Matt Butler: On your bike, Jonathan – studio tactics are all wrong
World Track Cycling, BBC2
Cycling is a perfect vehicle for a public service broadcaster such as the BBC to be, erm, peddling. For one, Britain are good at it. And there is nothing better to get people involved in a sport, whether it is watching or participating, than basking in the glow of the success of your compatriots.
Secondly, it is accessible – unlike motor sport, which brings to mind the reaction five years ago when the Beeb forked out something like £40m for the rights to show Formula One: something along the lines of: "Youngsters are going to take up Formula One in their droves, now it's on the BBC".
So the week of World Track Cycling Championships coverage from Minsk should have everyone from paediatricians to politicians cheering at the prospect of people watching British people winning; they would surely get on their bikes and cure the obesity crisis in one fell swoop. No need for fat and fizzy drink taxes when we've got Becky James, the new individual sprint world champion, to look up to.
But there was one small problem to the feelgood factor of Brits winning gold. And that was the presentation.
The coverage of the races themselves was fine, with Simon Brotherton and Chris Boardman even making the keirin make sense. But it was in the studio that things went a little awry. It was anchored by Jonathan Edwards (below), the former triple jumper who is ideal covering athletics as the straight man to Colin Jackson's hyperventilating, scattergun punditry. But in the more austere environment of a studio that looked kitted out in 1980s Eastern Bloc chic – fittingly, given the location of the championships – faced with a couple of pundits, forced to elicit analysis and opinion, Edwards fell short. Despite the salt and pepper locks, earnest expressions and half-smiles, he is no Gary Lineker. He's not even Gary Barlow.
Like Lineker and his Match of the Day chums, Edwards was stymied by his pundits, Victoria Pendleton and Craig MacLean. Between the three of them, there was less chemistry than a speed-dating night for hermits. In fact, more than once they all gave the impression that, just prior to going live, they'd had a massive row.
Take the analysis for Friday's women's scratch race, a 10km discipline with enough tactics to provide a wealth of opportunity for a pair of ex-cyclists to wax lyrical. In this year's race, a trio of riders had gone out on their own ahead of the pack, including Ireland's Caroline Ryan, who was reeled in by the peleton and denied a podium place in the last lap. Edwards intoned a question about tactics to Pendleton, who flicked her hair and paused – with a look as if she was thinking about whether to voice her annoyance at Edwards eating all the HobNobs in the green room – before replying in clipped tones a few lines about how important it was to get your race plan right. Thanks.
She was slightly more forthcoming the following night when James succeeded her as world champion – despite repeatedly turning the conversation back to herself.
But where Pendleton was chippy, MacLean looked as if he had been coerced into appearing on camera. You almost expected him to turn and face us saying: "They... are treating me well. I am... unharmed," before mouthing: "HELP ME".
Perhaps he just didn't get on with Pendleton or Edwards – after all, unlike those two, he is no rookie when it comes to appearing on TV. And perhaps we can excuse Pendleton's performance on the basis that it was her first World Championships as a pundit – maybe she was nervous. But then again, it was James's first World Championships too. And she won gold.
Which is more than enough inspiration for viewers to get on their bikes.
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