Back at the beginning of August I reviewed the Cadel Evans biography, Close To Flying, first published in 2009 and now reissued on the back of the Australian's Tour win. To say I didn't like it would be an understatement. To say that I was cruel to its credited author, Rob Arnold, would be a gross understatement.
There then followed - with a bit of midwifery from the INRNG blog and a few others - an exchange of emails between myself and Arnold. We each defended our respective positions. Robustly. Rather than leaving things there Arnold agreed to an interview. We could have spent the whole interview arguing about what was wrong with my review and what was wrong with Close To Flying. But that would be like watching two bald men arguing over a comb. Fun but not very edifying.
The interview that resulted is published in two parts. It is, I hope, fun and edifying. In the first part, we talk about Arnold's early life as a BMX bandit before turning to the topic of publishing: in Australia, Arnold is the publisher and editor of RIDE Cycling Review. He's also the man behind the words on LeTour.fr's live ticker and here shines a light on how the words we read at Tour time get to our screens. Naturally, me being me, we also talk about doping.
Podium Café: You got into cycling as a kid, you were a BMX bad-ass, tearing up the track. This would have been the eighties, when BMX was first booming, yes? What was the attraction - was it simply being in the right place at the right time, a mix of geography and the sport of the moment?
Rob Arnold: I started riding BMX in 1981 in the Netherlands. I lived there for a few years while growing up because that's where my father is from and we opted to spend some time away from Australia. I had a great time there; learned the language, saw Joop win the Tour, discovered that you could either ride for fun or ride to get around and so I rode. That was my real introduction to cycling but it got serious for me in BMX in 1983 when I returned to Australia.
I raced until 1988, my final year of high school. Oddly, after school, it just stopped. But I thought it would be what I did until I was an old man. Because of BMX, I did almost every other form of bike riding there is: track on Saturday evenings as a teenager around a cricket pitch in my home town (Coffs Harbour, NSW); road on borrowed bikes - including that of my step father who was almost a foot taller than me - but eventually on my own bike from the age of 16 onward; commuting but also as 'training' for BMX on my mother's town bike from Holland; and cyclo-cross a few times as a pre-teen in Zwolle.
The attraction was riding. The fact that I had lived in Holland and saw the bike as something practical helped nurture my enthusiasm for cycling. That and the fact that I just wanted to be able to get to the beach to see what the surf - or whatever - was like helped prompt me to ride more and more.
There was a stint when I stopped but it didn't last long. Only a year at art school and another as an apprentice chef interrupted what has otherwise been a life-long love of the bike.
I like to think that I was good at BMX but really it was my passion and although I tried very hard to get some decent results, they never actually came. Never did I make a state final but I tried every year of high school and it was more important to me than most other things. The fact that they awarded trophies down to eighth place helped me score a few items to put on the shelves. They've all been discarded now but the memories remain - and they are what are important to me. BMX was great back then; I'm sure it is now too and I'm likely to discover how much it's changed soon as my six-year-old is desperate to race... but you're right, I got into the sport at just the right time. It was prospering. It was fun. It wasn't particularly cool (but, despite my best attempts, neither was I).
Even now I ride all kinds of bikes. The skills of BMX stay with me and on each commute on my 'jump bike'; I cherish the buzzing sound of the tyres, the thrill of 'getting air', and the opportunity to visit the BMX track with my son who is now using the BMX to ride with me on my weekend jaunts around Sydney.
Over 30 years fits into that parcel of time. Right place, right time? Not sure. But it does seem that way for me now as the publisher of a cycling magazine in Australia at a time when the sport of bike riding is prospering.
PdC: Your first cycling magazine was in 1991, with Phill Bates, who was the promoter of the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic. Tell us a bit about how that came about, and what the magazine was like.
RA: It was 20 years ago in September this year that I first made a cycling magazine. It was the start of the desktop revolution but someone else actually did the design. I sold the ads, and helped put it all together. I'd done a brief stint in publishing - selling ads for a dodgy publisher and basically hating it, wishing I could actually be part of the creative part. But it was dismal and, within hours of losing that job I considered what was important to me.
Cycling, I'd decided, was interesting so why not make that part of my vocation? The Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic had started just after the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982 but I'd been living in Holland at the time. Still, I'd learned about road cycling because of this race. It visited Coffs Harbour each year since 1982. When we moved back to Australia I'd wag school to see the stage finishes and ride to the starts the next day to watch the bunch roll away.
During that time, I met Sir Hubert Opperman and got a (very small) taste of what road bike racing was all about but never did it occur to me that there was a job in this caper. Back then there was no coverage of cycling in the media; if you knew about it then that was because you knew someone who was related somehow. Or you'd seen racing during the Olympics once every four years.
The Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic adopted the concept of a stage race and took it to the people in NSW (and, over the years, Queensland, the ACT and even Victoria in the year of the longest - bi-centenary - edition (1988) which was from Brisbane to Melbourne). Like you say, my first involvement in the organisation was in 1991 and it came about after a phone call to Phill Bates in May that year. He was about to turn 40 and I would turn 21 before the reason for our collaboration came to fruition.
He was/is a promoter of cycling. Phill's legacy on Australian cycling extends well beyond me - he is responsible for so many aspects of the sport as we know it today that it's hard to list them all. Needless to say, it was a good connection to have at a time when I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, but I was in a hurry to do it...
The actual magazine from 1991 - 'The Classic, 10 Years' - sold reasonably well and once in a while I'll take a look at it just to remind myself how much publishing has evolved or how I've matured since those early days in cycling.
PdC: You started doing the live-ticker for LeTour.fr in 1998, yes? I developed my first website in 1997, an Irish music industry database which morphed into a general entertainment magazine-type site, so have particularly strange memories of the web in those days. The whole net, and LeTour.fr with it, has come a long way in the intervening years, LeTour.fr is now chock full of bells and whistles and a wealth of content. Do you miss the old days when it was all being held together with baling twine and sticky-back plastic? Or do you wish now you had access to today's super-slick content management systems back then?
RA: I started with LeTour.fr in 1998, that's right. The year before, I'd visited the Tour de France and was accredited for the first week as a 'consultant' for SBS, the network that broadcast the race in half-hour highlights packages each evening (back then - a lot has changed since and it's now live in Australia for every stage).
During the racing in 1997, I travelled with James Startt - an American who had recently moved to France to cover cycling - and his wife. We had a little 'web mobile' (a van with a little desk in the middle and a couple of laptops stuck on with Velcro so they didn't slide around as we followed the peloton) and were posting images James shot during the race. It was rudimentary technology compared to now but it seemed to be cutting edge at the time. It was a blast. I covered the first 10 days.
The company that we did this for got over a million 'hits' each day during that Tour. It seemed amazing that so many people were tuning in and following what we did. Literally it was a few photos a day uploaded on dodgy mobile phone connections and a few captions to explain what was going on. Nonetheless, this is what got me the gig for 1998.
The Tour organisers had started a live ticker in 1997 and it was written by Pascale Schyns (a Belgian woman who is a UCI commissaire, a translator - used often by various race organisers including the Tour de France - the media service representative for the Caisse d'Epargne team for several years... etc). In 1998 James Startt had been asked to contribute to LeTour.fr but he didn't want to be limited to sitting in a truck in the zone technique writing regular updates. He nominated me as the person to do that and I accepted the offer in June, just prior to finishing the production of the first issue of my own magazine, RIDE Cycling Review.
I worked with a writer from L'Humanité who was also contracted by (what was then) the Société du Tour de France, Eric Serres. He wrote the French content, I wrote the English. It was a buzz to be in Dublin for the Grand Départ that year. I loved it; the vibe, the excitement, the colour, the anticipation... everything that lures people in for the Tour. And to be part of the organisation was great fun.
I had actually just been introduced to Miguel Induráin at the very moment Willy Voet was arrested and the stories started to filter into the press room in Dublin. That was a surreal time and, looking back on it, one could never have guessed how long-standing and significant the implications of that event would be. That day coincided with the day that the first issue of RIDE Cycling Review went on sale in Australia; Jan Ullrich was on the cover and the coverline stated: 'A celebration of cycling'... ha!
Eric and I were assigned our computers and shown to our truck in the zone technique which we would soon dub our 'house'... and there we would tap out the coverage of what became a most amazing edition of the Tour. Many, many events unfolded during those three weeks of July 1998 that will remain with me forever. But the retelling of those moments would take far too long to relay everything here. Needless to say, I realised that cycling was no longer what I'd once perceived it to be. It had become a disgrace.
When we got back to France after the Irish start the mood was a complete contrast to what I'd experienced on Tour in 1997. As we drove off the ferry, a 'fan' spat at our car because we were part of the entourage and it was apparent that love had been lost for the race... but we all blundered along, going through the motions, living with the fall-out of the Festina Affair and all that was unfolding.
On the day the Festina team was actually evicted from the race, I visited that little café in Correze where Virenque et al hosted their press conference. Onions were cooking on the barbecue out the front and I remember feeling as though I had to slice through the air to get inside. Walking back to our 'house', I took a drink on the finishing straight of the time trial and duly ignored the cheers as riders finished their time trials... it seemed irrelevant. What? There was a race going on? Oh yeah... Ullrich first, Hamilton - the revelation - in second... etc. But who cared? There was virtually no mention of the race in the media, only doping. And rightly so.
As I walked down the finishing straight, there was another round of cheers from the crowd but I didn't pay attention. Lo, bang! I bumped into the person eliciting the applause, M Chirac: the President of the République, who was attending the Tour. I spilled Fanta on his yellow tie and he was seen on the podium later that day without a tie... all because of a young Aussie working for the Tour.
We wrote on what were effectively 'minitel' units - tiny little keyboards and technology that had already been superseded but LeTour.fr was in its infancy back then. I don't miss those days of working with an AZERTY keyboard when I needed a QWERTY - especially considering that, even then, I would type around 100,000 words in the three weeks of the race for the live coverage. The technology of the LeTour.fr site has come a long way since.
I no longer do the 'colour' feature after each stage - as I was required to do from 1998 to 2004 - but since 1999 I've written the live as well as the 'Film de l'Etape' (a factual summary of events of the stage) each day. Since 2005, instead of the feature to conclude the stage, I post interviews with the jersey wearers and the stage winner.
Serres' only year doing LeTour.fr was in 1998. He was replaced by Bob Guenneguen from 1999 to 2003. And since 2004, I've written the English version while my good friend Louis Doucet writes the French...
The Tour is now part of my Groundhog Years. I see it a lot differently to those original years.
PdC: What's actually involved in doing the live ticker reports - are you expected to be an expert on every rider who makes a break, have all sorts of stats on them at your fingertips?
RA: The original brief for my job at the Tour was to 'provide commentary on the race - and maybe add some colour to the factual reports'. Since that original outline was issued in 1998 it's been up to me to decide how I cover the race. Louis Doucet and I discuss the coverage a lot - as the race unfolds and after each stage - and the commentary has probably 'matured' over the years. But essentially the aim is to keep readers of the site up to date with the events of the race.
The numbers that are now attracted to that site are enormous. The potential for it to improve exists. My involvement, however, remains essentially the same now as it did in 1998. From Grand Départ to Champs-Eylsées I've travelled every stage of the way as part of the Tour's entourage ever since. The traffic to LeTour.fr now has over 11 million unique visitors taking a look... at least that was the 2010 figures, this year's, as far as I know, haven't been released. Still, it's a big audience online.
The live ticker has also been widely used in the press room over the years (with numerous televisions set up to relay our commentary for the media as they are often at the start of the stage and have to catch up on what's unfolded as they drive to the finish). It's also important for us to provide information that the television and radio commentators can use.
We enjoy playing a game with the commentators of France Télévisions - the network we listen to on one side of our headphones (the other ear broadcasts Radio Tour, which is done by our friend Sebastien Piquet, who inherited the role from John Lelangue). The title Louis Doucet and I have given this is: "Make Television Talk". It's a fairly simple idea: we watch what's happening, consider some obtuse fact, publish it online and time how long it takes before Thierry Adam (the French commentator) uses it on air. The record is about 10 seconds... but rarely does it go unnoticed. After five years of doing this, we eventually let Thierry in on our game/joke as he never gave us any credit for the facts he regularly repeated... but now he's most kind and gives us a mention almost each time we come up with something he didn't know.
Of course it helps that I know the riders, their results and also their history in the Tour. My regular job as publisher/editor of RIDE Cycling Review means that I follow cycling on a daily basis; I've come to know a lot of riders over the past 20 years and - if I could be so bold - I've got a good memory. We now draw on information from websites but, up until 2005, this was not possible as we were only connected to the intranet, not the internet, during the coverage. So it was important to be self-sufficient and well informed and not just rely on what can be found online.
I've catalogued my coverage since 1998 but don't have all the files available in a digital form. Unfortunately ASO does pull down a lot of the coverage we provide once a new edition of Tour has started. Once the 2012 site is active, it'll be hard to find the 2011 coverage... but it is possible (though it hasn't always been that way).
The original notion, however, remains the same: to make sure we cover the facts of the race. We note punctures, crashes, attacks, when a climb is due, what the result of the intermediate climbs/sprints are... the basics. And the rest of the time we fill in the spare time with little details that assist the commentators do their job and also provide information for readers following online.
PdC: You do the ticker from the salle de presse, yes?
RA: No. It's done from the zone technique, the area at the finish line. Often the salle de presse can be kilometres away...
PdC: The salle de presse itself, there seems to be a certain air of cynicism in it, from various reports. You yourself tell have told a story from the 1999 Tour, when Saeco drove the peloton along at an average of fifty kilos an hour, and a joke that was circulating in the salle de presse afterwards about the H-limit.
RA: It's not for me to comment on the mood of the press room as I've not really worked form there since 1997, although I've spent a lot of time there after the stages. I like to visit when I can, to catch up with friends and make myself available to journalists who might have extra questions about the events of the stage. They might have missed when an attack was launched, or when a crash occurred and many now know that they can ask me and I'll often have the answer.
I remember the 'joke' of Cipollini's win well. It was the day to Blois and the wind was from behind. There was a bunch sprint, which Cipo won. The average speed was 50.3km/h. And, of course, there was the haematocrit test that put riders on a holiday if they were over 50. So the story, as it was told on the day, goes:
Why is no one happy about the result today? Because everyone was over 50. Ca-ching!
Oh how we laughed. Funny thing is, the vast majority would have actually been very damned close in the haematocrit stakes as well... funny how so many seemed to be sitting so close to 49.9...
RA: The press room, like the Tour de France itself, is entirely different to how it used to be. The influences change; during the Armstrong years there were many Americans turning up to cover the Tour, many for the first (and only) time. The dominant nationality changes depending on the season and who is going well... but it is very much a cosmopolitan cast. A great place to visit...
When I first started, it was a haze of cigarette smoke and journalists working on basic laptops and being indulged with plenty of alcohol and food supplied by the region we were visiting. Since 2007 smoking has been banned. And each year since I started the supply of booze and food seems to be in decline... in 15 years a lot has changed but much of the cast remains the same and it's the stalwarts who I enjoy liaising with the most. That said, there are always entertaining new arrivals and the chance to catch up with those who can now only attend a few stages... etc.
Many emotions unfold in a three week race. We used to agree to one simple rule: one day, sooner or later, you're going to crack. That's going to happen. Somehow it will all seem too much for a moment, so we endure one from happening. But it's gotten better over the years. The key is "automotivation." Not sure if it's really a concept or part of something bigger but it's the catch-cry Doucet and I abide by. The idea is: everything is good. There is a lot of good to take from the four weeks a year I'm part of the 'Tour family' - and it feels that way often, with a few stand-out years and great friendships established in that time. And now, no matter the circumstance, it's easy to remember fondly interesting incidents that ocurred on ‘Planet Tour' - like Piquet's son Theo being born on the day Floyd Landis won the stage to Morzine. On that day in 2006, my son Louis was one year old, Piquet was doing what Lelangue had done, Lelangue was guiding his team's leader (Landis) to victory with "the most amazing stage" (there were many who called it that on the day of the win), if you take in all that Floyd did, it was quite incredible. Being there, in amongst it, made it all the more vivid.
I was the first person to shake Floyd's hand after he stepped down from the podium in Morzine. I told him, "Man, you've got big balls. That was amazing." He laughed. And later I interviewed Landis for the media 'pool' because Piquet - who normally did this after the podium ceremony - had to leave the race for a few days to be with his wife as their son was being born. These are the little things that happen on Tour which add to the feeling of life on the race being a little out of the ordinary. Oddly, it often doesn't really register until some time after the race is over.
PdC: You've mentioned launching RIDE Cycling Review. Starting a magazine in 1998, on the one hand it was a good time to come along, mountain biking must have been particularly popular in Australia and, on the road, you had the end of the Induráin era and that moment between epochs when almost anything seems possible. On the other hand the sport had never been dirtier and the storm that was brewing was clear on the horizon. The years that followed - how did you approach the issue of doping at RIDE?
RA: Initially, when establishing the title, I thought the timing could not have been better. I'd been the editor of another cycling magazine - and art director as well as numerous other roles - but my tenure ended when I was at the Tour in 1997. In fact, it was Colin Sturgess (the British 1989 pro pursuit world champion, who married an Australian girl and had moved to Sydney a few years earlier) who took over as editor but his stint lasted only a matter of months and soon afterwards the title, Cycling World, folded.
That left an opening in the market and I had the belief that I could do things better without having to bother with the whims of a publisher; I thought it was possible to do it all alone... at least for a little while. I had a 7200 Mac, a few contacts in the industry, I'd been to a few bike races, and my relationship at the time was at an end so I had the freedom - and time - to devote to establishing a business. While I had a few loyal contributors - chief amongst them is Jean-François Quenet, who remains a close confidant and great friend of myself and the broader Australian cycling community - RIDE was established with little backing. My mother loaned me a little bit of start-up capital but otherwise I was flying by the seat of my pants.
Until 2002, I was the only staff member. They were four long, hard years! Thankfully, I met my life partner - the mother of my two children and the best friend I've ever had - and she supported me through thick and thin. Nicola proof read the magazine in her spare time and I sold the ads, wrote a large percentage of the stories, did the layout, answered the phones, made the coffee, did the photography, scanned the transparencies... everything. I think of it now and wonder: how!?
On top of it all, the Festina Affair broke on day one of the on-sale. The timing, thus, could not have been worse. But really it was a blessing. It took one gob of spit from a forsaken fan for me to realise cycling was different. By the end of the 1998 Tour, my emotions were all over the place. I'd crashed our Fiat Marea on the approach to Neuchâtel before stage 18 - ie after stage 17, the infamous stage to Aix-les-Bains when the TVM team finished at the front of a striking peloton and the Tour very nearly came to a grinding halt. We wrote very little that day on LeTour.fr. It was the only day of the Tour in the last 14 years that I've written a three sentence summary:
"At 7.31pm the pack arrived at the finish line at Aix-les-Bains. At the request of all of the riders the TVM team crossed the line first. Three teams have withdrawn: ONCE, Riso-Scotti and Banesto."
Even outside the events of the actual race and the fall-out of the Festina Affair, it was an extraordinary three weeks personally. I established friendships then that exist today and life of Planet Tour was something which appealed to me. From being with French people when France won the football World Cup - with the final against Brazil the day after the prologue (when we were still staying in Dublin) - to my encounter with Chirac, to an evening spent dining with the coach of the French rugby team, to accidentally witnessing Cees Priem's arrest on the one and only rest day of that year's race, to writing off the Fiat just near the end... it was an amazing journey!
And, remember, earlier in that year's race Stuart O'Grady became the second Aussie to wear the yellow jersey. And this is what was being noted at home. At least, that's what I told myself. It marked the beginning of the end of one era... even if we know that doping has continued to plague the sport. It did act as a catalyst for change even if it still continues to this day.
At RIDE we've never steered away from the topic of doping. In fact, I find it much easier to deal with these days as the sense of protectionism that existed when I started covering cycling has faded. Okay, there's still omertà and to say that the sport is entirely clean is to kid oneself. But with the help of guys like 'Jeff' Quenet and many other contributors we strive to tell the true story of the sport. RIDE Cycling Review might have been started because I like cycling but it's not a fanzine.
Feargal, we started corresponding because you called me a sycophant in your review of Close To Flying. That raised my ire as I've seen those sorts of people in the sport; they are everywhere one turns and their attitude is responsible for a lot of damage done to cycling. Two exchanges from the days of close liaison with Cadel Evans include that word. "How do you think your son handles sycophants?" I once asked Helen Cocks, Cadel's mother. She noted how many there are when a young man becomes successful in professional sport. And then shook her head in disgust. It was clear that several sycophants had tried to integrate themselves into Evans' life.
When I told Cadel of this exchange, he responded: "What's a sycophant?"
It's hard to deal with something if you don't know what it is.
It would be hard to write about cycling if you didn't accept that doping was part of it. We have never ignored doping in RIDE. We have published plenty of stories that tell the truth but do not trade in rumours. I'm fascinated by the topic but wish I didn't have to know as much as I did.
No issue of my magazine has been published without a reference to doping.
PdC: Where do you think the sport is as regards doping now - is it a case of ding dong the witch is dead or a lot done, a lot more still to do?
RA: The moment anyone is complacent on this issue of doping is the moment that the fight is lost. My feeling is that cycling is a lot cleaner now than when, for example, I started my magazine - certainly much cleaner than when I first started following the sport. But to say the witch is dead is naïve.
Riders would be stupid to test the boundaries these days. But one would also be stupid to even consider injecting PFCs... and there are some who did!
What's needed is a continuation of what's happening now. Imagine how it would be if we believed that, after 1998, cycling was cleaned up entirely. It takes a loss of a Tour de France title - perhaps two - for riders to realise that there isn't any such thing as 'favouritism'. Perhaps some brooms were found to sweep issues under the carpet in the 'good old days' but that's not happening anymore... at least that's what we hope is true.
Fans are sick of doping. Race organisers are sick of doping. Sponsors are sick of doping. And riders are sick of doping. If they can now believe that it's possible for them to do their jobs without assistance, then the witch may eventually die but she's not just going to roll over and play dead without prompting. Furthermore, even when all signs of life have left this witch, never assume it's over. That's when the bastards come back out to play!
Still, above all, I consider myself an optimist. My hope is that lessons have been learned and that attitudes have changed. I'm currently reading David Millar's biography and I'm enjoying it immensely even if just because it's well written and offers a compelling story. It's a shame that he did what he did. Friends of mine chastised me for publishing a review that stated it should be mandatory reading - or words to that effect by my new colleague Greg Chalberg. That was his take and I agree, for Millar explains how things have been, or at least were for him. I'm not yet at the end of the book, but already I've learned things because they have been told in what I hope is an honest representation of how the rider - the author - sees them.
Millar invited a group of journalists to a gathering at a wine bar before the Tour this year; he joined us and spoke about writing the book. He said he believes "writing is much harder than riding" and that he's pleased that all he has to do for a job is ride a bike, not have to think about stories every day. I'm envious that he was able to tell the story how he did: from a first-hand perspective and in such a concise and interesting way. If he alone has really changed his attitude - for he suggests he was always against the idea of cheating even if he ultimately did, and only confessed after being absolutely forced to be honest - then something has been achieved. It's one less rider who believes it's necessary to dope to ride in the pro peloton.
Over the years I've come to know many bike riders. Some who have a chequered past, others who insist they've not doped, some who dance around the topic and ultimately may not have told me the truth, others who I will simply never get the facts from... but at the heart of it is a choice. You dope or you don't. You believe or you don't.
If I didn't believe there was hope, I'd have surrendered by now. But in the meantime I'm not afraid to tell the stories, and I would also like to explain the circumstances, realise that these things happen, accept that there is such a thing as human frailty, and keep on encouraging people to ride in the way that I am now capable of.
PdC: What do you think of the state of cycling publishing today, in all its forms - traditional dedicated magazines, the interest from mainstream media, the profusion of new books being published and the rise of the net which has allowed a greater variety of voices to be heard, both professional and amateur?
RA: It's important to stay on top of things, to keep evolving to maintain relevance in the marketplace. RIDE Cycling Review is enjoying good sales at the moment but this stems from more than the fact that it's a nice magazine (in my opinion at least) and that cycling is on a high in Australia right now. There are many contributing factors that range from how shitty Australian cricket is right now - a personal appraisal - or the willingness for people who may have traditionally followed various football codes to extend their sporting repertoire... to the fact that it is fun to ride a bike. There are reasons why the sport is on the move.
But publishing is also changing quickly. When I started my magazine in 1998 things were already changing. The days of waiting even for the next day's newspaper to find out who won a race were over when RIDE was established. That's why it's called 'review'... because I knew that it wasn't worth trying to establish a title that was based on offering news content. The internet was alive then and sites like Cycling News were operational.
As another little digression, the origins of the title of that website (now owned by Future Publishing), is something I also had a hand in. During my tenure as editor of Cycling World I'd had some correspondence with Bill Mitchell, the man who created the original platform for what Cycling News would become. Back in the mid-1990s, it was called something 'Bill's Racing and Results Page'... he lived in Newcastle, NSW and I was in Sydney. We agreed to meet one Sunday sometime around 1996 for tea at Peats Ridge. Outside an old rural tea-house I told him, "It's going to be hard to make your site mainstream under the current title - it needs to be something that relates more to what it actually is, something like 'Cycling News'." By the end of the next day, the title had been registered.
New media is helping to make cycling popular. You can't follow something that you can't follow... and, in the dark old days, it wasn't until September that Australians could see even a highlights package of the Tour de France! That's all part of the past. Phew! These days even people who live in what had long been considered "antipodean" countries - in terms of cycling coverage - are able to follow the racing in real time. But 'live' coverage of events wasn't online en-masse in 1998. It was clear that the potential for this could exist and my role at the Tour de France confirms this. And it's a relief to be able to write my magazine in more detail, not wondering if I need to explain that the Galibier is in the Alps not the Pyrenees or that Cavendish is a sprinter not a GC guy or other such nuisance-value details. It frees up the flow of the content. But people still love to flip pages... for a while, anyway.
There's a new generation of media consumer now. And for that reason we're looking at options for RIDE Media (a digital version of my magazine launched this December) and the great news is that I don't think we're even close to reaching the limit. There's plenty of scope for a publishing house that has traded on quality from the start: the reputation of my company is intact because the focus has always been on creating something with integrity and honesty. Over the years, I've done very little marketing, opting instead to invest my time in the actual creation of the magazine. And that attitude remains the same although I'm aware that there are times when it's necessary to sell one's wares. We look after our advertisers but the magazine isn't driven by their desires. It's been established on a Field of Dreams theory: now it's been built and the readers are coming. Phew. (And thanks.)
I'm pleased to be part of the cycling publishing spectrum. There are some in the trade who I don't like very much but plenty that I have a lot of admiration and respect for. I'm not a great fan of Twitter and don't do it personally but it's great that people can have that level of interaction with people they would previously never have been able to get even remotely close to. The social media revolution is only just beginning and we're all coming to terms with what is possible but it's one part of a communication boon that has given people a global voice no matter where they are.
Rumours, or ill-informed opinion are a worry. Just because something is written, in any form, doesn't mean it's true. And most people are hip to that groove but there are still some who trade on innuendo and gossip. We strive to steer clear of that. We don't want to be repetitious or perpetuate falsehoods. And I now say 'we' because I consider RIDE to be a team effort now. Even so, I don't always agree with the sentiment of my staff but we work in a small space and ensure that ideas are discussed and dissected and considered and refined before just blurting them out... and that gives me some relief.
There's a lot more to say but this interview is already very, very long... so I'll move on.
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In part two of this interview attention turns to Australian cycling, sprinting through the years of Oppy and Mockridge, racing past Peiper and Anderson and looking at the role played in recent years by the Australian Institute of Sport and Heiko Salzwedel. We also talk about Robbie McEwen and Cadel Evans as well as looking forward to the future of Australian cycling.
Our thanks to Rob Arnold for taking part in this interview.