Tour de Ned: a cringe-worthy cash grab

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By Henry Edwards, Sports Editor and third year History student

Cycling commentator Ned Boulting’s recent live show at the Bristol SU left me with one question: what’s the point?

ITV 4’s coverage of the Tour de France has successfully brought swathes of cycling enthusiasts throughout the nation closer to the grand race. Aided by the recent dominance of British riders, including 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins and four-time Tour champion Chris Froome, road cycling as a particularly middle-aged male pursuit has reached dizzying levels of interest. My own father is as guilty as any; his sole activity on any social media platform involves him posting details of his most recent rides on ‘Strava’, often with a caption making reference to aspects such as wind resistance, who he was riding with or any mechanical issues faced along the route.

This target-market are all surely religious followers of the yearly Tour de France, which is broadcast in both live and highlight form by ITV. Commentator Ned Boulting cannot have anticipated the level of interest the Tour would generate in the country when he took the role way back in 2003. And yet now in 2018, Ned finds himself flirting with moderate celebrity status. He is the voice behind some of the best three weeks of many people’s years. He is constantly immersed in the action, and entertains audiences with insightful, passing witticisms as he attempts to plug the holes of the tedious sections of the race.

Obviously aware of his low-level fame, 2018 represents Boulting’s third successive autumn touring the country with a one-man cycling related performance. His show of the last two years – ‘Bikeology’ – was about a brief history of the sport and the bike itself. ‘Tour de Ned’, by comparison, is simply a summary of what happened at this summer’s Tour. You may be asking: ‘I thought Geraint Thomas only just won the race as recently as late July. Why do we need a reiteration of an event the whole audience had already avidly watched?’ I left the show with this question on my mind, and I am no closer to answering it.

Ned’s show is remarkably of little worth to those who have enough interest in cycling to have watched the Tour this summer. Very little new information about the race itself is provided. In fact, the only bonuses to this show come when Boulting talks us through what the life of the commentator is like. He mentions that: there was travelling involved; he sometimes cycled a part of the route beforehand; he visited cathedrals; and we watched bits of the FIFA World Cup. I, and surely everyone else, could have guessed that these things happened without the performance explicitly pointing it out. At times I felt like I was a member of the Simpsons family, forced to endure one of Patty and Selma’s tedious slideshows detailing their monotonous vacations.

And yet, paradoxically, ‘Tour de Ned’ is also inaccessible for people with only a fleeting interest in the sport. There are inside jokes aplenty, and even a section where he quizzed the audience to shout out the cyclist that flashed up on the screen behind him. To his credit, Boulting does have an abundance of energy, and he bounces round the stage working up a sweat. A substantial issue is that the vast majority of jokes fell flat. The most cringe worthy moments come when he impersonates Slovakian sprinter Peter Sagan, excruciatingly on numerous occasions. Boulting is, after all, a commentator before comedian, and, judging upon this evidence, he shouldn’t quit his day job.

However, the most aggravating aspect of this lengthy and expensive evening was that Boulting routinely referenced the frustrations and difficulties associated with trying to get hold of athletes. For example, he expressed dismay in trying and failing to get Mark Cavendish’s number for ten whole years. I found this grindingly ironic, for my request for an interview with Ned Boulting – presumably a sports journalist who strove for experiences just like myself and other Epigram sports writers when he was starting out – was declined just a day before the event.

Perhaps Boulting and his PR team were fearful that an interview with Epigram could potentially expose what this show really is: a depthless and transparent attempt to cash-in on the cycling phenomenon that has embedded itself in the passions of countless middle-aged and middle-class citizens. What was clear on Friday 5th October, however, is that these people will empty their pockets for anything even remotely bike-related, so brace yourselves for another predictably mediocre Boulting show near you in 2019.

Photo – Epigram/ Henry Edwards


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