Cycling commentary is going to become a big talking point in the next few weeks. We catch up with one of the trio from SBS’s 2020 team of talkers to talk about talking about cycling.
It was the eve of the strangest Grand Départ in Tour de France history. A text message to a fellow Tour regular asked: ‘You ready?’ Like me, Matt Keenan isn’t going to be there this year, but you’ll hear him talk about the race… a lot.
Here is a verbatim transcript of an exchange we had while he drove home after a rehearsal session in a studio in Melbourne, where he will call the Tour de France of 2020 which begins in Nice tomorrow.
Keenan will be one of the three key voices of the SBS commentary team, along with Bridie O’Donnell in Melbourne and Robbie McEwen, who will be working from the studios in Sydney. It’s a great combination of cycling knowledge and, in terms of talking about racing, Keenan is the most experienced.
He called (on the hands-free) while driving back home the night before the start of Le Tour 2020. Here’s what he had to say…
– Click the SoundCloud file to listen and/or read the transcript below –
Part 1: Getting ready, catching the vibe… working with Robbie and Bridie
– Interview by Rob Arnold
RIDE Media: Are you ready?
Matt Keenan: “Yeah. I think so. I’m as ready as you can ever be but it feels strange being this far away from all the action, as you can well [understand]. You’re away from the action – you’re used to being at the action… we’re normally post-team presentation, doing interviews, feeling the vibe.”
RIDE Media: And are you coping? Should we just rip into the interview. Should we just have a little chat about how you’re coping with the difference?
Matt Keenan: “Really well. I’ve actually embraced it. I’ve loved the time at home with the kids actually, it’s been fantastic.
“It’ll be interesting watching somebody else do my job, but c’est la vie. I’ve actually… it’s been a strange year but there’s been plenty of positives to it.
“How about you?”
RIDE Media: I’m okay. I feel awk… no, awkward is not the right word. I feel a little bit strange. I haven’t watched [the Tour] from afar – this is literally the first time since 1996 that I haven’t been there. So, it feels… I have to try and remember how I used to do it.
But everything is different now. I know a lot more. But I’m enjoying it. I rode my bike. And I’m seeing Sydney and… you?
You’re going to call from Melbourne?
And then what happens to the international feed? Did you just say someone else is doing that?
Matt Keenan: “Yes, Anthony McCrossan and Simon Gerrans are doing that. So, Robbie, Bridie and I will be calling for SBS.”
RIDE Media: Okay, I didn’t know that… people are aware of that?
Matt Keenan: “I don’t know. I assume so. I don’t know how it has been communicated in terms of the world feed by ASO, I haven’t really followed what they’ve done in terms of their messaging to various broadcasters and so on. I guess they probably tell their broadcasters and let their broadcasters inform their audience themselves.”
RIDE Media: Does that feel like a temporary suspension? Do you think you’ll just get the role back if everything goes back to normal?
Matt Keenan: “I hope so. I’ll find out next year…”
RIDE Media: Who knows what’s going to happen, but you’ve just come from a rehearsal in the SBS studio. Just tell me about it. How did that unfold?
Matt Keenan: “A lot of the rehearsal was about making sure everything was right, technically.
“The biggest challenge is the fact that I’m in Melbourne. Robbie is in Sydney. And, for the first time, we’re commentating with somebody else on the Tour; we’ve got Bridie O’Donnell in commentary with us.
“We’ve worked with her, Robbie and I, at the road national championships and it worked really well. But that’s it. And we were in the commentary box together.
“This time, for Robbie and I it’s a different experience not being in the commentary box together, plus you’re adding to the mix that you’re working with a third person. So, it’s going to be a different dynamic on a whole bunch of different levels: the logistics of it, the additional person… and we were just working through some of those elements.
“The technical stuff works pretty well, it’s now up to us to be able to deliver.”
RIDE Media: The key part of your job is making sure you’ve got the vibe. When you’re in, what I still understand to be a 5km radius lockdown, do you… can you catch the vibe? Can you ride the bike? Can you feel part of the community? I know you’ve got a new Trek, so… tell me about it.
Matt Keenan: “That’s the big challenge. So, in Melbourne with the lockdown, I’ve got a brand-new bike that I’ve had for a week and I haven’t done a proper ride on the road, I’ve only ridden it in my garage on Zwift.
“I’m looking forward to actually do a proper ride. And, in terms of getting the vibe of the race, is a really good point because you and I are often at the race, we’ll meet in the press centre, have a talk about who you’ve spoken to, who looks good, who you think is a dark horse… so you miss out on sharing all that information. Which is the equivalent to an office water-cooler conversation. So, you’re missing out on that.
“In terms of, in commentary and getting the vibe, normally we’re at the finish line and we’re with commentators from all the other languages, so you pick up a bit of energy from them. We’re next to the Norwegians and when Boasson-Hagen is anywhere near the front, the commentary box starts to rattle.
“The Belgians get excited when they see one of their guys in a breakaway – Thomas De Gendt is on the charge, trying to win… so you miss that.
“But you know yourself, when you’re watching a bike race that you’re not working at, and you’re in your living room on your own watching the tellie, you still get excited, you still get on the edge of your seat. And I’m sure that’s exactly what’s going to happen throughout the Tour.
“When we call the Criterium du Dauphiné, [we] still got lost in the emotion of the race and still felt the race once it got going. But being in Melbourne, remote, the other side of the world from the Tour, you will miss out on picking up those little tid-bits of information that you get from all the other broadcasters.”
RIDE Media: You’ve grown up watching Robbie [race] and you combine really well on air; it sounds fantastic and he’s got such fantastic knowledge of, obviously, the peloton but also the terrain and tactics and the like. Is there a directive as to how you two are to work with one another or are you totally settled now with the rhythm of the last few years?
Matt Keenan: “There’s nobody telling us how to work together. You’ve just to find your own rhythm. You can’t fake it.
“It’s a relationship, really. And you’ve just got to let it go naturally.
“The first time we worked together on the Tour and travelled together, I was more nervous about the travel element than the work element because I’d worked with Robbie before but I’d never spent four weeks travelling with him in a car, and then – as you know on the Tour: it’s breakfast together, jump in the car together, work together, drive to the next hotel together, have dinner together. You don’t get much time apart. And we actually got along really, really well.
“So, that then comes across on air.
“If there’s tension off air, that will come across on air as well.
“We just get along really well off-air, which helps when we’re commentating together.”
– ENDS Part 1 –
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More to come, including predictions and talk about the two Australians in the 2020 Tour de France: Caleb Ewan and Richie Porte.