The norbs Guide to Watching a Grand Tour in Australia.

This guide is intended mainly for the dedicated Australian cycling fan (although, it can be adapted to other sports) who has to stay up into the wee small hours if he or she is to participate in the live viewing experience of a Grand Tour, or other major race in Europe. Races like the spring classics shouldn’t need this level of dedication, after all, it is usually only the one night. The grand Tours are a 3 week stretch, luckily, with a couple of rest days included.

The dedicated Aussie cycling fan can even see a fair amount of Grand Tour stages on free to air TV thanks to the wonderful coverage provided by SBS. For the Giro and Vuelta, there is a smattering of live stages, and for the rest of the time there is Steephill.tv or cyclingfans.com for live streaming.

So, how do you mange to survive the three weeks of the one Grand Tour most watched, the Tour de France, where all stages are live on SBS. Well, having done it a few times myself, I present to you my tips for helping you keep the eyes open til the closing credits.

#1. Never, ever assume the horizontal! I can’t stress that enough. I assume most people will be watching the race for the maillot jaune from their couch. If you do, I’m betting you wont last the first week before dropping off to the land of nod. It seems a lot of amateurs put the heater on, grab a blanket and bask in the warming glow of their 52″ LCD with the sound down so as not to wake the sane person in the house. To these people I say “You’re doing it wrong!”

Rookie Error.

I cant stress it enough, don’t get too comfortable. It is a rookie error. Even seated at your computer, make sure your feet stay a good 600mm below your head! You have been warned.

#2. Cold feet are your friend. It is July in Australia and depending on where you live, it can get pretty coolish at night. Use this as an ally. Keep the Ugg boots in the shoe rack and nude up the toes. The benefit here is that it gives you something to do which will help you stay awake.

Cold Feet are Good Feet.

You stay awake by not getting comfortable. Continually swapping the foot you are sitting on keeps you awake. And, it helps stretch those muscles that stretch when you sit on your own foot. Please, only one foot at a time.

#3. DeCaf tea. Because decaf coffee tastes like some one has boiled the water from the pool in old peoples home up the road. Having a hot beverage late at night is only bad if it is Horlicks. Make sure it is steaming hot, like thermo nuclear hot. That blister on the bottom lip or tongue will keep your mind off falling asleep.

Mung Bean and Lentil Chai.

Best to if the tea is something exotic, you know, something like tree bark infused with the tears of ants. The fact this tea exists will keep you awake for hours.

#4. Headphones. And, like Robin Williams character in Good Morning Vietnam said, “PLAY IT LOUD, OK!” Headphones come in very handy. Firstly, you can hear every little whoop whoop whoop of the helicopter blades as they blow the bejesus out of a poor French farmers crops. Also, they will stop you dropping off when that Skoda ad appears during an ad break. And it will appear!

Loud = Good

 

Oh, and make sure they are wired headphones. That way, if you do manage to doze off and roll over to get comfortable, the feeling of being garroted should snap you back awake.

#5. Food. I can’t stress this enough. The exotic hessian and sawdust tea will only do so much. You need sustenance. It might be a bit late to be snacking down on a bag of Snakes or Clinkers. But don’t let that stop you from some good old Vegemite crumpets. Even better with melted cheese on top.

Vegemite and Chocoalte Milk

If you can’t stomach Vegemite, well, don’t be calling yourself an Aussie.

#6. Twitter. There is nothing like following some of the cycling royalty on Twitter. @inrng and even the face of Aussie cycling on TV @miketomalaris All are worth following during a bike race.

Mr Cycling on Aussie TV

Whether you want serious analysis or snark, it is all out there on Twitter. Search for hashtags for each race. #giro, #tdf etc etc

#7. Place a bet, a large one. Nothing keeps you on the edge of your seat like putting next weeks rent on one of the Schlecks finishing in the top 180 in the ITT.

Damn Frandy!

Best not to take tips from most of the SBS team. Tomo especially!

#8. Take some leave. Every year for the past 4 I have had the last week of the TdF off work. It is a pretty drastic measure, but it certainly makes it easier if you can grab a nana nap from about 1PM to 10PM before coverage starts.

Nana Naps

It is also a great time to get out on your bike and try and match the antics of the race the night before.
So there you have it dear reader. There is no excuse for falling asleep at 1:30am whilst watching Voeckler drive the french ladies mad with his tongue antics.

Update : Since I wrote this piece, I have done another along the same lines for RIDE magazine. Check it out here.

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Thank You SBS and the Twitteratti!

Well, another three weeks has passed and the Tour de France is nearly done and dusted. Due to the fact that I am back at work tomorrow and can feel the man flu coming, I will be bailing early tonight.

Just a quick note to say a big thanks to SBS and Cycling Central for the terrific coverage of the tour. There is a lot of whinging and bitching along the way, but I am sure most Aussie tour freaks are grateful for the coverage.

And to all those people I have chatted to on Twitter, thank you for the banter. There hasn’t always been agreement, but it has made the tour so much more than just sitting on my arse in front of the TV.

Most importantly, a huge shout out to all those who took part in #toursnacks It has taken off in a way I never expected. Thank you also to Phil Gomes at Cycling Central for getting behind it.

Vive le tour!

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Cows with Guns – Thanks #trolldj

You know the Aussie tour freaks will go off like a frog in a sock when #trolldj busts out this crowd favourite.

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Gerrans vs Talansky

This is as good a job of the screenies I can manage at 1:45am.

Use the cursor keys to go through the sequence.

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Phil and Paul, I Have Some Questions

Where is the safest spot in the peloton?

Do the riders get nervous?

Paul, did you ever ride professionally?

Is there a chance you might lose the Tour de France on any given day, but not win it?

Are there really four Sundays in the Tour de France?

Have there ever been any gauntlets laid down during the Tour de France?

Can you dance on the pedals?

Has any one rider ever ridden like ten men?

Do nerves of steel ever help?

If a sprinter touches his brakes, is it a sign of weakness?

Do the screws ever get turned up?

Does the peloton ever string out?

Has the rubber band ever broken?

How big is the suitcase of courage?

Are they heads of state in a bike race?

Is it possible to tap out a rhythm?

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Some Photos of Stage 5 Pre Race

People are already bitching about 2 cobbled sections being yanked. I think that is a bit rough. have a look at some of these photos of cobbled sections.

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My 3 New Bikes.

Since jumping back on to a bicycle in 2009, I have had three new bikes.

My new ride.

The original Merida flat bar hybrid. Bought on the 23 July 2009, got me back into cycling. Sadly, I found it gave me sore wrists riding it, so I sold it after 5000kms and got this.

Untitled

Bought on the 6th May 2011, this bike was a fantastic buy. It got me around the bay, from Adelaide to Geelong and many other adventures. I blogged about how much I loved this bike a while back. About a week after that blog post, I found a crack in the frame. Bugger. After some chit chat with Sheppard Cycles, the Avanti distributors in Australia, I ended up with this. A big thank you to Cam and Ainslee for their help in the process.

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What a beast. A fair bit more aggressive than the old Avanti, and lighter. With my mass on top of it, it certainly goes down hills fast. Lets hope I can get as much fun out of this one as the last one.

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Can You Be First to Pick Last?

Fantasy leagues, they are like lunatics on a climb at the Giro. Everywhere! I think it is time for something different. Probably not original, but different.

Who do you think will pick up the lanterne rouge (last official finisher) at the 2014 Tour de France?

Leave your pick in the comments below and you could win something. It might just be a bottle picked up from the side of the road at this years Tour Down Under. It may be something better. If I manage to scrape any other prizes together, I will list them in this post.

If no one picks the lantern rouge, it will be the lowest placed rider chosen first. I hope there won’t be any duplicates. I usually only get a couple of comments anyway, so it shouldn’t be too hard to see who has been picked.

Prize pool :

- Velocast Tshirt, thanks to John and Scott at the Velocast
- Bottle picked up from roadside at 2014 Tour Down Under

To enter, just add a comment below. Keep an eye out here once the TdF has finished to see if you have won.

Entries close July 7th.

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New New Bits and Old Old Bits

As most people know, I have had the frame upgraded on my bike a week or two ago. I will put a full review of the warranty process together some time in the next week.

Today was time to replace a few bits that got moved from the old bike to the new one. Some were for aesthetic reasons, and others due to the old parts having issues.

Issue #1. The front caliper. It looks like there was a routed the wrong way around the caliper. Something I might have done, I am not sure. Anyway, here is what it looked like.

On went the new calipers, some black 105′s.

Next up, some new dark grey cranks. The old chrome ones were very beaten up and looked a little odd on the new frame. So on the new ones went and after a few wipes over, todays work was done.

Once the rear wheel has been re-laced and trued, I will get the new machine out for some decent photos.

Here is it last weekend out on my 2nd ride.

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#girosnacks goes Pink

Tomorrow night, all those who have been participating in #girosnacks have been thrown a new challenge. To celebrate the pink jersey, #girosnacks is going pink.

Post up your photos of pink snacks to twitter with the hashtag of #pinkgirosnacks

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A Night at SBS for the Giro d’Italia

Make yourself comfortable, this is a long one.

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If you need Ritalin to sit still, an overview of the sea of words below. I thought I would ask Mike Tomalaris if I could do a behind the scenes look at how SBS brings us the Giro. To his credit, he said yes. Below is the story in full.

I would like to say thanks to Mike, Cath (The producer of the Giro coverage) and everyone else at SBS who made me feel welcome and were extremely friendly and helpful.

As I sat in my office chair last Thursday night, reclining back during an ad break, I started to wonder, what actually goes on behind the scenes at Cycling Central? Who is pulling the strings? Who schedules these damn ads?

One of the advantages of having the brain of a five year old is that it makes me inquisitive. There is always another question. Why? How? When? Where? Who? What?

The ads finished and TrollDJ was back with some disco music over the top of some recent footage. At some point during the next stint, between me blasting away on Twitter, I scribbled on my notepad “speak to Tomo about behind the scenes”.

Friday morning, I sent Mike Tomalaris a DM on Twitter. “Hey mike, if you have 5 minutes today, I have an idea I would love to run by you. norbs” I added my phone number, not expecting it to come to much.

That night, I am laying on the couch watching some highlights and the phone rings. Urgghh, someone doesn’t know about my 8PM phone curfew. “Hello”
“Hey norbs, it is Mike Tomalaris”, that snapped me out of my funk. It isn’t often you talk to a TV personality on the phone. The conversation is usually one sided and coming out of the TV.

We had a chat for a few minutes and Mike said it would be fine for me to do a behind the scenes blog post about how they bring us the coverage. Whoohoo.

Now to the logistics. It is a 220km trip from my place to the SBS studios in Artarmon. Might be a good time to catch up with some people in Sydney. I knew @kimbo would be keen for a beer and feed, so I pinged her on twitter and arrnaged to meet her at 6PM for a feed.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon and the traffic into Sydney was an ache in the nether regions. Finally, I got to Surry Hills and had a most excellent Japanese meal and chat with Kimbo. Then it was off to Artarmon.

I fired up the GPS and away I went. There were quite a few anxious moments when the GPS lady had me swing across 8 lanes of traffic after the Harbour bridge, but I finally arrived at SBS. To this point in time, only a few people knew what was going on. Time to let the cat out of the bag.

Mike let me in and I was introduced to Matt Keenan, Dave McKenzie, Henk Volgels and Catherine Whelan. I asked what I could and couldn’t do and was pretty much left to my own devices.

It is 9pm and things are starting to get moving. Cath gets intro package ready, the first surprise of the night. It is done a couple of hours before the show by a single person. I can’t even work iMovie, and there she is swinging video around on the screen like a magician. Cath gives me a quick run down and gets to it. The boys are researching. Henk is actually watching AFL. Matt is watching the start of the race. Dave is on cycling news catching up on the latest news. Mike is checking the run sheet for show. Things are super relaxed. I am probably the most nervous person in the place.

Some chat breaks out about the break away for tonight. Will they stay away. What big names are in the 20 man group. Adam Hansen is in the mix, so the hope is he can do something.

Mike gets a message that the online stream has dropped, and disappears on the phone. It wont be the first time tonight that I see the other side of how things work. It would normally be me sending the message via Twitter, asking what the hell has happened to the feed, provided to me free remember, and when is it coming back. It also started a trend for the night that when ever something went wrong, Twitter would be awash with posts like “norbs kicked out a cord”. Bloody comedians, they are everywhere.

Not long after that, it is off to makeup for Mike and Henk. There is the normal banter, as you would expect from blokes about to have makeup put on. Henk goes first because his takes the longest, etc etc.

Dave McKenzie

I get a few photos in the make up room, which from a photographers point of view is quite challenging. light sources everywhere, as well as mirrors. I get introduced to Andrew, the studio floor manager. He would be telling me where I could and couldn’t go during the broadcast. He thinks it is a good idea to check out the sound and commentary area. I meet Warwick in the sound area and check out the tiny commentary room. Matt is already in there preparing.

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It seems odd to me that the commentators have a tiny screen jammed into the corner, but the studio guys have a screen just shy of an iMax theatre.
From there Andrew takes me down to the control room. Lots of smiles and everyone is relaxed. A room filled with monitors, switches and buttons.

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From here, we headed to the studio. I have never been in a TV studio before. It was everything I hoped for and more. The 5 year old in me when crazy. So many things to see. It was very hard containing myself and not asking “what does that do?” “What is that for?” “Can I sit here?” I spent a fair bit of time talking cameras and camera lenses with the camera operators. I was taking photos and the on air guys were having a slight touch up to the make up.

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Then it was a quick rehearsal.

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Wow, this was getting very real now. Only 10 minutes to air. Andrew suggested the best place to be would be the control room. As it turns out, he was right.

The Cycling Central music fired up and the intro package was on. I was excited. The intro finished, Mike is on TV and things started happening too fast for me to take in. The director, Dave, was calling numbers that I assumed corresponded to cameras. The lady doing the switching was doing it all easy. I was freaking out. All this stuff just happens when you watch TV. But there are people behind it all. I know that sounds like the bleeding obvious, but it really hits you when you see it all happening.

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It is so frantic, and I was so worried I might distract them, I edged out of the room slowly, so as not to draw attention. I head to the sound area to see what is happening there. A “No Entry – On Air” sign is on. oh oh. I stick my head in and Warwick waves me in.
I watch the rest of the intro package in there, with Matt Keenan just behind me. Still pouring over articles and race books. Time for a sneaky selfie from Tomo. Check the monitors, you can see Tomo taking the photo and Henk and Dave getting in it too.

Selfie

Dave gets a leave pass from Mike and heads to the commentary position. I always get a mental picture of Dave running down a maze of corridors to a commentary box. In actual fact he walks down one.

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I watched a few minutes of the beginning of the actual race coverage before heading back to the studio to see what happens in there during the race itself. I wandered in and Mike and Henk were both staring at their phones. Everyone else was relaxed, sitting around, watching the race and their phones.

All of a sudden, it was just like sitting at home. Listening to the chatter of the commentators with the added bonus of hearing Henk analysing the race was great. Henk doesn’t leave you guessing as to what his thoughts are, and has also got some comedic timing.

The studio can talk to all other areas, and during ad breaks, there is some great banter between the commentary team and the studio. Thoughts on how the riders are looking. Taking apart a riders pedaling style. It is times like this that, for a numpty like myself, these guys show why they are on TV. I learnt so much, just by sitting and listening. Every now and then I would wander off to the control room or the sound area, just to see what was happening.

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At one point in the control room, I saw Mike on the monitor lift his head and say “anyone seen norbs?”. For a split second I thought he said it on air. My heart jumped. Then Cath flicked a switch and told him I was with them. I asked her to let Henk know I had Cherry Ripes. Henk had used the term so often it had become a Twitter hashtag. I headed back to the studio and busted out the Cherry Ripes. There was a few chuckles and Mike and Henk took photos for Twitter.

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It wasn’t long before Henk cracked and ripped the wrapper off one of the Cherry Ripes.

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Then there was the horrible incident with the moto slamming into a marshall. That caused a lot of discussion in an ad break. We saw the replay in the studio a few times, it was nasty.

Once they were on the final climb, I headed back to the commentary box. I wanted to watch Matt and Dave call the last few kilometres. They didn’t disappoint. Seeing them both get so animated was terrific. Matt is like an Encyclopedia of all things pro cycling. He seems to be able to pick the riders so quickly. Dave seems to be a few hundred metres ahead of the race, but even he seemed surprised at the end when Battaglin surged at the end for a perfectly timed win.

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I headed back to the studio to see what people were saying there. The lights were up and they were ready to go back to air. A few touch ups with the make up, Dave reappeared and they were on air again. Wrapping up the stage and taking people through the leaderboard and the next stage. They had to fill some time at the end, and it is interesting to see Tomo adjusting on live TV.

And just like that, it was done. Nearly three hours had gone like a snap of the fingers. It had been thoroughly entertaining. I had learnt so much. Seen so many things a normal punter doesn’t. I understand the privileged position I was in, and have Mike to thank for making it happen.

I said my farewells and headed to the car, in a slight sensory overload. It was a long trip home, broken up by a car in front being T-boned. A fight spilling onto the road in front of me. And the sight of a very attractive young lady doing a great technicolour yawn in the forecourt of a service station. Add to that two nap stops and i rolled in the front door at 5:15am. Exhausted.

None of this would have been possible without the help of the people below. To them I say thank you for answering my questions and making me feel welcome.

HOST : Michael Tomalaris
GUEST : Henk Vogels
COMMENTATORS : Matt Keenan & David McKenzie
PRODUCER : Catherine Whelan
DIRECTOR : Dave Everett
PROD MANAGER : Leni Marcus
PA/AUTOCUE : Karen Martin
DA/CHYRON : Olivia Kourkoumelis
AUDIO DIRECTOR : Warwick Saville
AUDIO ASSIST : Nick Pursehouse
TD : Johannes Sudbrink
LIGHTING : Ben Viney
VM : Biljana Ivanisic
EVS : Dave Ryan
FLOOR MANAGER : Andrew Anicic
MAKE UP : Hannah Sinkinson
CAMERA : Henry Schydlo
CAMERA : Chris Fraser

Below is a gallery of all the photos I took. You can also view them in a larger format here.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Thanks for reading. If you have questions, fire away, I will do my best to answer them.

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