winning in totally new ways - aspects of his cycling for which he has, in the past, been criticised - like race craft and descending. He is, as things stand right now, the dominant stage racer of his generation and has drawn level with the greats of Tour de France history and still he continues to be denied the admiration he deserves.
Q: What did you make of Laura Trott becoming Britain’s most successful female Olympian? Do you think this will continue to have an impact on the British public adopting cycling as a primary means of transport?
A: She’s a phenomenal talent. The wonderful thing about Trott is she still genuinely exudes a passion for the sport; that sense she actually enjoys competing, enjoys racing her bike.
Whether or not we make the connection between elite sport and our everyday habits... Well, I’ve always had my doubts about that. I think it’s too simplistic. What matters more is changing people’s attitudes towards cycling, allaying their fears, making them feel loved and wanted and catered for. We need bike lanes, proper ones which prioritises cyclists over motoists and don’t force them to give way to cars at every turn... I could go on. Don’t get me started.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about your job as a presenter?
A: Bringing across the comedy of an event that tries to take itself seriously but is always on the brink of collapsing into chaos and disarray. The dramas, and they are daily, speak for themselves. It’s an astonishingly fast moving narrative, complex, detailed, inviting. I enjoy reacting to the live events and finding - on those rare occasions - the correct words to describe them.
Q: What is the weirdest thing you have seen happen during a race?
A: The French national champion climbing off during a mountain top finish, running into someone’s campervan and having a poo.
Q: Who have you most enjoyed interviewing over the years?
A: Almost every cyclist is a pleasure to interview. They are self-selectingly thoughtful and articulate. A rare breed in the sports world. If I had to pick, it would probably be Wiggins. He was - normally - amazingly honest, often quietly emotional and funny as hell.
Q: The British recently enjoyed a golden period of influence within the Tour, with Wiggins, Cavendish and Froome. How important have their successes been to the increased popularity of cycling in the UK?
A: Yes, it seems so. Which is a wonderfully childish connection to make: “I want a bike so I can do what Wiggo does.” Then again, cycling is a childhood pursuit which can endure into adulthood and become a tool in everyday life. In that respect it’s so different to almost any other sport. When Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon gold in London, people didn’t suddenly start heptathlon-ing to work.
Q: Which young British riders do you think might continue this across the next 10 years?
A: Watch out for Hugh Carthy. He’s just starting out, with a second tier Spanish team, but has already shown he has the potential to climb with the biggest names in the sport. Then there are the Yates twins, Adam and Simon. They could be very special.
Q: What affect do you think the actions of Lance Armstrong have had on the sport of cycling?
A: Armstrong’s unmasking forced, almost, everyone within the sport to start again, from scratch. Strangely, it’s not diminished the public’s interest in cycling but it has affected the commercial reality of financing the sport; sponsors are hard to find. It’s a lot cleaner than it was. But, then again, it was filthy.
Q: How fairly/unfairly do you think cyclists are paid in comparison with other sports persons?
A: The stars are on huge money, multi-million pound contracts. But it shelves off pretty steeply. Most riders on the Tour de France earn less than £100,000 a year. Some earn considerably less than that. Is it fair? It is what it is. They’re riding bikes for a living after all. If they don’t like it, they can stop.
Q: Do you think enough is being done to encourage everyday cycling in this country? A huge amount is being invested in infrastructure - for example London’s cycling super highways.
A: Yes I do. It’s not a huge amount. It’s a tiny, tiny fraction of Transport for London’s spend. The potential gains from getting people riding, for all Londoners, cycling or non-cycling, are truly exciting. The built environment could be revolutionised, leading to huge gains in public health and the local economy. If only policitians were brave enough to back the vision of men like Chris Boardman.
Q: Do you feel enough is being done to ensure cyclist’s safety on the road?
A: No. We need more segregation. Most of all, and this is the thorniest issue of all, we need to gain the respect and affection of other road users. We need more segregated roads and we need a genuine understanding of what it is to ride a bike, from those persistently aggressive motorists who simply don’t understand the power they wield. I think the rapid increase and spread in the profile of everyday cyclists will lead to a gradual softening of attitudes. When our kids all get back on their bikes then, surely to goodness, the car drivers might relent from trying to run us off the road. If you think that’s an exaggeration, then think again. It’s a reality.
Q: Do you think the positive environmental benefits are becoming a bigger factor for people considering taking up cycling? Are the public becoming more conscious as to how their modes of transport can negatively affect the environment?
A: Yes. The diesel emissions scandal has accelerated this perception, too.
Q: It was recently claimed cyclists should have an insurance policy for instances where they are at fault in collisions and responsible for any damage caused to vehicles.
A: Why? It’s up to them whether they are insured or not. If it’s proven they are at fault they will be sued for damages. Are pedestrians insured? The pedestrian who stepped out in front of me, catapulting me over my handlebars and into hospital overnight wasn’t insured. Perhaps I should have sued them. Or, perhaps, it’s just one of those things.
Q: World road race champion Peter Sagan recently caused debate in the cycling community by not shaving his legs before a race. What is your take on this? Is it really disrespectful to fellow riders to be a hairy biker?
A: Sagan is the sexiest human being ever to breathe God’s air. He can do what he likes.
Q: British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton recently resigned amid claims of sexism and discrimination towards elite cyclists. Do you think there is a problem with sexism within cycling?
A: That’s not for me to judge. Those who feel aggrieved, feel aggrieved. Who am I to dispute that? There is certainly sexism in cycling, but perhaps not as much as exists in other walks of life. In certain cases I would suggest cycling can be extremely inclusive. At least that’s my experience.
Q: What would you say the most important lesson you have learned from cycling is?
A: That being outdoors beats being indoors.
Q: Should audiences coming to Bikeology be prepared for anything at all?
A: Tyre levers, inner tubes, a pump, a stopwatch, a couple of gold medallists. I leave the rest to your imagination. If you can change an inner tube quick-time, you might just be the right person for the show’s finale challenge!
Bikeology visits The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, October 19; and Chelmsford’s Civic Theatre on October 20.