For our latest interview on TheTour.co.uk Brendan Gallagher caught up with the BBC’s voice of cycling Simon Brotherton to talk about how he got into the sport ahead of this week’s World Track Championships.

YOU are never going to please everybody all of the time – you only have to spend 30 seconds on Twitter to realise that – but I wonder if cycling in this country will ever realise how blessed it is with its TV and Radio coverage both compared to other sports and indeed what was on offer 20 years ago or even at the start of the noughties. Take the omnipresent football out of the equation and cycling now stands right alongside rugby and cricket on that next level. Sometimes you don’t realise when you are slap bang in the middle of the halcyon days but take it from me cycling has never had it so good.

Eurosport are on the case seemingly 24/7, ITV has made a big annual commitment to both the Tour de France, The Tour of Britain and other events such as The Pearl Izumi Tour Series, Sky is showing an interest in the big tours and made their debut with their Giro coverage last year while road wise the BBC TV concentrates on Olympic, World and Commonwealth Games in addition to their extensive coverage of anything that moves on the Track.  BBC Radio 5Live Extra’s substantial coverage of the Tour de France has also filled an invaluable hole in recent years for those who can’t get next to a screen and last year they also branched out and took in the Giro. Cycling’s cup truly runneth over.

At the heart of the BBC’s road and track coverage is Simon Brotherton who combines being the lead commentator on all TV events with leading Radio 5Live’s coverage. A BBC lifer – he signed up in 1990 – Brotherton is held in equal regard as a football commentator and indeed has been shortlisted this very month by the SJA for their Best Commentator of 2013 award.  Brotherton – sorry it will have to be ‘Brothers’ from now on, it’s the only name he answers to – has actually covered just about every sport under the and his objectivity about cycling is well worth listening to in a sport that sometimes walks around with a chip on its shoulder.

“One way or another, between all the channels, there is not that goes missing these days,” says Brothers.  “It’s incredible how it has changed. When I think back to my teenage years getting hold of a copy of Winning magazine was as good as it got some weeks. When the Tour de France was on you would get 25 minutes every Saturday lunchtime on ITV – 12.30 on the dot if I recall with Dickie Davies on the World of Sport – and then finally Channel Four made the quantum leap and gave us half an hour’s highlights every night. And that was it.

“When I started at the Beeb there was no great enthusiasm to cover the sport but I made myself a nuisance and persuaded them to let me go ‘as cheaply as possible’  to the 1994 Tour which at least had Chris Boardman in the Prologue and a visit to England for two stages in the first week. I got doubly lucky on that first Tour because not only did Chris take the Prologue and Yellow jersey in Lille but on the first stage proper there was that incredible crash at the sprint finish in Armentieres when that policeman stepped out to take a photo and sent Wilfred Nelisen and Laurent Jalabert crashing horribly to the ground.  It was a shocker. The pictures went around the world and very soon I was being asked for all sorts of reports including a contribution to Pick of the Week.

“A big problem around this era was that unless Chris or Sean Yates were riding there would be no British competitors so it was a hard sell because the British sporting public at large still hadn’t really ‘got’ cycling at this stage. It makes me smile sometimes when you hear about broadcasters getting on the cycling bandwagon and being Brit-centric because we have so many successful riders. Believe me that wasn’t the case back in the ‘90s, you had to pester your bosses to get involved because you love the sport. I haven’t missed the Tour since my debut in 1994 but alas that run will come to an end this year because of firstly the World Cup in Brazil and then having to go straight into the Commonwealth Games.

“I got the football bug when I was five and cycling a few years later when I use to go out riding with my Grandfather. He would be up on his straight handlebars bike with panniers wearing plus fours and tamoshanter and I would be alongside him on my dropped handlebar racer wearing my Tour de France garb. We must have looked a bit odd frankly. That wonderful book the Great Bike Race by Geoffrey Nicholson was another big influence, I knew I had to get involved in the sport somehow and be part of it.

“My heroes would compete for space on the bedroom wall alongside the footballers. Obviously given when I was growing up Sean Kelly was a big favourite but I also went in for big characters who were different – Henk Lubberding with his flowing locks and helmet hair and Gert-Jan Theunnisse. Cycling is so full of the fascinating individuals – riders like Bernard Hinault and Phil Anderson stood out a mile in the peloton – and it needs to maintain that tradition. I religiously wear my cycling helmet when I go out but they and the regulation sunglasses and this black-navy blue kit a lot of the teams go for nowadays does make it difficult for the fans to pick their favourites out instantly as the peloton speeds by.

“As well as being a great rider one of the things that distinguished Brad Wiggins in 2012 was those sideburns, it was a little insight into the man and personality and sport likes that. We are well blessed in that respect with the British riders. Brad and Mark Cavendish are big characters while Chris Froome does it in a different less extrovert way and provides the balance.  

“That trio are huge figures on the British sporting landscape -and that’s without even looking at the track specialists – and that’s one of the reasons I believe it was right that The Tour of Britain went through the re-tendering process last year even though I am sure it was very painful and stressful time for the guys at SweetSpot who had done such a brilliant job re-establishing the race and basically re-launching it from scratch. It’s great that they have now been given the green light again but after ten years was the right time to reflect.

“Given the massive profile of cycling in Britain at present and the momentum that builds cycling is entitled to think even bigger, it doesn’t need any more to follow the old models. That Cav finish and win in his World Champions jersey at Guildford two years ago [pictured above], the Haytor stage last year – stages like that are right up there with anything else you will see and the crowds are huge and growing all the time.  Those pictures went around the world and live TV coverage was an essential step forward. It doesn’t come cheap but it was an essential investment in the future if you like.  Britain is now one of the biggest cycling nations on the planet and the national tour needs to be “big time’ – and that was thankfully reflected last week when the UCI awarded HC status to the event.”

Brothers is a broadcasting all-rounder but without a doubt his great love is live action and the more immediate the better, whether it be a brilliantly taken goal that has be called correctly or a hectic all-action sprint finish on the road or track. There is a very particular skill to such commentaries, not least in cycling at the end of a long road stage.

“For a commentator a sprint finish is like the Olympic 100m Final or the knock-out punch at a world title bout, it’s the definitive moment. A sprint finish brings a great crescendo, everything is on the line during that frantic gallop.”  Indeed both for the riders and commentators!  Call the winner wrong and participants wrongly and its there on tape in perpetuity. No hurried re-writes, a luxury afforded to the written press.

“It’s a funny one because when I am on the Tour we travel quite a bit ahead of the race so we are at the finish in front of the monitors soon after the race actually starts 200km away. Before our producer Phil Sheehan fought to get our longer slot on Radio 5Live Extra the extent of my live coverage during a day, as opposed to updates, could often be that last minute or so of the race. So after five hours or so the adrenalin was pumping.

“I am usually sat in the TV tribunes right on the finish line but there is absolutely no point in trying to commentate by looking up the course, you just see a load of specs coming towards you at 70kmph. You have to do it off the monitor but even that has its challenges because TV foreshortens everything and the pictures can sometimes get very tight in on the action and you don’t get all the distance markers as you get nearer. Travelling so far ahead of the race I always try and walk down the final part of a stage you are pretty sure will end in a sprint and put a few markers down myself – roundabouts, corners, prominent buildings and the like. It really helps.

“With the sprints you have to be spontaneous. You need to do all your homework and you have a pretty good idea of who is likely to be involved but come that finale you must trust yourself to go onto autopilot and just call it in the moment. You have to try and engage the brain before stuff comes out of your mouth. It’s a skill I suppose but also experience helps. It’s still a big rush though.”

Brothers might be missing his fix of sprint finishes at the Tour this year but the upcoming World Track Championships again feature prominently in his diary and the immediacy of a big night at the velodrome has always held a fascination:  “I loved and lived every minute of all those Olympics Gold, I topped the commentator’s medal table at both Beijing and London although my wife has to occasionally remind me that I didn’t actually win the medals personally.

“There is every chance of that conveyor belt continuing to deliver, there seems to be another great crop of riders coming through post-London without that incredible pressure of having to perform at London 2012, which you felt, well almost from the moment everybody got back from Beijing to be honest. Just ‘keeping your head on’ was one of the biggest challenges leading in 2012, I sense everybody is a bit more relaxed and less stressed at this stage in the cycle although you know the expectations will crank up as we get nearer to Rio.

“I’m fascinated as see how these new velodromes that are popping up will add to the mix. Look at the fine crop of riders to emerge from South Wales recently centred on the Newport Velodrome. When you consider that the Glasgow Velodrome is up and running, London will soon be available and I saw the other day that the Derby Velodrome is quickly going up. It’s still boom time, its difficult to see anything other than pretty good times still ahead for Team GB.”