“Paul, Paul, have you got a few minutes? Please, Paul, just a quick word.”
The huddle of cyclists surround the journalist Paul Kimmage as he makes his way across the hotel lobby. We’ve all just completed Stage 17 of the Tour de France. A gruelling 220 kilometres over four Alpine climbs. But our work for the day is only half done. Now it’s our job to go and try and give as many interviews as possible to maximise exposure for our sponsors.
“Paul, please, we’ve been waiting here for nearly two hours.”
It can be a wearying process, trying to get hold of a journalist who will sit down to interview you. They don’t always want to speak to the riders. They’ve had an even longer day than us and mostly, after the stage, they just want to be left alone to get their heads right for the following day, where another testing time in the rental car awaits.
As Kimmage disappears into the hotel bar, a handler from his newspaper emerges and says: “Sorry lads, Paul won’t be doing any interviews during this Tour. He’s sick of writing about doping. And all of you lot. He’s not interested in any answers you might have to his questions and invites you all to shove your answers up your arses.”
Not what the riders present were hoping for. We all have pressure from our teams to get interviewed and when journalists blank us like this, it makes life very difficult. It’s an unorthodox move for a journalist not to ask us any questions. But apparently Kimmage is working on a book, so I can appreciate he needs to make these selfish decisions to keep on top of his game.
Most of the mini-peloton assembled in the lobby disperses. They didn’t get Kimmage to speak to them, but most of them probably had been asked a few mundane questions directly after the stage. An interview in one of the Sunday papers is considered a real result, especially during the Tour. But a lot of the time most riders have to settle for a website or a podcast.
I’m one of the few riders who has stayed behind in the hotel lobby. I haven’t been spoken to by any journalists yet, not even a one-liner for a more general piece about the stage. I can’t leave empty-handed, so I stay put, take a seat next to reception and hope to grab another journalist as they walk past.
I’ve had a bad year. I’ve only had two articles about me in minor online publications since the season began. A few years ago I made it into a Pro Cycling magazine mini-feature and had an interview in The Sunday Times. But I’ve slipped a bit since then. During my best season ever, I did 14 interviews. I’m getting older now and I need to come to terms with that. But I’m not ready to settle for ‘where are they now?’ pieces just yet. I still feel like I have a couple of good years left in me.
These thoughts are really concerning me now as each journalist passes, head down and avoiding eye contact. The Tour is the Tour and I need to capitalise. I’d even settle for a blogger.
It’s one of those unwritten rules that you don’t approach a journalist while they are in the middle of their post-stage beers. It’s quite rude. This is their down time and they need some space. I understand that. That kind of door-stepping is really not appreciated and if I want to get into their good books, I can’t be one of those riders who interrupt the journalists when they are refuelling.
Older riders on my team reminisce about the good old days where media outlets would pin a list of the journalists’ hotel rooms to the noticeboard in the lobby. This was primarily to speed up check-in for the journalists. They could just glance at the page upon arrival and see their room number. All the mundane check-in details would have been taken care of by their employers so they can just get to their room and immediately start focusing on their writing for the following day.
This had the possibly inadvertent, but very fortunate, side-affect of allowing us riders to know where each of the journalists rooms were. Back in these golden days, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a journalist to invite you in to their hotel room, where they might even give you 30 or 40 minutes of their time. Unthinkable these days. Conversely, there are actually rumours going around recently that journalists are starting to charge riders for interviews.
There is also the issue of a ‘black book’ that some journalists like to keep. This is a list of names of riders who they are unwilling to speak to. Unfortunately, as a result of being on the same team as a rider who was blacklisted by many journalists last year for being way too boring to talk to, I have been tarred with the same brush. It’s grossly unfair but, hey, this is cycling. There are hordes of amateur riders who would bite my arm off for an opportunity to be brushing shoulders with journalists in hotel lobbies during the Tour de France.
I have to just accept my place in the Tour hierarchy, wait for the journalists to finish their drinks, and hope that one of them will take pity and maybe I’ll end up in tomorrow’s paper. When I started my career, I dreamt of a front-page photo in L’Equipe and a book deal. I laugh at the idea of now. The cocksure naiveté of youth.
It’s 11pm now and I need to get back to my own hotel and start resting for tomorrow, another stage in the Alps. But I thought I just saw the guy from Cycling Weekly finish his beer. Maybe I’ll just wait five more minutes…
Cillian Kelly is a self-confessed “stats nerd” and all-round wizard with pro cycling’s names and numbers irishpeloton.com