Ned, what’s this tour all about, then?
Well, I haven’t written anything yet. I can’t write it because it will reflect what happens in July, a retelling of the story of the Tour de France, interwoven with tales of life on the road and lifting the curtain on what goes on behind the scenes of a broadcast.
Don’t you think you should have started writing something by now though?
There is that… Don’t panic me. There will also be huge digressions and diversions into bits and pieces that interest me, whether they are geographical, cultural, musical or historical. That’s part of the gig as well.
And will we laugh and cry?
I think the laughing thing is very important. I don’t think you really want to go the theatre to cry about the Tour de France, because it’s an inherently comical thing, isn’t it? Something will happen, whether it’s Marcus Burghardt crashing into a Labrador, or the yellow jersey running up Ventoux, or an inflatable arch crashing into a rider who is just about to finish a great day on the bike, or a bus crashing into a gantry…
What would your dream cock-up be?
It will be my sixteenth Tour and I have given trying to second-guess what cataclysm will descend on the race. But cycling has perplexing and bewildering ways of cocking itself up. It is just trying to control chaos all of the time. Something hilariously unexpected is bound to happen, probably on a daily basis. But something really big will emerge and that will form the centrepiece of the show.
In the meantime, I am spending a lot of time looking at the route and trying to figure out the waypoints of cultural and social history that we pass through that I didn’t know about. That’s a joy of a Tour within France – going back to the roots of the race.
I think the upcoming Rouleur Tour de France issue might help with some of that.
Well, I’m rather anxious that you might have spiked all my stories.
Did you know about the pig festival in Trie-sur-Baise [stage 18] in the Pyrenees?
No? You bastards! I wouldn’t have thought of that area as being pig-centric at all…
There are going to be some filmed snippets in your show, I gather?
Between myself and David Millar, we are going to film a lot of behind the scenes stuff that will feature in the show.
So you haven’t been in Millar’s Maserati yet? You can’t tell me if it is fragrant, smelling of walnut and leather?
Everything David does smells of walnuts.
It’s the third time we will have done the Tour together as a commentary team – it flashes by – but I think we have relaxed into it a bit now and have the confidence to be more expansive with what we do. The tales of the chateaux will certainly feature.
But if you want more concrete notions of what will feature in the show, there’s going to be in-depth analysis of how a team time trial, composed solely by the core members of the Wombles, might perform. So Tobermory, Tomsk, Orinoco, Uncle Bulgaria…
And Madame Cholet?
She has a very important role to play but I can’t reveal what it is.
Umm… I’m not altogether happy with that answer.
I’m not very good at this, am I?
No, you’re doing fine. What about Chris Boardman’s power naps? That fascinates me.
Boardman steals one of those very small white towels from a hotel each day. It’s okay, because he deposits it at the next hotel. He’s constantly moving towels around France.
He folds that towel in the most precise way, then sleeps in the most Boardman way imaginable. At an exact point in proceedings, normally with about 80km to go in the race, he gets overcome by tiredness, angles his head forward onto the deck and gets into an aero tuck for about eight minutes.
And this also features. David and I have nicknamed him ‘The Magpie’. You know how they are attracted to shiny things? Boardman may not look like he is listening, but he will earwig conversations at the breakfast table, looking for little nuggets of information, and just nick them. When we come on air, you’ll find that the casual remark you made over breakfast is broadcast to the viewers, because Boardman’s just bloody magpied it! There will be a forensic analysis of his magpie technique, because it needs revealing. He is a charlatan and he is getting away with it.
My tour is 21 stages, by the way – a suitably Grand Tour.
Hang on, though. No London date. Why are you swerving the great metropolis?
We’re playing Richmond. As we know, Richmond Park is one of the most important seats of cycling in the world [coughs].
The comedian Al Murray apparently described your show as ‘by far the best cycling-related one man show around’.
Well, he’s not wrong, is he? Indisputably. If there is one consistent thread about the shows I have toured for the last two years, it’s that people say: “that’s an idea that really shouldn’t work, and it is head-scratchingly baffling that it does”.
There is still a huge pent up hunger to consume stuff about the Tour de France that isn’t being satisfied. Once people crack the code of the Tour and get into it, they just become obsessed by it.
One last question. Do people come up to you and say: “You should do such-and-such, it would be really funny.”
All the time.
Have you ever taken even one of their suggestions on board?