Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cycling and TV...a winning combination

Well that's it. It's all over. No I'm not referring to popular Australian "reality TV" (is that an oxymoron?) show "Master Chef" which concluded over the weekend. For the blissfully unaware this is the program which was considered so important by its network and fans that the nationally televised federal election debate was postponed so as not to interfere with its time slot. Okay so I don't like it, so just don't watch it right? Wrong! What offends me the most is that this programs marketing campaign has reached saturation point with its logo found on every second item on supermarket shelves, from fresh produce to dry goods, you cant even walk down the street without seeing a billboard or poster promoting it and forget about opening a news paper. Enough is enough, the more I see it the more determined I become to not support it in any way. If you are from my part of the world then you know what I'm talking about and if you don't know then just consider yourselves lucky.

Of course the other must see television event which concluded over the weekend was the Tour de France. No real surprises with the end result although Schleck losing the race by the same amount of time he lost to Contador in the "chaingate" incident has me wishing both riders finished the three week tour on the same time, it certainly would have caused a stir.

With the tour over many of us in non cycling crazy countries will be lamenting the absence of daily race coverage and articles in the mainstream print media, yes its back to the good old Internet for your secret fix (don't you feel dirty?) of the sport which to most people only exists in the month of July. All the bike shops are now busily taking down the signage advertising their Tour de France sales, as if they were Christmas decorations in February. At least my sleep patterns can return to normal again.

All this talk about reality TV and cycling has me thinking about the time I spent in countries where cycling is a major sport and not looked upon as some sort of novelty news item, with your average person on the street in those countries having a pretty good knowledge of who is who and which race they won. In fact the racers are so popular that they are household names and sometimes end up on TV programmes themselves. I would like to share with you some examples of the quality programing featuring cyclists which can be found on TV in Europe.

Lets start in Italy where you may have seen Claudio Chiappucci on a programme called "L'Isola dei Famosi", which is like an Italian crossover of "Survivor" and the enthralling "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here". Il Diabolo really nailed the physical challenges but sadly couldn't take out the competition of Italian C and D grade celebrities and finished a respectable 3rd.

Here he is drinking from a coconut .
Here he strains to hold up a what looks like a Gilligan's Island style barbell.

Most of you would probably know about Mario Cippolini's appearance on "Balando Con Le Stelle" or "Dancing With The Stars" a few years ago.

If you missed it go here to see a clip of Mario learning to dance. A dance aficionado and cycling friend of mine who saw the show told me that Mario didn't really display the same supplesse on the dance floor as he did on his bike.

1996 was a great year for Italian cheese and I'm not talking about grana padano. Marco Pantani thrilled us with his racing exploits throughout the 90’s but injury had him sidelined during 1996 and prevented him from competing in that years edition of the Giro d’ Italia, a Giro that was arguably designed for Marco to win. Now back in those days a Giro without Pantani was like a caprese salad without basil but the tifosi wouldnt need to go without because in that year that the late Marco Pantani sang the theme song which preceded the daily coverage of  Giro d Italia. Watch the clip below to see part of the legacy this great champion left behind, it will only make you miss him even more.

As far as cycling mad countries go you really cant go past the Belgians for taking the interest they have in their riders that little bit too far. So far in fact that a few of them actually have their own television shows.

After his retirement from a long and illustrious career in cycling Eddy Planckaert couldn’t stay out of the public eye and allowed a TV crew to document the daily life of his large and somewhat eccentric family (he had fallen on lean times and needed the money). The show ran for an incredible 12 years and was only recently shelved.

If cyclocross is more your thing then you might like to watch another Belgian hit TV series "Wellens en Wee". The program is basically a documentary which revolves around cross star Bart Wellens, his family and team. Go along for the ride and see for yourself what happens during the cross season in Belgium. You can see some of the funnier moments, team roughhousing and practical jokes here, just follow the prompt to the VT4 website where you can watch full episodes (if your Flemish is up to it). The program is a pretty good insight as to how popular the sport of cyclocross really is in Belgium with plenty of drunken fans partying in the mud as they watch the racing and some occasional goofing around from Bart and his team mates to lighten the mood.

Still on the cyclocross theme and once again in Belgium “Mr Paris Roubaix” Roger De Vlaeminck also entered the world of reality TV with his program “Allez Allez Zimbabwe”. The basic premise is that the “Gypsy” turns talent scout and coach for young Zimbabwean cyclists and brings them to Belgium for some hard Flemish lessons in suffering to help prepare them for the world championships, and suffer they do. After all their hard as nails coach used to train up to 400km in one day leading up to Paris Roubaix, an event he won an unequalled four times..
Unfortunately for Roger his young charges seem more interested in the local nightlife and chasing girls instead of training. Never the less the young Africans were very popular with the fans and the program was a hit. See how they perform here.

One of the cultural nuances of Belgium is that even though its a small country you can go for a 20 minute drive and end up in a region or city that speaks a different dialect or indeed a different language. If you watch any of the linked film clips above you may be interested to see that even though everyone is speaking Flemish the programs are still subtitled in you guessed it, Flemish.


Today I want mention a subject most cyclists don't want to hear about. Getting hit by a car, the mere mention of it puts my stomach in a knot but unfortunately its something some of us will have to deal with at some point. I'm not going to go on and on about riding safely and your rights on the road. I'm just going to give you one piece of advice. If you get hit and you go down, even if you're okay, stay down. Don't get up, as soon as you do anybody who saw it will assume you are okay and drive on. When that car fails to give way or turns in front of you it helps to have witnesses to back you up . In my experience people generally wont stop unless they have seen something pretty serious. So stay down for a while, get some names and don't give the driver at fault any chance of getting away with it.

I don't really want to end this post on such a serious subject so here's a mildly amusing Belgian TV ad featuring Roger De Vlaeminck, Eddy Planckaert and Freddy Maertens hamming it up for some advertising dollars.

Ride sensibly everyone.


  1. Great stuff - I likey a lot. Where the hell do you find some of this???

  2. Marco Pantani singing is nearly as good as Paolo Bettini singing the theme song for the world championships in Verese......priceless! Although i would love to see Chippo belt out a few tunes and watching his false teeth drop out!! Keep up the good work Mr. Muse

  3. Thank you. There is so much out there if you know where to look.

  4. advice for being hit by a car taken from the italian soccer team manual??? awesome stuff