‘That boring bloke’

I watch quite a lot of cycle racing on TV, an unhealthy amount some might say. So the voices of David Harmon and Sean Kelly have almost become part of the household. I’ve never really given it much thought I just assumed that everyone enjoyed them as much as I did, until the other day that is. Over the last year my wife Shelly has started to enjoy watching cycling, and Mark Cavendish in particular. While I’m a fan of Cavendish myself it is a little like supporting Man Utd, ‘oh he’s won again, what a surprise. Somewhat naively though I assumed that she enjoyed the whole experience. So imagine my horror when during a stage of the Vuelta she referred to the legend that is Sean Kelly as ‘that boring bloke’. First I went upstairs to get my Kelly biography from 1985 so I could start reading out his palmares, and remember that he raced for a number of years after this. ‘He won the Green Jersey four times’ the Paris Nice seven times in a row, the Vuelta, Paris Roubaix twice…’ and on and on I went. It wasn’t until I mentioned that he likes donkeys that she started to warm to him a little, sadly this wasn’t enough though and she stuck by her view.

I struggled to come to terms with this to be honest and found myself offloading my anguish to Dave Kirton as we trained for our upcoming Coast to Coast ride. As I recollected my wife’s comments he sympathised saying that his fiancée Rebecca had much the same opinion (she confirmed this later when she met us as we looked at Dave’s collection of bikes – something that gives us all pleasure). Dave said that he finds Kelly’s voice quite soothing which adds to his enjoyment – maybe the great man should develop a sideline of reading children’s’ bedtime stories? I must remember to write to him to suggest that he gives this some thought.

What troubles me more though is that fellow riders who are too young to remember Kelly as a rider, or are new to the sport of cycling, might have much the same opinion ‘that boring bloke on Eurosport’. In the modern peleton there isn’t really a rider that you could compare to Kelly, someone who can compete for an overall classification in a Grand Tour as well as winning the points competition yet can also dominate in the classics. On Eurosport David Harmon will often attempt to coax Kelly to talk about his career but he tends to avoid it and remains silent. In fact he famously nodded when asked a question in a radio interview. Kelly is much more comfortable when giving the view from inside the peleton as it were and there are few more qualified to do this. For example he rarely gets it wrong when asked if he thinks a break will stay away, ‘it’s going to be difficult’ he will simply say more often than not and leave it at that. What I like about him is that he doesn’t get drawn into that tendency to be over analytical that so many ‘experts’ do preferring to give simple and straightforward answers that aren’t designed to impress the average viewer. However if you find him difficult to listen to there are a few things that I could suggest that may help. Having spent some time defending him I have to admit that he is economical in his use of vocabulary, so to add interest to your viewing you can play ‘Kelly Bingo’ and count the times that he will say the following and then compare them with subsequent broadcasts:

  1. ‘He’ll pay the price’ (when someone is expending effort unnecessarily)
  2. ‘It’s not majorly difficult’ (when referring to an easy climb)
  3. ‘It’s difficult to say’ (classic Kelly non-committal)
  4. ‘He’ll struggle to hang in there’ ( when a rider is suffering like a dog at the back of the bunch)
  5. ‘It’s a difficult one’ (a subtle Kelly variation on number 3)
  6. ‘errrrm’ (used to get most of his sentences underway)

Or, as Dave does, you can tape him then listen to his soothing tones as a means of relaxing after a stressful day. Either way your life will be enriched and you’ll wonder how you ever got by without him.

Paul Christon – September 2009