Sunday, June 26, 2011

A quick chat with SBS cycling expert, Mike Tomalaris

It is that time of the year, when we (and that should be most reading this blog) are getting prepared for the biggest cycling event on the calendar, the Tour de France.

Sometimes I think the Giro is a tougher race because of the lower temperatures and steeper climbs, more exciting, others affirm the Vuelta is closer to cycling roots but I dare to say La Grande Beucle is the biggest of the three Grand Tours, of any tour as a matter of fact.

In Australia, SBS Television has done a great job in bringing the Tour and everything cycling to our lounge room, and work places. We now have live coverage by an experienced crew working on location and bringing the stages live to our TV sets, PCs, Smartphones and iTablets.

This week I had the chance to chat with SBS's sports presenter and cycling expert, Michael Tomalaris who is getting ready for his trip to France.

AMR: Firstly, how did you become the face of cycling in Australia? When did the passion start? If I am right, you were into soccer before you got involved with cycling.

MT: In the early years of my career at SBS I was one of the network's football "talent" having covered the game as a reporter, commentator and producer. After covering many big tournaments including the FIFA World Cup of 1994 & 1998, my football commitments coincided with the network's expanding responsibilities to cycling. I was initally asked to cover domestic races SBS was broadcasting such as the now defunct Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic. That's when I developed a deep affection for the sport and as a visual spectacle, how it complemented television.

AMR: You seem very passionate about cycling and you watch bike races all the time, when did you buy your first bike, was that after covering your first TdF, in 1996? Do you still ride?

MT: I played soccer all of my life - from the age of six to 40 when muscles and bones in my body started to seize. I bought and rode my first bike in a bunch situation around 10 years ago and have never looked back. I am the patron of the Sydney Uni Velo Club but have never raced. My average weekend morning training ride on my Colnago takes in a 90km loop door-to-door around southern Sydney. I simply enjoy the benefits of keeping fit and healthy and enjoying the companionship the sport offers.

AMR: Carbon or Titanium? Campagnolo or Shimano?

MT: I'm not technically gifted when it comes to two-wheels so as long as it gets me from point A to point B without too much stress, I'm happy. But my Colnago "Dream" machine is a carbon and fitted with a Shimano group set.

AMR: Fifteen TdF events under your belt, so far, you must have met some very interesting people. Who would you nominate as the most passionate Tour de France aficionado (rider or non-rider)? Why?

MT: A difficult question but I would say the entire, yet small, SBS crew have developed a deep passion of world cycling and the Tour de France. In the 15 years I have covered the Tour for the network, I have had different people work on the coverage. From camera operators to editors and producers each have become cycling aficionados in their own unique way. The same can be said for extended staff members. It seems everyone at the network is supportive and hooked.

AMR: If I can split the tour riders in three groups, sprinters, climbers and the rouleurs, who are/were the most exciting riders to watch, of each of the groups?

MT: Of the climbers it goes without saying that Alberto Contador will dominate. He is undoubtedly a phenomenon and his record of winning every Grand Tour he has competed at speaks for itself. If he doesn't win the yellow jersey chances are he'll take the King of the Mountain competition.

I also fancy Rabobank's Robert Gesink to challenge for the polka jersey in 2011. The sprinters is easy. Mark Cavendish, Mark Cavendish, Mark Cavendish! He prepares for the Tour and given the Aussie support he'll have through Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw, I'd be surprised if anyone came close to spoiling HTC-Highroad's celebrations.

Philippe Gilbert cleaned up at the Spring Classics so why wouldn't he do the same on the medium-mountain stages? The Belgian is the world's number one ranked rider and a joy to watch. I'm hoping he cleans up again.

AMR: Nobody really knows what would have happened last year if Andy Schleck didn’t drop the chain on stage 15, do you think he can stay with Contador on the climbs this year?

MT: I don't think Andy Schleck has done enough to convince me he can win the Tour this year. While he revolves his entire year around the one event, his performances in time-trials have been disappointing. Has he been foxing? Is he saving himself for Le Tour? I'd like to be proven wrong.

AMR: Are there other riders who could challenge those two on the mountains and for the Yellow Jersey in Paris? Is this a good year for Cadel Evans? Or Levi Leipheimer, perhaps?

MT: Cadel's meticulous preparation and easier earlier season schedule ensures he is primed for a solid showing. He is both physically and mentally ready for the "Tour of his Lifetime" and while some members of the media refuse to talk up his chances of overall victory, I'm convinced Cadel is on the right track. He has recruited a great team at BMC whose sole job is guide our boy across the line on the Champs Elysees. If they don't, team management will view it as a massive failure.

AMR: On the younger riders, Richie Porter has shown he is capable of winning a leader’s jersey. Does he have what it takes to become the first Australian to win the TdF?

MT: Richie Porte is a definite star of the future but in his maiden Tour de France appearance his main role at Saxo Bank-Sungard is to service and protect Alberto Contador. Richie's time will come, but it won't be this year.

AMR: Your favourite region to visit and watch La Grande Beucle?

MT: Whether it's in the harsh and the battled northern regions or the glamour the south has to offer, I have come to appreciate every nook and cranny that France has to offer. I love the people, the culture, the history, the scenery and of course it's a wonderful bike race. It seems so to many others - the increasing viewing numbers suggest so.

AMR: Thanks Mike, looking forward to the SBS coverage this year.


Dee said...

Wow! What a great interview, and very impressive that you have access to the Australian voice of cycling. Very excited about the Tour, and I'll be in Canada for the second half, so it will be on at a sensible hour and everything!

AMR said...

Thanks Dee, I feel privileged for having had this opportunity.
It is time now to lose some sleep around here... Vive le Tour!

Blogged Blog Directory