Behind the Screens at the Vuelta
SPOILER ALERT – In the following text, David will reveal truths about television production, specifically bike racing coverage, which may change your viewing experience forever...
Photos: Gareth Winter / David Millar
June 2014, England.
I was in a pub garden drinking with my sister, France, and our friend, Kelly. We were commiserating my de-selection from my own team to my final Tour de France when France’s phone rang, “It’s Ned Boulting. I’ll take this.” Which was telling as she’d been ignoring calls all day.
She was immediately engaged and walked off across that-so-English of lawns and through the bench-tables while bossing her phone. Kelly and I continued our conversation, we were used to Frances having to take calls yet were wondering why television’s Ned Boulting was calling her and why she was answering, after all, we’d decided on radio silence.
When Frances came back she sat down and said, “Ned and I think you should go to the Tour de France.” And so it began. My sister and Ned ganged up on me, which to be fair is how my relationship with my sister works, she occasionally decides I don’t have a say and tells me that I must be better because she knows I won’t do it on my own. Ned on the other hand I only knew via a microphone, in fact I had been his first British Tour de France cyclist interview (I was the only one at the time), he actually asked me what it felt like to wear the “yellow jumper”… A great book incidentally. I wasn’t so convinced he was bossing me, at the time.
I returned to Spain, then a few days later I returned to Harrogate for the start of Le Tour as the hired “colour” - the media term for somebody who can’t be trusted to hold the fort yet can provide interesting opinions and anecdotes to help the viewer/listener understand what’s going on.
Ned and I got on well sharing the microphone, to the degree that we were considered serious candidates to become the next Phil and Paul, because oblivious to me at the time that was in process. ITV were very aware that Phil and Paul, the voices of cycling, couldn’t do it for another thirty years (based on current age predictions), and the future was being planned.
Ned and I started commentating races, one being the Vuelta Espana, and we did it from Ealing Studios in London. I was ragged, wondering what I was doing watching a bike race, yet still listening to my sister’s voice telling me that this was the best thing for me, a halfway house of sorts, “And you get paid, David.” Nothing else paid me so that was an amazing attraction.
More importantly France knew it would mean I was out of the racing while still keeping a bit of myself in it, and she knew I was better off relaxing the grip rather than letting it go all at once. As ever I thought she was wrong yet continued because I knew her track record of being right was proven.
Now I enjoy it: I like coming to Ealing, staying in a hotel near the studio, going to Starbuck’s every morning and getting a cappuccino and an Americano at once, buying books from Oxfam, turning up to the studios within 1min of my absolute deadline and everybody being completely accustomed to it. Then we watch the Vuelta with headphones on, I’ve never been so intimately involved in a bike race. I used to share everything I knew with Ned, I don’t need to anymore, he’s learnt nearly everything, he is the voice of cycling. I joked with him today as he went out to get a coffee, “Whoa, wait, what do I do if you’re not here and we’re told to start?” Because, what you the viewer maybe don’t realise is that Ned takes you on the journey of the bike race, I just give you the occasional view, and it all comes from Ealing, and there are dozens of people making it.
So, if you hear a loud and over-confident, “Welcome back to the Vuelta Espana!” from me after a commercial break then it means Ned is getting a coffee and didn’t come back in time to bring you back into the race gently. Because to this day, after us commentating on months and months of racing together, Ned has never left me in the lurch. And behind Ned and I there are dozens of other people, and yes, for the Vuelta Espana, we’re in Ealing Studios. Here are some photos of them, starting with the boss, Carolyn…
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