View from the Sofa: Melancholy Millar and lyrical Boardman bring us peloton pile-up TV

Tour de France Grand Départ ITV

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Tim Henman came close to making a Wimbledon final. He was denied by a rain-affected match and an inspired Goran Ivanisevic 13 years ago. You’d think he’d have more than enough reason to be bitter, given his lost opportunity and the later success for Britain of Andy Murray.

You could imagine him sitting watching Wimbledon on television in his front room, clad in a string vest stained by pieces of poached egg, swigging from a warm can of super-strong lager, barking: “It coulda been me. It coulda been (burp) ME!”

Even after he became a commentator for the BBC, you could fantasise about him dishing out faint praise, insults and biting comments, having downed a few “looseners” before broadcast.

None of this has come to pass, of course. Henman has gone on to become an erudite pundit, with just enough sass to keep him interesting.

For gritted-teeth bitterness, we had to turn to David Millar, the cyclist, at the start of the Tour de France. Millar was a late addition to ITV’s commentary line-up, having been overlooked by his team earlier in the week to ride the Tour.

Gary Imlach, the host, welcomed Millar “in a melancholy way” and the rider answered: “Melancholy is the right word,” before adding with a mannequin-style grin, “It’s quite good fun. Now it’s possible to swan around a bit and soak it up.” He didn’t convince many.

Later, as the riders were trundling through Leeds on the 40-minute rollout to the start proper, he said, ostensibly speaking about the omission of Bradley Wiggins: “That’s what sport is all about, there are no gifts.” You could almost hear the cans of Elephant Beer being opened.


But it was not the time to listen to a morose Millar, there was a race to build up to. And the build-up for the opening stage from Leeds to Harrogate was a period to be endured, rather than enjoyed, especially as we had tuned in to watch a bicycle race, not Chris Boardman waxing lyrical about the town of Skipton. Plus, any pretence of continuity was lost by an advert break every bleeding 12 minutes.

After a full hour of partially successful time-filling by Imlach, Boardman and Millar, ending with the riders standing awkwardly while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made small talk with the British contingent, it was finally time to start the race.

Not that we got to see the flag drop, nor could we work out who the three riders were that broke away at the start, thanks to the picture break-up which left us looking at digital snow. Even the commentators, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, were incommunicado.

Had ITV, along with booking Millar at the last minute, left all its preparations until a couple of days before? Perhaps it had left its decent technicians over in Brazil.

It was the broadcasting equivalent of a peloton pile-up, which left us with one thought: we shoulda chosen Eurosport.