The first time I remember riding a bike was around the edge of the pitch at Accrington Cricket Club. Dad was on the field playing in the Lancashire League, and as I anxiously awaited the half-time interval so I could get on the pitch with Grandad and aim the ball at three stumps, I’d pedal around the path that circled the pitch, stabilisers bumping against the ground.
First bike - late 1980's
Back then, if I was ever going to be involved in sport (highly doubtful, given how rubbish I was at playing most of it) I would’ve bet on leather and willow rather than anything else. I lived for cricket. Bikes were never far away, though. Seeing as we’re talking about the 90s, they were mountain bikes. We’d bike it around the block before we were allowed to wander as far as the edge of the estate, a little later to the shops and then maybe up to the cricket club itself.
Aside from studying the effects of EPO in sports science classes, I wouldn’t be properly reacquainted with cycling until I’d moved abroad, finished university and had started work. My passage through Spain, Italy and France, scuba diving then studying had opened the window to a new sport; one that like cricket, required time and effort to understand and enjoy. Cycling looked different, sounded unfamiliar and took place in an ever-changing natural stadium.
My first day at a ’proper’ job, at Eurosport News (although given that it’s so much fun, whether we actually do a ‘proper’ job is up for debate) allowed me to report on the 2007 Giro d’Italia. That was quickly followed up by the ‘eventful’ 2007 Tour de France. Watching the excitement as the race was about to roll past the office on the way to the Champs-Elysées was one of a series of insights into how much these big tours meant to people who didn’t even consider themselves fans of the sport. A few of minutes of the bunch passing by treated like an FA Cup final or a Super Bowl.
Throughout those years spent moving around Europe, that same attitude began to take root in me. That’s not to say I lost interest in other sports. After somebody decided they liked the sound of my (telephone) voice on the telly, I moved to London, went freelance, as is the way of the industry, and continued to cover football and volleyball, along with various other different things.
Beach Volleyball World Championships - 2013
Somehow I continued to gravitate towards jobs that allowed me to travel even more. Heading to Brasilia one weekend for a beach volley tournament, working on a football match in Manchester during the week and then heading to Almaty for the Asian Winter Games after that. Travelling has taken me to more than countries than I can remember, and rewarded me with friends and experiences that I simply wouldn’t have had if I had ended up doing something else. I’ve been very lucky, and hit the jackpot when I was asked to commentate the 2009 Giro d’Italia.
Other sports have taken me to other countries. The best thing about cycling, however, are the detours. Many people are lucky enough to put a pin on a map and visit. But these aren’t maps we design, we don’t choose, and in that respect we visit places that would’ve never been on our radar. I’d never planned to get to know Flemish towns in late February, sit at the top of a mountain in Catalonia in March, commentating from the driver’s seat of an articulated lorry, nor visit the Dolomites in May. Without cycling, would I have sat in the middle of a Swiss industrial estate in June and then seen the majesty of the falling leaves beside Lake Como in October? Lots of it has been weird but most of it wonderful.
Roubaix Velodrome, Tour de France stage 9 - 2018
All that travelling brings me back to the bike. That first bit of freedom that led to moving on and moving around, to living in four different countries and landing in plenty more. Upon arrival, I’ve unpacked mine in places as geographically diverse as Norway and Poland, and as far afield as Korea and Australia. Once the world switches off the ‘pause’ button, I can’t wait to do it all again.
Limoges, Tour de France. Trying to avert disaster with Rob Hayles as our desk collapses during the final kilometre of the stage - 2016
In the commentary box for Eurosport with Bradley Wiggins - 2019
Tour de France rest day with Sean Kelly a few metres behind - 2017