As live images of Mathew Hayman riding his way into cycling folklore streamed into Australian households in the wee hours of Monday morning, commentary by Matt Keenan and Robbie McEwen gave viewers a more visceral connection to Paris-Roubaix than ever before.
Fortunately, neither Keenan nor his co-host realised the camera peering over McEwen’s shoulder was continuously rolling throughout the six-hour broadcast. As a result, we got a fascinating glimpse of the animated scenes taking place behind the microphones when Paris-Roubaix broadcaster SBS released some great behind-the-scenes footage of Matt and Robbie calling the race from what looked like a large cupboard.
Cycling iQ spoke to a still-buzzing Keenan (some selected outtakes below) a couple of days after the dust from Hayman’s historic victory had settled to find out more about the preparation, equipment, communication and even nutrition that goes into a marathon race call*.
“I was nervous. I felt a real sense of responsibility to call Paris Roubaix: it was my first one; (it was a) big race; there was the option for SBS to use Phil (Liggett) and Paul (Sherwan) but they chose Robbie and I; so I think if I didn’t have the triathlon to call on the Saturday I would have been a lot more nervous going into Sunday.”
“I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet where I keep a file on all the riders – every little trinket that I pick up along the way, I’ll update that file. It’s predominantly the stuff that’s not their specific race results. So, it’s things like an interview that Mitch Docker had done with Luke Rowe during the HeraldSun Tour and Luke Rowe declared that his favourite drink was a cider – Strongbow of all things – which is a surprise coming from someone who is such a tough bike rider, and that the first international race that he saw was to go watch Paris Roubaix as a nine year old with his parents and that’s the race that he’s dreamt about ever since that he’s wanted to win. That’s the sort of stuff that I look for to update my own personal database.”
“I use the yellow highlighter for the favourites and the guys that I expect to see up towards the front. I put blue across the guys in the early breakaway, so I’ve always got them highlighted. Then I’ve got a green one, which I’ll use for the group that gets narrowed down towards the end, so I’ll go back over the top with the green. The pink one is in case there’s an additional break which forms another new group and then that becomes the dominant colour.
“What I’ll do for the TdF is put yellow across the guys who are all GC contenders, green across all the guys who are contenders for the sprint, and then I use the blue one again for the breakaway and pink can be used either for the supplementary breakaway or the guys who are wildcards in the sprint. So you’ve got that quick reference to who it might be. To be able to identify the rider you need to know what everybody’s role is.”
“I like to have to have water and peppermint tea – I do love peppermint tea – and we had strawberries and grapes as well. It’s nice to eat something that’s a bit fresh and then to get into the mood for Paris-Roubaix we had some Rocky Road. The curse of the commentator is mineral water. Don’t drink mineral water when you’re commentating, because the last thing you want to do live to air is burp.”
“He’s a smart guy. He’s a witty guy who’s quick on his feet, and that’s what makes him so good as a commentator. Plus the other thing that’s brilliant about commentating with Robbie McEwen is he was always such an intelligent bike rider and he adds so much value to the pictures.”
“You just get lost in the moment and that’s one of the beautiful things about commentating. You’re not distracted by checking social media updates; you’re not distracted by having a look at something else that’s happening in the news. You’re 100% in that moment and, for somebody who loves the sport dearly and is really passionate about cycling, it’s as close as I’m ever going to get to being a part of the event. You’re just there riding every bump and it’s a privilege really to get to do that.”
*ironically, after praising the quality of my country’s internet connection, the call was troubled by patchy audio. Subsequently, about eight minutes of the conversation has been trimmed. Matt also gave permission to include the conversation prior to the ‘official’ start of the recording.