Portrait of ‘The Cycling Podcast’ – with Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie & Daniel Friebe

It’s just after 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon in Hackney and Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie and Daniel Friebe are looking for a bit of peace and quiet. The trouble is that around the busy East London streets of Broadway Market and London Fields school kids are heaving out onto the hot pavements and the nearby building sites that are sprouting up yet more flats in this trendy part of the capital are still in full swing. Add in the chatter of the many achingly cool characters lounging outside myriad cafés and coffee shops and, despite the lovely summer afternoon weather, things are looking, and most definitely sounding, pretty bleak.

I listen to a few different cycling podcasts each week and having seen Moore, Birnie and Friebe record an episode of The Cycling Podcast in front of an audience earlier in the year thought it would be good to look a bit closer at this increasingly popular format. What can an audio podcast offer a sport that owes much of its history to the written word, and which is also served very well by television? It seemed to me that the key to a great podcast is the interplay between the presenters and the vocal dynamic of Birnie, Moore and Friebe – all eminent cycling writers in their own right – is perhaps the best example of that. With that in mind I’m tagging along for the afternoon to have a peek behind the scenes.

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Having been denied access to a wonderfully silent – but unfortunately closed – upstairs room of one pub, we try some outside tables near the park. Birnie, the shaven headed, short-bearded editor of  ‘The Cycling Anthology’ series and publisher of Sean Kelly’s biography ‘Hunger’, dons a large pair of headphones to check levels but he is obviously not happy with the slap of a loose paving slab nearby, nor with the diesal growls that rumble across from the departing buses as they lurch away from the request stop opposite. They quickly move on again, heading back South towards the canal, becoming fretful about time. I’d met Lionel and Richard at Bethnal Green tube station and guided them up to Hackney where Daniel was waiting for us and the trio looked to get recording underway immediately. Unusually, The Cycling Podcast team are trying to record two separate editions today and, with a book launch they need to attend later, every minute counts. Conscious that I have suggested today’s possible venues I begin to worry too, though Lionel assures me that the search for a suitable recording spot is always a hassle, “particularly at races…”
After failing to find anything better in a couple of those cool cafes, we eventually try a venerable pub further down the market, more in desperation than hope. Richard had rejected this venue – The Dove –  when I bumped into him and Daniel at the London Nocturne the previous weekend and made some initial suggestions. I had mentioned that The Dove has a really good selection of Belgian beers, which I thought would appeal to my subjects. At that time of day? What do you think we are?” blustered Moore, – writer of ‘In Search of Robert Millar’‘Slaying The Badger’ and most recently ‘Etape’  – making me instantly regret my suggestion. Oops. I was already aware that, whilst we have met a couple of times before, I feel like I know all three of them quite well because I’ve been listening in on their chats for many months now.. Maybe I’d misunderstood what I’d been hearing..
Inside The Dove it is quiet and there are plenty nooks and crannies that we can commandeer. There is some music playing but it is quite low volume and is classical so Birnie gives the nod of approval. It’s good. We choose a small table near an open window for a bit of breeze against the afternoon’s stifling heat and Lionel asks what we are all drinking. “I’ll have a Belgian beer,” says Moore with an enormous grin. “A big one.”
The Cycling Podcast began it’s current life at the 2013 Tour de France when Moore, Birnie and Friebe did a daily recording of their thoughts at the end of each race stage. Birnie and Moore had done something similar a year earlier and Moore & Friebe had done a single TdF podcast with Ellis Bacon each year since 2008.  “In 2012 Lionel and I took it a bit more seriously” Moore remembers, “and found that people listened and seemed to engage with and enjoy [them]. Before the 2013 Tour we decided to make them a priority and see if we could get a sponsor. We were lucky to get Sharp/Humans Invent – they totally got  what we were trying to do and that helped justify our decision to focus on them.” Friebe agrees, “Even years ago, when we were using rubbish equipment and doing the podcasts as a bit of an afterthought, we were struck by how positive the feedback was. That gave us the impetus to smarten up our act last year.”
By the end of the 2013 Tour, as Chris Froome took to Paris by twilight and the world wondered for the first time just how many he might eventually win, 7,000 people were downloading the podcast. Twelve months on they have just passed 750,000 downloads and have a regular audience of 20,000 listeners a week, which increases at Grand Tour time. With a new sponsor on board and a re-launch coinciding with this year’s round of daily shows from the Tour, the ‘chaps’, as both Birnie and Moore usually refer to their collective selves, are clearly looking to consolidate on their success to date.
Squeezed in around the small table, they do a quick round-robin check of what they will be covering in the first recording, which is the standard weekly offering of race reports, conjecture and discussion. As they swiftly agree the order in which they will cover the main topics – the Dauphiné and the ongoing Wiggins & Froome Tour selection debate – I get a first chance to observe their interactions at close quarters. In order to keep the chat spontaneous the pre-recording preparation is kept to an absolute minimum, “Generally no more than five minutes” confirms Moore. Although all three contribute equally to the pre-show debate where there are no observable hierarchies at work, as soon as Birnie presses the record button their behaviour subtly shifts and a number of discernible roles come into play.
Whilst I would stop short of describing him as the ring-leader of the trio, Moore certainly performs the function of ringmaster once the show is underway. An obvious first amongst equals, he effortlessly switches into ‘anchor’ mode and, after doing the traditional intro and greetings, deftly sets out the podcast menu before leading into the first discussion point. Friebe cites Moore’s “accomplished presentation” skills as a key attribute. In contrast, Moore self-mockingly lists his own main contributions to the podcast as “a Scottish accent and a willingness to interrupt Lionel when he is in full spate”. The push and pull between the polished Moore and the naturally more tenacious Birnie is an interesting counterpoint in the shows, and watching them develop a number of nascent points is even more engaging. Sitting diagonally across the table at our session, they look intently at each other whilst delivering their thoughts, tacitly supporting the other and ensuring the focus and momentum of the dialogue builds in the crucial early minutes of the recording.
As Moore and Birnie build the discussion, still eye to eye over the microphone, Friebe sits back and waits – just occaisonally interjecting from afar. Of the three Friebe is the youngest and, on first impressions, was my initial choice to be the slight outsider of the three. Moore and Birnie will be travelling around France together in the same car for the third year in a row whilst Friebe will be with his ProCycling magazine colleagues. Friebe assures me that Moore and Birnie will also be in “nicer hotels.” He has been the quietest of the trio so far and glances out of the window from time to time throughout the session as the conversation sometimes ebbs and flows around him. Learning later that he has known Moore for much longer than Birnie is something of a surprise. Still only 33, Friebe is already a veteran of 13 Tours and the author of acclaimed books on Eddy Merckx ‘The Cannibal’, and the beautiful ‘Mountain High’ and ‘Mountain Higher’ coffee table tomes. He has also worked on Mark Cavendish’s biographies and, most crucially for the podcast, is a veritable goldmine of knowledge about the Continental cycling scene.
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Daniel Friebe ( R ) helped write Cav’s ‘Boy Racer’ and ‘At Speed’ biographies
After listening diligently to Birnie (and not interrupting him when in full spate this time at least) Moore works the Dauphiné discussion into a new direction and suddenly the previously languid Friebe has leant forward and is animatedly relating a recent conversation he had with the director sportif from the FDJ.fr squad about Froome’s performance in the race. In contrast to the other two, Friebe talks fast (very fast in fact) and the pace of the podcast noticeably picks up as soon as he becomes more involved. As the three get into the groove of the conversation, different strands, stories and nuggets start to come into play and the discussion takes on the familiar loose, unscripted feel that makes The Cycling Podcast work so well. They start to talk over each other a little and the jokes begin. Sitting, as we are, in a pub in such close proximity to a lively conversation about cycling, it’s really hard not to join in… In fact I spend so much time biting my tongue that I completely forget to take any photos of the session..
As the discussion about the Dauphiné section winds up Birnie halts the recording and quick review is carried out. Moore asks how long that last segment was and, on hearing that it was less than expected, reckons they need some more. “Only eight minutes? Really? That’s shit..” he declares, objecting to the quantity more than the quality. They do an extra Dauphiné discussion to bring the segment up to nearer fifteen minutes before taking a quick break and moving onto the Wiggins-Froome debate.
Listening back to some of those early podcasts does show how far they have come. “It was just a iPhone” says Birnie, now fiddling with a much flashier looking recording device complete with a big furry microphone at one end as Moore and Friebe catch up on small talk and exercise the habitual freelance journalist’s trait of constantly checking email. “We just used to pass it around. This is a lot better, and I’ve got a lot better at managing the mic time.” Some of the early podcasts from the 2013 Tour are as much characterised by noises of wind, passing tipper trucks and fighting dogs as they are by the insightful cycling chat. In audio recording terms at least things have come a long way. The files are still uploaded via an iPhone connection to a shared Dropbox where they are retrieved, sound-edited and eventually posted online via Audioboo by the Podcast’s remote producer editor, Jon Moonie.
It’s as obvious though that the template of those early shows has proved a winning one and not much has changed in the intervening year. The line-up was a bit less stable at first as other commitments impinged and the longevity of what started out as something just for the Tour was less known. Birnie’s late arrival to the Tour (attending Glastonbury) and Friebe’s early exit from it (at the time he speaks of a secret project which we now know to be Mark Cavendish’s second autobiography ‘At Speed’) means that the episodes are more fractured than now but also allowed a host of other ‘third hands’ to contribute. The three-way trialogue was obviously a much desired feature from the start.
“I think the three works much better than two” explains Lionel. “For a start, if a listener happens to not like one of us, there are two other people offering something different.  I sometimes disagree with Daniel or Richard but we’re not trying to be the cycling equivalent of Question Time; we’re trying to shed a bit of light on a few things. I think it’s more inclusive when there are three of us.” As the recording restarts and the Wiggins and Froome debate is rolled over the coals again by Moore and Birnie, the differences between the three become more apparent. “How many times are we going to do this?” asks Friebe during recording, only half-jokingly.
Whilst it may be a cute conceit to cast the three of them as the three musketeers of cycling journalism, the analogy actually holds up reasonably well. The “All for One and One for all” credo extolled by Porthos, Athos and Aramis usually serves to deflect attention from their individualism but it is the differences that we are interested in today. With his fluency in multiple Romance languages Friebe is a shoe-in for Aramis, whilst Birnie’s self confessed love of cassoulet wins him the title of food-loving Porthos, leaving Moore the suitable role of the semi-leader, Athos. (I suppose then that my neophyte presence casts me in the role of d’Artagnan and, like Dumas’ young hero, I am therefore fated to offend all three of them at some point during the day – I’ve already managed one with Richard with the ‘beer at lunchtime’ gaff..)
Moore says that he didn’t “set out to be a cycling journalist. I just wanted to be a journalist”, which is a little odd considering that he raced pretty seriously in the 1990’s. He plays it down by suggesting that he competed “before it got difficult to get into the national teams” but the fact remains that he rode for GB in the Tour of Langkawi and represented his native Scotland in the 1998 Commonwealth Games before retiring in 1999. His first step on his writing career came moments after being thrown out of the 1996 FBD Milk Ras race in Ireland. Having been disqualified for holding onto a particularly sticky bottle he was forced to complete the parcours in the back of the team car where he was able to chat with a journalist about how to get started on a similar career. He is still amazed that he is now able to make a living just writing about cycling; “Bizarrely it became possible to make a living out of writing almost entirely about cycling. That would have been unimaginable when I started out as a journalist in ’99”.
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Richard Moore – ex-racer, award-winning writer, occasional lunchtime imbiber
Hugely respected by his peers, Moore is well known for not stinting on research but, again playing down his achievements, he deflects this somewhat by saying that garnering original material is great because you can usually make use of it all. He makes the hard work of tracking people down and interviewing them for original material sound like he is taking short-cuts when, in fact, the opposite is almost certainly true. His views on the medium of podcasting are similarly flexible: “The medium can be good for discussing quite complicated things, whereas writing can often be, by necessity, quite black or white. You get tone of voice, nuance and the fact that you wrestle a bit with things… you also tend to speculate a bit more and share rumours or bits of gossip that you wouldn’t necessarily write. Not sure if this is always a good thing!”.
Lionel – a great summariser of character – chips in with this about Richard’s role on the show. “He has taken the host role because he’s the best at it. He has a voice that works well on air. It’s authoritative and engaging. He can be the voice of reason when it’s needed and he plays devil’s advocate very well. We try to make sure he’s not just stuck in the host role, though. He’s like the ‘rush’ goalie in a playground football match – we have to let him out on pitch several times per episode because he’s got so much else to offer.”
Having finally nailed the Froome-Wiggins debate (until next week at least), Moore wraps up the episode with a little story about one of Friebe’s quirks that Daniel had confided to him earlier in the week. Richard briefly explains how Daniel used to re-name all the contacts in his phone after pro-riders (it started with a girlfriend called Lucy who became Lucho Herrera) and Daniel is obliged to reveal that Richard is currently stored as Eufemiano Fuentes – the disgraced doctor at the centre of the Operacion Puerto doping scandal. It’s the kind of light-hearted ribbing that underscores the friendship which exists between the three and which is amplified by the obscure nicknames they have for each other (of which I can only find out the origin of one of them..) Later on, during the book launch, I manage to unwittingly crash a conversation Friebe is trying to have with a young lady, prompting her exit and his ire, and probably consigning myself to being re-named on his phone as Tyler Farrar for my clumsy timing in a packed peloton… Oops #2 – d’Artagnan strikes again.
Friebe studied Modern Languages at UCL and got his start the old-fashioned way. He wrote to ProCycling editor Jeremy Whittle and asked for some work experience during his second year summer vacation. He reckons that Whittle was intrigued by the fact that Friebe had done a stint working for Mapei the previous summer and brought him on board. Though Friebe would return to Mapei for his final year out as part of his studies, he was soon writing long pieces for the magazine and cultivating an enviable set of contacts at the same time. He went to his first Tour de France aged just 20 and has worked full-time and as a freelancer for ProCycling ever since. As roving European Editor he gets to put his languages and network to full use and brings an extra expert dimension to the podcast team.
Both Richard and Lionel are properly effusive about him with Lionel saying that “Daniel’s depth of knowledge on certain subjects is astonishing. He’s got a memory bank of great stories and an eye and ear for interesting detail. He’s a great anecdotalist and sees significant things in small moments.” Birnie also sees Friebe’s occasional detachment (particularly if track cycling is being discussed; “It just leaves me a bit cold” admits Friebe) as a positive. “Another strength is that he doesn’t seem to feel the pressure to have something to say about everything, which I think is quite a difficult skill to develop.” Friebe’s thoughts about the podcasting medium are insightful and mainly concerned with the freshness that it allows. “With the podcast, we feel that we’re taking our audience on the adventure with us. It’s also great that we can break news and release content within an hour or two of the stage finishing. That’s especially refreshing for me, as I’m used to writing long pieces that won’t be read until weeks later.” Friebe also acknowledges that the cycling podcast world is a broad church with room for the many other excellent podcasts around, “The more the merrier” he says.
The second recording of the day (which commences after another round of drinks is procured and by which time I’ve totally got over the embarrassment that I felt at the Nocturne for assuming that the team might indulge in the odd beer when recording) is not a normal weekly episode and the three spend a longer time discussing it beforehand. A poor recording – that old problem again – of an interview they recently did with Garmin’s David Millar means that it’s not fit to publish in its raw state and they need to perform a polishing job to introduce and link each usable section to make a cohesive episode. This is to be aired a couple of weeks after the Dauphiné episode they have just wrapped – which Birnie has already uploaded for their editor to tidy up, add of music etc – and will be the first one under the new sponsorship they have just agreed in the last couple of days.
Having ended their association with Sharp/Humans Invent just before Paris-Roubaix this year, they have been working to find a new partner for the rest of the coming year. Now known as The Telegraph Cycling Podcast supported by Jaguar, they are keen that this first impression under a new label is spot on. This entails re-listening to the segments and trying to script and record the links between them but it’s soon apparent that this skill is very different from the usual free-form chat and they know from the outset that it’s not really working as well as they would like. They persevere for a couple more segments before Birnie calls time on their efforts and offers a reality check. It’s just not good enough, he says, and the others agree. He feels they need to know the material better so that they can add their thoughts to it in a worthwhile way. The ability to speak plainly and openly about their collective efforts comes most easily to Birnie who acknowledges that he can be seen as being the most adversarial and combatative of the group (“He does know how to argue a point” seconds Daniel) but he also always tries to think about producing an ‘episode’ rather than, in his own words, “ramble or win the point in an argument only for the conversation to die out as a result”.
The tendency to consistently look towards the overview probably comes as a result of Birnie’s previous experience and his other current main occupation: co-editing the excellent The Cycling Anthology series with Ellis Bacon. If Friebe’s work-experience route into journalism was old-school, then Birnie’s apprenticeship at his local paper, starting as cub reporter and working his way up to sports editor and then sub-editor positions is even more classically ‘textbook’. His break in cycling came with an application for a sub-editor’s job at IPC’s cycling magazines just before the 1998 Festina scandal blew the lid on a whole generation of riders’ doping activities meaning that Birnie was editing riveting material at Cycling Weekly from the get-go. A year later a number of colleagues left to set up a rival title and he got the opportunity to write too. A week on the ’99 Tour cemented his love with following the race (and with cassoulet presumably) and this year will be his twelfth. “I found [the Tour] an incredibly bewildering, daunting and confusing but exhilarating working environment, as I think all first-timers do.” He was hooked.
The most outwardly political of the three – Birnie set up ‘The Cycling Anthology’ as a collective enterprise in which the authors equally benefit – Lionel is also the closest the podcast has to a run-of-the-mill cycling fan (with Moore as the ex-racer and Daniel as the academic expert). Despite being able to present complex topics in an accessible way – “[Lionel’s] great strength is in analysis and in understanding and explaining quite complicated subjects concerned with doping, governance, etc” says Moore – he also speaks with the passion of a man who just loves being at races and drinking in the atmosphere. 
His thoughts on what podcasting can add to cycling journalism in general are worth quoting at length: “Podcasting is much more flexible and intimate medium than writing. People respond to it really well because they can hear the tone of your voice. You can be quite strident without alienating people and you can tackle quite tricky subjects in a discussion without feeling the need to come to a conclusion. But it’s the immediacy that really makes it appealing. We can record a podcast within an hour of a Tour stage finishing, play in some interviews we’ve done with riders and have it online an hour after that. People can listen while they’re travelling to or from work and get a perspective on the latest stage. Radio is a companion, and I think the podcasts fit into that too. During the Tour, we can convey the sense of movement as we travel round France. Hopefully we encourage people to join us on the journey as the race unfolds. Being on the race means we can interview a lot of people each day and really get under the skin of the race.”
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The often ‘tenacious and combative’ Lionel Birnie pictured in more relaxed mood.
Getting under the skin of a race is very important to Lionel, as evidenced by his decision to ride up Alpe d’Huez in 2001 on the morning of the stage in full US Postal kit “including socks and gloves”, in order to gauge the feeling of the French crowds towards Lance Armstrong at the time the then champion was pointedly turned his back on all things French except for the Tour. “I wanted to see what it was like, what hostility was out there” said Birnie. Bringing the sense of ‘what it’s like’ is still very important to him and, beyond being the designated person to describe where they are recording each week, he is often the one who pitches in with a more basic contextual remark that provides the mise en scene so badly needed in conversational podcasting.
After a few minutes debate it’s decided that this is not the way to proceed with the David Millar piece and they agree to split the work of transcribing Millar’s responses in order to have a better overview of the interview for the next time they meet. They hope that this will make writing a narrative linking the pieces and not just sounding like a string of “Well, that was David talking about hist first Tour, now here he is talking about his doping ban” much easier to effect and bring a better story to the piece. Shape, style and flow are as important to them as content and ensuring that the podcast is easily digestible is a key undercurrent even if those goals are felt innately rather than stated out loud.
The recording session breaks up and we walk over to LookMumNoHands East where the book launch for The Cycling Anthology Volume 4 – which they have all written chapters for – will be a little later. The kids have gone and the building sites are quiet allowing Moore, ever the chief presenter, to go off for some quite time in the park to gen up on some of the other author’s offerings (seven will attend in all) as he will be leading the discussion later. Lionel, Daniel and I hang around waiting for the publishers to bring the book copies and promo material and I’m able to get to know them a bit better. Daniel it turns out, as well as being an excellent linguist and writer, is also a very good mimic. He slips into the accents of his characters when telling stories – more to better illustrate his point than to show off his talent or mock them. It’s just his way of getting closer to the story perhaps. His ‘Mark Cavendish’ is near-perfect and because of the size and shape difference between Friebe and the Manx Missile, it’s quite disconcerting to hear. Later, when retelling his agent how he was stitched up during the recording by Richard and the phone numbers story, he also demonstrates that his ‘Richard Moore’ is very good too. It made me wonder if Birnie, Freibe and his accents could have bluffed their way through Moore’s extended holiday absence earlier in the year. But again, it’s retold in an amicable way. Spending a month out on the road with the same people – sharing a car in Lionel and Richard’s case – and recording each day needs a lot of real friendship. They couldn’t make the podcast work as it does if they didn’t get on really well.
Friebe thinks there is only one thing which consistently improves the podcasts and that is when the Italian Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Ciro Scognomilio makes one of his regular guest appearances. Usually accompanied by the sound of furious typing on his laptop as he simultaneously podcasts and writes his column for his paper (in two different languages we assume), Ciro is a character par excellence and is a much better comic turn than Daniel who, in Ciro’s absence, often tries to work in a Lionel Richie song title to acknowledge his co-hosts instead. Pitching the humour level of the show is a tricky one, and one which all three are conscious of. Daniel blames his own “dumb sense of humour” for the Lionel Richie puns and regular returns to Roger de Valeminck and his latest wife-carrying or llama-breeding antics but he also makes a very valid point about what the acceptance of humour in what still is cycling ‘journalism’ says about the current rude health of the sport. “When I was a teenager and started watching [cycling], humour was something that was lacking from the anglophone coverage. It’s a sign that a sport has really arrived in the popular psyche when you can start being irreverent about it. Remember Fantasy Football with Baddiel and Skinner? I guess I always wanted someone to treat cycling in the same way.”
Podcasts are the perfect medium to achieve this. Whilst there some more serious podcasts – such as Jack Thurston’s work on The Bike Show and the Rouleur podcast (Lionel is quick to thank Thurston for his help in his own early podcasting career), the majority are done with a very relaxed, humour-filled approach. Moore, Birnie and Friebe all point to the VCDL podcast by Don Logan and friends as one that they rate highly whilst the Velocast‘s range of subscription podcasts offers excellent value for money by best covering the full gamut including full-on technical know-how in their Cycling Systems Academy shows, historical gems in the unmissable This Week in Cycling History with Cillian Kelly, and good old honest banter from Scott O’Raw and John Galloway in the main show. With nearly 5 years of shows under their belts, theirs is a well-oiled operation that features great musical excerpts, polished audio and always entertaining views from Scott and John. They produce daily shows during all the Grand Tours and have also done dailies during the Dauphine and the Tour de Suisse this year. 

The question of funding podcasting is an interesting one. I talked with Richard, Lionel and Daniel a little about the different podcast models and the potential conflict of interest that The Cycling Podcast has had with sponsorship from Sharp (Co-sponsor of the Garmin pro-cycling team and now an association with Jaguar, who are heavily linked with Team Sky). Lionel is clear on the reasoning and integrity behind their decision to follow a commercial partner route. “The biggest challenge for any media is covering costs. As you can imagine, going to races is expensive.  We prefer the [sponsorship] option because it keeps the podcast free for listeners, which enables us to build the biggest possible audience. We hope to appeal to mainstream cycling fans, without alienating the incredibly knowledgeable fans who want an in-depth listen. Neither [Sharp or Jaguar] have any editorial influence whatsoever, which is imperative when you’re talking about an editorial integrity. We have a third party who secured the sponsorship (Nigel Brown, of Dirt & Glory; he will manage the podcast throughout the TdF) so that keeps a bit of distance between us and the sponsor. Last year, Ryder Hesjedal had to admit to doping earlier in his career and that led to an uncomfortable few weeks for Garmin-Sharp but we didn’t skirt round the issue. We asked Jonathan Vaughters on to the podcast and we had a frank discussion, which was one of our most-listened to episodes. Similarly, we dedicated half an hour of a recent podcast to Chris Froome and the controversy over his therapeutic use exemption. I suppose it’s like newspaper advertising. A company can take out an advert but that doesn’t, or shouldn’t, influence the editorial stance.”

Though the Velocast team have opted for the opposing business model, the reasons for doing so are well in tune with Lionel’s when thinking about content. John from the Velocast agrees with the need for editorial integrity but also stylistic freedom. Having spent a year under the sponsorship of Eurosport, Scott and John found that they were having to watch their mouths a little too much, ” I do like to swear from time to time” says John when we spoke about podcasting on the phone, “and that was a bit of an issue for them. Plus the Velocast is our full-time job, it’s our only gig and we needed to stabilise income. The money being generated through ad-links was not predictable enough. Moving to a subscription model allowed us to actually reduce our audience to a level where we can interact better with them” before going on to say something about ‘weeding out the nutters’ who were apparently filling up his email Inbox on an hourly basis. Scott and John are both musicians and pride themselves on the high production values of their show but at the heart of it is the belief that there is, in John’s words, “room for the fan’s voices” by which he means his and Scott’s. With listener numbers that are at least comparable to The Cycling Podcast‘s this definitely seems to the be case.

I also listen to the Unofficial, Unsanctioned UCI Women’s Cycling Podcast (with Aussie host Dan Wright and English expert Sarah Connelly) for a great mix of women’s cycling news, interviews, liberal amounts of swearing and raucous laughter. Recording via Skype across 10 or so time zones, they usually manage to do the shows when Dan is well into a bottle of wine and Sarah is playing catch-up. Once again, it’s their dynamic that propels the show.. Well, that and the wine. They are all well worth a listen.
After at the book launch it’s time to head off for a bite to eat and a last pint. Richard has to head back to West London but Lionel and Daniel brave it out in the still warm Hackney evening for a while longer. I manage to not offend Lionel (to my knowledge at least) to avoid matching d’Artagnan’s trio of offences but I do pose him a stinker of a question later by asking him to relate his worst podcasting experience. Sportingly he obliges, “My worst experience so far”, he says, leaving ample room for greater disasters in the future, “was spending half an hour outside the Omega-Pharma bus waiting to speak to Mark Cavendish before a Tour stage last year. Eventually I got three or four minutes with him, and he was in a really good, talkative mood. And then I realised afterwards that my device had not recorded….” As he goes on to explain, that would not be so bad for a written piece but for a podcast where he would be playing the interview out as part of the episode, it’s pretty fatal.. I hold my tongue and forego the suggestion that Friebe could have stepped in and pretended to be Cav..
By the time I got into work the next day the Dauphiné/Wiggins Froome podcast was up and I indulged myself a little by listening back to see what the editor Paul Scoins had done. Would the phone numbers story at the end have made the cut? Would my sole contribution – a chair scrape during the Wiggo debate – be discernible? Would having taken a peek behind the curtain spoil the effect, rendering the experience unlistenable? Yes, No and definitely not were the answers I found. If anything the familiarity has improved the listening. I also found that the subsequent weeks episode (which I wasn’t present for) was even more engaging as I found it easier to picture the scene and feel drawn into the conversation. I’m not suggesting that the ‘chaps’ should do a TV chatshow each evening of the Tour – that would be completely counter-productive – but I found that a bit more understanding of what makes each of them tick enhances the listening experience. I hope that the words and pictures here can do a little of the same for you..

5 thoughts on “Portrait of ‘The Cycling Podcast’ – with Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie & Daniel Friebe

  1. Thanks. An eminently readable account giving an idea of the effort that goes into producing a good podcast. I enjoy the podcasts and will have a listen to the others you mention.

  2. Pingback: The Cycling Anthology Volume 5 – Book Review | the jersey pocket

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