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Review: Ned Boulting's Bikeology stageshow

15 Aug 2017

Eric Morecambe shares one caffeine gel too many with Thomas Voeckler

Impeccable Tour pedigree
Lacks a high-wicking base layer

It’s 26 years since Ned Boulting last appeared at the Edinburgh Festival. He shows us a photograph to prove it. That’s him, one of the Cambridge Footlights, next to that one who now presents Bake Off.

Now he’s back, with his one-man homage to all things cycling-related, Bikeology, which kicks off with a video pastiche of Trainspotting, featuring Ned riding his Brompton past various Edinburgh landmarks.

As well as 'life' and 'tight-fitting trousers', he chooses a jiffy bag, the contents of which are revealed after he and his Brompton have burst though the doors and taken to the stage.

The frenetic pace doesn’t cease for the next hour and 10 minutes, by the end of which Boulting – more familiar with the gentle, sedentary pursuit of commentating on the Tour de France for ITV – is saturated in sweat.

By then, he has travelled from a potted history of the world’s greatest bike race to an appreciation of chamois cream via a mime routine celebrating the pros and cons of Strava.

Describing the show as 'a colossal group hug while we seek to find out why we have this strange relationship with the bicycle, often to the exclusion of human relationships,' he warns us of the perils of becoming 'a slightly boring person.'

His anti-heroes are "Colin" – or "Belinda" - who are likely to go into work on a Monday morning and greet their non-cycling colleagues with, 'Did you see Ghent-Wevelgem at the weekend?'

'Be a bit more normal,' he urges us.

The show never quite lives up to the edginess of the opening video – about the most controversial Boulting gets is when he describes a map of the 2017 Tour route as looking 'like a kitten’s shat over the carpet' – and the scattergun approach gives the unfortunate impression he knows a little about a lot.

The largely middle-aged audience – about a third are female - greets his jokes with polite chuckles rather than belly laughs.

But Boulting’s manic energy and constant gurning make him an excellent Eric Morecambe for the MAMIL generation.

He just needs a straight man 'with short, fat, hairy legs.' Presumably Chris Boardman wasn’t available.

In the bar after the show, I ask Boulting how he’s enjoyed the switch from ITV’s roving reporter on the Tour to its main commentator.

'I resisted for three years,' he says. 'People outside the industry think it’s an easy move, but it’s like me asking you to take the pictures instead of write the articles.

'I was terrified of the bunch sprints. There is so much happening and so many riders to look out for. But it’s actually the mountain finish stages that are the hardest for a commentator.

'Those last three kilometres will last about 15 minutes and you have to fill that time by refreshing the imagery constantly, searching for new vocabulary.

'Those three kilometres are so slow, and slow is bad for commentators.'

He says his co-commentator and former pro David Millar has been a massive help.

'It’s like I’m seeing bike racing in HD for the first time thanks to what he knows about the sport. He has been my education, because he is cycling, warts and all.'

I ask him the “balloon debate” question – if the balloon was going down, which of his ITV colleagues would he throw out first, Millar or Boardman?

He chooses to take the question literally – or perhaps he’s just being diplomatic.

'Well that’s easy. Chris is half an inch shorter than me but is 12 kilos heavier. Dave’s about six foot four but skinny.

'So it would have to be Chris. I asked him about his weight once and he replied, "It’s because I’m very dense".'

The poster for Bikeology shows Boulting wearing a helmet cam. Does he in real life?

'No. The poster is meant to be ironic, it’s me looking up at the camera in despair. It worries me when I see someone wearing one, it’s like the "weaponisation" of cycling.

'It sends out the wrong message to anyone thinking of taking up cycling.

'If we want to improve things for cyclists in this country, the audience we need to target is everyone who is not in the cycling community, and we won’t win them over if we are Lycra-clad, camera-wearing warriors.

'I absolutely defend people’s right to wear Lycra if they want, but we need to make cycling look "normal", like they do in Denmark and Holland.

'If you see someone with a GoPro on their head, it reminds me of those rich, gated communities in South Africa with their own CCTV.

'It’s off-putting to everyone, to pedestrians crossing the road, to people getting in and out of cars. Plus, it makes you look like a prick.'

Bikeology is on national tour from 27th September. Details at:

From £17

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