If you’ve been watching cycling on SBS recently, you have probably guessed who will be on your TV in the coming months… and today the network revealed that Simon Gerrans will be stepping into a regular role as a commentator alongside Matthew Keenan, Bridie O’Donnell and co.
Back in 2017 when SBS confirmed that it would be replacing the dulcet tones of Phil Liggett and his commentary cohort Paul Sherwen for coverage of cycling, there was quite a strong public reaction. Matt Keenan would take over and he was to be joined by Robbie McEwen and a range of other former riders to call the action of races like the Tour de France.
The roar faded and, once people adjusted to the different accents, there was a sense of calm again. There was bike racing on the television and there was reason to be cheerful. The new commentary team was doing a great job and although memories of P&P lingered, there was a general acceptance that this Aussie crew offered great insights into the action.
Then, earlier this year, there was considerable uproar when McEwen announced that his contract with the network wasn’t going to be renewed. On cue, the discussion about who would fill that considerable void raged for weeks.
We now have the answer: Simon Gerrans, the winner of a couple of cycling Monuments – ie. Milan-Sanremo and Liège-Bastogne-Liege – and a host of other major races, is the new man at the microphone for SBS.
This has now been formalised. SBS has confirmed its talent line-up now that Grand Tour season is upon us and again, we’ll hear Keenan and Bridie O’Donnell in the commentary booth, and they’ll now be joined by ‘Gerro’.
Meanwhile, other aspects of the SBS cycling coverage will be managed by a team who we’ve become familiar with in recent years, including former riders Dave ‘Macca’ McKenzie, Kate Bates, Gracie Elvin and Mark Renshaw.
Rounding out the commentary crew is SBS veteran, Christophe Mallet, who has been a regular of the network’s cycling coverage since 2017. He appears on screen, on social media and on podcasts hosted by the public broadcaster, and he’s back for more in 2022.
Commentary from the races?
SBS issued a press release earlier today confirming the commentary line-up but, with the Giro d’Italia due to start in Budapest, Hungary, on Friday it wasn’t confirmed if there would be anyone from the network actually at the race this May. We can assume that the call will be managed from SBS’s studios back in Australia, as was the case for SBS’s Giro calls of old (ie. pre-pandemic).
And the Tour de France…? Well, there have been murmurings all year that the crew would once again jet off to Europe for July and make the Big Loop around France and call the action from the tribune at the finish line of each stage.
Again, there is no mention of this in the release from SBS, but there is still plenty of time to work out the details. And it could simply be that planning is underway with an eye on how things evolve in relation to travel during the times of a pandemic. As we all know, in 2022, you need to be flexible.
Variety from the commentary booth
Whoever calls the cycling action on a network like SBS, which is committed to over 810 hours of racing coverage in 2022 alone, has a big responsibility. Commentary for cycling is significantly different from most other sports as there is a need to consider the myriad settings in which races take place.
Furthermore, now that SBS has committed to live coverage of each stage of the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España – plus a selection of other races throughout the season – there is a lot of air-time to be filled and, ideally, insights offered.
Get it right, as someone like McEwen so often did, and there is significant praise. Get it wrong, however, and there is often a chorus of discontent.
With Gerrans there is a voice of authority with a huge swathe of personal anecdotes on offer, but he has shown considerable restraint during his time in commentary booths thus far. His calls tend to focus on the action, and not on what he did on the bike during his years as a pro cyclist. Furthermore, he has been gaining experience as a co-host of ASO’s international feed for a couple of years while Keenan and co have remained in Australia to call races like the Tour de France.
O’Donnell has had a couple of years to adjust to another role in the cycling world and she clearly enjoys her chance to talk about something she is passionate about.
The question that lingers is: how will this trio mesh for hour after hour, day after day, week after week? Will there be tension, agreement, or argument? We’ll soon know the answer.
The Giro is about to start. The studios are prepared. And the Couch Peloton will soon be in position and ready for the action.
– By Rob Arnold