As the Tour de France starts this Saturday, many of us will be spending the next three weeks desperately trying to snatch a peek at the TV during the daytime or, at least, making an early evening appointment with the daily highlights show. For Messrs Millar, Boulting and Boardman, July 1st – 23rd is a slog around the ‘Hexagon’ as they commentate on the great race for ITV4. And this year sees them cover each stage in its entirety.
The trio were on hand at this year’s Eroica Britannia as invitees of sponsors Maserati for an informal chat and Q&A with vintage festival revellers who revealed a passion for the modern Tour. Despite more old fashioned Molteni, Brooklyn and Peugeot jerseys on show in one time and place than ever before, their wearers were desperate for the latest on Froome, Sagan and Quintana.
As Ride Velo reported last month, Millar is a huge fan of Eroica since his first appearance there in 2016. Returning this year en famille with his wife and three kids under the age of 6 to spend a few days under canvas, he could be thankful that the British climate was kinder than last year as the festival basked in summer sunshine.
While the hospitality of the Maserati Lounge was on offer he explained that turning up with the three mini Millars offered a slightly different experience to his previous visit. “I think I’ve done the Helter Skelter about 75 times!” and he could be seen entertaining his brood on the dance floor of Eroica HQ in the late afternoon as well as going on the family bike ride with his sons wearing World Champion jerseys, no less.
Looking a little sunburnt, Boulting revealed that he and Boardman had been busy filming segments to be slotted into the long stages of ITV4’s Tour coverage. We look forward to finding out where a watermelon, a stethoscope and a penny farthing will fit in but as Boulting told us, “’Erotica’, as I like to call it,” was a great opportunity to get some pre tour work done. And the geeky Boardman confessed to being a bit of a fan of “all this weird and wonderful stuff” to be found in the bike jumble. "Some of this stuff was made better 100 years ago," he said. Perhaps we'll be seeing some ancient bike parts being tested in his beloved wind tunnel?
To Millar, who used to be described by the French press as ‘Le Dandy’, it’s very much about the aesthetics and look of the old days that he loves. “I love form…Everything has to look good, I kind of like that. It takes an added effort to do that…It’s good fun to care about the way you look. Something we forget about in our modern life now is that we see everything as disposable. It’s not. If you own something, you invest in it a bit more, if you spend a bit more, then you have to look after it and you keep it – it ends up being an economy.”
As these three prepare “to embark on a month’s journey, travelling in close proximity, talking endlessly about cycling, all day and everyday and getting sick of each other’s voices,” (Boulting) it’s obviously important that they all get on, and it was clear that this team have developed quite a rapport.
The Boulting – Boardman banter was in full swing as the former Olympian was teased for his wife buying his clothes while Millar has “an attuned sense to all this finery that Chris doesn’t.” But it was perhaps Boardman who got his own back on Millar when he revealed the truth behind his breakaway from the peloton on the British stage of the 1994 Tour de France.
As a young fan, Millar had cycled along to watch part of the stage outside of Brighton with a couple of friends and he had been inspired by the romantic gesture that Boardman himself had made in a seemingly hopeless attack.
“I remember hearing this and going ‘Chris Boardman’s off the front!’ He wasn’t going to win the stage but it was a romantic move, a salute to all the people that had stood there for four or five hours. Something that he would never do, but he did it. And it made me fall in love with the Tour de France…I was so proud that this was what the sport is about. You occasionally do things that look good but they don’t make sense.”
Boardman’s response: “I remember that and I’ve been thinking ‘I’m not sure I want to share this.’ I didn’t know I wasn’t going to win the stage and there was someone up the road! But you remember it your way, Dave – your way is better!”
Having had to race the Tour, Boardman now loves commentating on it for TV, even referring to the month long block of work as his summer holidays. “It’s much more fun on this side of the fence. It doesn’t hurt, doesn’t go on for hours at a time, it’s not scary. No matter what happens it’s good telly and at the end we can go and get a beer. People go, ‘Do you miss it?’ Are you joking? Which bit would I miss?”
The audience had a chance to pose a few questions and the three offered their opinions on the state of women’s racing and some advice for someone about to tackle Mont Ventoux ("take low gears" - Boardman) as well as to some youngsters who aspired to become professional racers themselves. Did they understand Millar's vocabulary of 'morphology' Boulting wandered?!
Asked about their favourite cycling destinations in the UK, Millar’s choice was a crowd pleaser – the Peak District of course! This is where he came after his fall from grace, serving his ban for drugs use. It was these very hills and valleys where he rehabilitated himself and resolved to come back to the sport clean, as documented in his autobiography, Racing Through The Dark. For Boardman it’s the remote Cairngorms where he likes to roam on his mountain bike.
They left us with a few thoughts about potential winners of this year’s Tour. Boulting would love to see the Frenchman Roman Bardet win back some pride for his country who have fallen short in recent years. Boardman favours Quintana, while Millar jokingly wished that they could change the parcours to 21 sprint stages to ensure a Mark Cavendish victory! It was a little amuse bouche to whet the appetite before the real thing gets going this weekend.
And what of Eroica Britannia? Would these former elite athletes be completing the 100 miler the following day? It seems that Millar’s experience of completing that route one freezing early spring day last year when he succumbed to hypothermia was too close to the suffering he used to endure as a pro. Just the 25 miles for these two on the Sunday!
Thanks, guys. It was a lovely, informal and relaxed chat. And we can't wait for Saturday! Vive Le Tour!