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It's time the Tour of Britain took centre stage

Tour of Britain
Matt Barbet
23 Oct 2015

Presenting TV coverage of the Tour of Britain is a rush of travel, gossip and cycling celebs, as Matt Barbet discovers.

I’m sitting on a train, heading from London to Colwyn Bay in North Wales, looking at pictures of an incredible selection of cars on a mobile phone: a couple of tuned-up Jaguars, a green McLaren, a Mercedes, a new Land Rover. The mobile is not mine, and the cars never will be. They all belong to the man who, by chance, is sat down next to me: Mark Cavendish.

And so, my journey round the country following the brilliant circus that is the Tour of Britain begins by shooting the breeze for three hours with one of the greatest Britons to ever pedal a push-bike. We talk openly about lots of things that I won’t share here, but I also get plenty of vital help with my homework on the other riders he’ll be racing with, ahead of the two-hour team presentation I’m on my way to host.

With names we all know like Sir Bradley Wiggins, André Greipel, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Alex Dowsett and Peter Kennaugh joining Cav on stage, as well as plenty of the domestic stars of bike racing I know and admire, I quickly realise I haven’t actually signed up to work – it is instead a completely different way of life for the next eight days. Rightly, people refer to being ‘in the bubble’ as the whole caravan works its way around the country. For a genuine fan like me, who just happens to be lucky enough to work as a journalist and presenter on television, it is intoxicating from the off.

With a huge team involved in putting together the live coverage for the whole world (over 100 countries show the race) and also highlights for ITV, we quickly fall into a daily rhythm. In my team Skoda, I have ex-pro and Olympian Rob Hayles as well as our producer Paddy. We meet for breakfast, then head to the start of that day’s stage, where we’ll hook up with the rest of the crew and try to grab interviews with the riders round the team buses. I also meet up with former national champion Kristian House to record his thoughts for the highlights show.

Once done, Kristian goes off to race on the bike and we’re racing in the car – legally, of course – to get to the finish line. Depending on the length of the stage, and with a lot of roads closed, time is of the essence. With all the broadcast trucks already set up at the finish, Rob and I go on-air at 1pm to introduce the live coverage, before the legendary voice of Hugh Porter takes over commentary to the finish line, along with Brian Smith as a pundit.

Minor details form enduring memories. There’s the Lancashire town of Colne, awash with as much yellow as you’d ever see at any Tour de France finish

Once I’ve finished chewing over the day’s racing with Rob, we’re off-air. I pick up on camera with Kristian ‘The Dude’ to get his insights from inside the peloton – Wiggo and Cav constantly taking the mickey out of each other, riders asking others what their bikes are like as they could be racing on them in a new team next season, the detailed story of crashes that our cameras can’t pick up, the hierarchy in a breakaway where experience can count for more than brute strength.

Once recorded, I write and record a quick summary of the day’s race for the following day’s show, and then we’re on the road again, maybe for two or three hours, before we get to a hotel near the following day’s start. Then it happens all over again.

Minor details form enduring memories. There’s the Lancashire town of Colne, awash with as much yellow as you’d ever see at any Tour de France finish; the wind turbine in the Northumberland town of Blyth that turns out to be the first one Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria has seen; and the puzzled look on Tyler Farrar’s face as a large cheese – a stilton – is awarded to him for being the most combative rider on stage three.

Future stars begin to emerge. Welshman Owain Doull ends up on the podium for Team Wiggins, delighted to get a regular lead-out from his decorated boss. Team GB riders Tao Geoghegan Hart and Alex Peters mix it with the best of them. Gaviria out-sprints Greipel the Gorilla to properly mark his arrival on European roads.

The only potential downside of the whole shebang was not being able to ride my own bike for a week. I say potential because on the magnificent final circuit in London, I actually managed to whizz round with three motorbike outriders.

With famous addresses like Whitehall, The Strand and Piccadilly Circus closed to traffic but already lined with thousands of people, I just had to go full-gas. As I pushed myself to go faster, I couldn’t help but grin. Yes, I was exhausted from the long week on the road, but it wasn’t really work. It was just one of the best fun and most satisfying things I’ve experienced.

You can follow Matt Barbet on Twitter @MattBarbet

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