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  5. Episode 20: “Sophie Smith Interview”

Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 20

Episode Description

Episode 20 of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast finds Phil Jones MBE, Brother UK’s Managing Director and this podcast’s co-host, in conversation with the writer Sophie Smith. 

Phil seizes the coincidence of a visit to central London to interview Sophie, who is passing through the city en route to the Tour de France, about her new book, Pain and Privilege: Inside Le Tour.

In a wide ranging conversation, Phil quizzes Sophie on a host of topics, from life under lockdown in her native Melbourne to life on the road at the world’s biggest bike race. 

Sophie shares the stories behind the stories in Pain and Privilege and describes how she’s developed a professional rapport with some of the world’s best-known riders. 

She describes a world of elite performance where every gram matters and where friendships are sometimes the casualty of a greater desire for victory. 

This episode was recorded on location at a London hotel. Follow the @brothercycling social channels for news of our forthcoming episodes.

 
 
 
The Brother UK Cycling Podcast

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Episode 20: Sophie Smith Interview

Episode contents

  • 00.02 – Introduction
  • 00.39 – Part One: Writing Under Lockdown
  • 02.30 – Part Two: Writing 'Pain and Privilege'
  • 07.14 – Part Three: Becoming A Cycling Journalist
  • 13.17 – Part Four: Cadel Evans
  • 15.39 – Part Five: Media Management 
  • 22.36 – Part Six: Hunger Pains
  • 28.00 – Part Seven: Master and Apprentice
  • 35.51 – Part Eight: Hard Work and Hustle
  • 37.55 – Part Nine: Accumulated Fatigue
  • 41.40 - Outro

Part One: Surviving lockdown

Phil Jones

“So, I’m here with Sophie Smith in a London hotel. Completely coincidentally, I came down to London yesterday to see my brother, who’s just flown in from Sydney, and Sophie is from Melbourne, and, obviously, had come into London. 

“I saw on Twitter that she is in a hotel in Leicester Square. I thought I knew the hotel, but it was one just over the Square, and the next thing you know, here we are in reception, and, I thought, a great opportunity to talk about Sophie’s new book, which came out a couple of days ago that’s all about the Tour de France. 

“Now, Sophie isn’t on a book tour to promote her book, I’m pleased to say, but she’s actually here because she’s gong to the Tour. Now, you’re not going to the first few stages. You’re going to go straight out to France for stage four. 

“So, Sophie, great to see you, and thanks for giving me a little bit of time this morning to just talk abut the book It looks amazing. 

“First things first, like everybody, how was lockdown for you, Sophie? How was lockdown Australia?” 

Sophie Smith

“We had, or Melbourne had, the world’s longest lockdown, so it was long! I managed to get out. I had to seek government position to leave the country last year. I came out and did the Tour last year. I got stuck! I came to the UK and waited until I could go home.

"It was very challenging for everyone. I don’t think humans are designed to be in isolation for that long. It was very challenging, mentally, as well as physically. I put on weight during that time, but I’m glad that the world is returning to some sort of normal and getting here this year was a lot easier.”

Hello and welcome

Timothy John

“Hello and welcome to this new edition of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast. 

“Today, we’re looking back on a sensational Tour Series, and we’re looking ahead to what race organisers The SweetSpot Group are predicting will be the hardest edition yet of the Women’s Tour. 

“We’ll talk about an expansion of Brother UK’s sponsorship of the Women’s Tour and Tour of Britain: that’s our new role as presenting partner of the Green Zones.

“We’ll celebrate a second national title in three months for Brother UK - Orientation Marketing, and we’ll hear from two of the biggest stars of British women’s road racing.

“Here with me to discuss all of this and more is my co-host, the Managing Director of Brother UK, Phil Jones. Phil, good to see you."

Phil Jones

 “Hiya Tim, and hello everybody."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Two: Writing 'Pain and Privilege: Inside Le Tour'

Phil Jones

“I’m sure, yeah. I’m sure. A lot of that has been documented, hasn’t it? But you managed to get a book done, which his amazing. 

“They always say that everyone has got a book in them, but what I wanted to say to you, firstly, is you did you always know you had a book in you?”

Sophie Smith

“Not necessarily about the Tour. I was always interested in writing children’s fiction, but not about the Tour, no. It’s weird when you think about it, because I’m just coming up to Tour number ten, which pales in comparison to most of my elder colleagues. 

“I think that was why I was, not reluctant, but a bit anxious to write a book about the Tour because when you go to these races that are more than 100 years old, putting a public opinion

out there…I know that I do that every year, in terms of news stories and television broadcasts.

"It was a little bit daunting actually, and then knowing that I had colleagues who had written books. Some of them had covered the Tour since before I was born. It was challenging. It was a learning curve, as was trying to write something that’s not already out there about the Tour.”

Phil Jones

“So how did it start, then? Was it your book in your head, or were you approached by a publisher? Tell me how the book firstly came about and how you decided to write about what you eventually wrote about.”

Sophie Smith

“I was approached by the publisher in October 2020. It’s not lost on me how much of a privilege that is. A lot of people write a book and put a manuscript in. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t get picked up. 

“The head of publishing at Ultimo Press, James Kelly, he’s British. He called me from Sydney. I’ve never met him face-to-face because of the pandemic. All of our correspondence was in writing or over the phone, as was pretty much everything in this book, outside of being at the Tour de France last year.

“He said he’d followed my work for a while. I’ve worked in the Australian press and the British-registered press pretty much all of my career. He’d followed my work and said, ‘You seem pretty good at getting under people’s skin.’ I still don’t know if that’s a compliment or an insult!

“He came to me with two ideas. He said would I like to write a book on the tenth anniversary of Cadel Evans’ Tour de France win, which was last year. He’s the only Australian who’s

won the Tour, which is really something when you think about it.

“Or, a more behind-the-scenes look at the Tour de France. I think one of my strengths has always been my contacts and trying to build strong, professional rapports with the people I work with and get under their skin, in a way; get something that isn’t already out there; try and understand who they are as people or athletes. I get really annoyed if I walk away from an interview…

“I mention this in Pain and Privilege. The first time I interviewed Lance Armstrong, I walked away and got nothing from him, because he can lie non-verbally. I’ve never met anyone like him. I was really annoyed. I got quotes that went in the broadcast, but I got nothing. 

“The second was more up my alley, so to speak. I presented their idea back to them. It was a very tricky time to write a book. I think 2020 was a horrible year for everyone. My mum was diagnosed with cancer that year, so when they approached me, I was running on fumes. I think when you have something like that, on that level, that happens to you, creatively, my

head wasn’t necessarily there either, to take on writing a book.

“Naively, I thought 2021 might go back to normal, and that you might have early season races that you could be at. As an Australian, I’m actually based abroad. You can’t really get to every race in the season. You have to pick which ones to do. I don’t think I appreciated how difficult it would be during the pandemic to ask very personal, very difficult questions, as I did for Pain and Privilege, over the phone, or over Zoom. Those are not questions that take just a phone call. 

“Those are the challenges of it. As I said, it was a learning curve. I published a book in a time when I was asking people to be very open and very honest, when professional sports more and more now distances athletes from media. It’s more rehearsed and less open, and in the pandemic, when everybody was isolating, physically or mentally, it was a challenge.”

Part Three: Becoming A Cycling Journalist

Phil Jones

“Now, I must confess, we had a quick coffee at Rapha before we came here. I was just asking about your background a little bit more. In particular, I was interested in how you got started in cycling journalism, because, naturally, it isn’t a big sport in Australia, for example. 

“Will you just quickly tell us about how you got started. It struck me that one of the things that you said was, a particular skill that you have is to build connections with people. You seem

to build connections very, very quickly and you built your network very, very quickly in the sport of cycling after you got started. 

“Let’s talk about that quickly: how did you get started? What was the catalyst for you beginning a career in professional cycling journalism?”

Sophie Smith

“I fluked it, really. I grew up in Balwyn, Melbourne’s eastern suburb. I finished university. I always wanted to take a gap year to the UK. I just couldn’t afford it. I managed to get a cadetship at a regional newspaper in Geelong called the Geelong Advertiser. 

“I moved to Geelong, and it just so happened that Geelong got the world championships in 2010. My sports editor, about a year out from that…I wasn’t doing AFL at the time, which is god-like in Australia, and he said, you’re going to do a weekly page on cycling in the lead up to the world championships in Australia. 

“At the back of my mind, I thought: ‘Ok. I’m going to do this for a few months and then tell you I can’t fill it,’ because I knew nothing about the sport. I used to cycle as a kid all the time.

My dad used to take us on bike rides at the weekend to give my mum a break. It never computed that it was a professional sport.

“That was a distinct learning curve. I was lucky that I had a mentor at the paper, the late Simon Townley, who’s a cycling fiend. I’d go over to him and look at a results sheet and be like: ‘This doesn’t make sense. Why do they all have different times?’

“It’s the same sort of thing about the Tour. People ask, ‘What keeps you going back to the Tour?’ Cycling’s the same. Once you get your head around it, it’s incredibly addictive. At the world championships that year, I had this amazing opportunity. It was a free-for-all for me. My editor said to me: ‘This will either be the start of something great, or you’ll never have another opportunity, so make the most of it.’ I did. 

“I went to every national team press conference. There were a lot of big riders out there at the world’s that year. That became a launching pad. I was offered a job off the back of that. I met a lot of people who were established stars or established road captains - I hate the word ‘stars’ - established athletes or champions, or were up-and-comers: people like Marcel

Kittel, who won bronze in the U23 time-trial and went on to be the benchmark of sprinting years later. 

“So, sort of meeting those people there and then actively staying in touch with them: getting their contact details and finding out at the beginning of every season what their objectives were; keeping in touch with them by phone throughout the year. A lot of people I met there are still sources now, so I was lucky, in a way.”

Phil Jones

“So, really, I guess, timing was one of the bigger things there. ‘[t was] serendipitous that you had this world championship and happened to be on that newspaper and to have the opportunity to follow that thread. Luckily for us, that started your professional career. 

“So back in those days, in your first year, let’s say, who were the riders who were on the scene that you were reporting on at that world championship?”

Sophie Smith

“Geelong, where I was based, as it turned out, Cadel Evans had a base on the coast during the off-season. Leigh Howard, who’s an Australian track rider and road rider, had signed with Highroad, so every summer the Highroad team would come out. Rod Ellingworth was at British Cycling at the time. He was out doing recon. I think that’s how it started. 

“A lot of the time, at the Tour, or in cycling even, people just follow Australian riders if they’re Australian, or, if they’re British, they just follow British riders, whereas I...It was open. I took my editor’s words literally and went to every national team press conference and spoke to everyone that I could speak English with, because I still don’t speak a second language, which is really bad, and stayed in touch with them. 

“I think that was advantageous. It gave me a real idea, also working in TV and print, it gave me a more well-rounded idea of the sport and what it takes to be successful.”

Phil Jones

“Do you think that your inexperience at that time was an advantage, to some degree? You didn’t have any convention? You just went everywhere, met everybody, and did whatever you could to ‘inhale’ that world championships, but that exposed you to quite a lot of people, it sounds like.”

Sophie Smith

“Yeah, exactly. It was advantageous in that I didn’t come from a cycling background. I wasn’t a fan of the sport before I came in. I wasn’t star struck. I’ve always approached these athletes as people, rather than, ‘Oh, you’re a Tour de France stage winner,’ or, ‘You’re a yellow jersey champion or a green jersey champion.’ 

“I think, also, being new by the time the world championships came around, I had a deeper understanding of how the sport worked, and I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. I wasn’t involved in the politics of the sport at that time, and I was quite young, so I just asked honest questions and put my hand up and made sure that I was heard and got a question across. 

“I was always well researched. I tried to ask a questions that wasn’t already out there, which helped my learning experience and gave me something unique to put out there.” 

Part Four: Cadel Evans

Phil Jones

“From those early days, putting this back to the book, who in those early days, among the people with whom you’d built relationships, appears in the book? Cadel Evans, for example, just a moment there, and I saw a list of people, actually, when researching the book, and Cadel features in the book, right? So what are you bringing from the Cadel story into the book?”

Sophie Smith

“With the Cadel story, it was more focussing on his history at the Tour. A lot of his title attempts were almost before my time, and when he won the 2011 Tour, I wasn’t there. I moved to the UK in 2012 and that was my first Tour, that year - literally, like two weeks off the boat. 

“He’s taken me under…not under his wing, because we just had an open relationship. I wasn’t at the time…He knew I didn’t have an agenda. I hadn’t been on the road for all those years and formed an opinion on him, necessarily. I’ve always had quite an open dialogue with him. Cadel is one of those people where you have to understand him. He talks in Pain and

Privilege about, above all else at the Tour, the noise getting to him.

“Before the pandemic, at the Tour, it was like the Wild West. We could be face-to-face with these riders and touch them. All those years: it took him almost a decade to win the Tour, which I think to come back again and again and again and try to do that. When you consider that Tadej Pogacar has won two before his 22nd birthday. 

“Competing against people, as he [Cadel] says, who were on higher octane fuel, or not having the team. He said not having the team was his biggest weakness and being able to hurt more than anyone else was his strength, but what he found most difficult about the race was the noise around it. 

“To get away from that, he said, on a really bad day, he’d lock himself in the bathroom and just rock from side-to-side and try to block it out; to forget about it: read a book on Captain Cook, or something like that. That’s what bothered him, and what he found was the biggest struggle.”

Part Five: Media Management

Phil Jones

“Wow, that’s incredible, isn’t it, because you’d never hear that insight from a TV interview, would you? He probably wouldn’t ask that question, nor would he have a platform, because it would either be managed by the press people, one would assume, who would say: that’s off-message and not what we want to talk about. We want to talk about the team and our objectives and all this sort of thing. Do you think that’s an example of some of the stories, effectively, that you’re bringing out inside the book?” 

Sophie Smith

“Yeah, exactly. I’ve tried to…We were talking about this before: it’s timing. I only had roughly a year to interview for this and write something which is coherent, working with a publisher. That interview I did with Cadel over the phone at the Tour last year, on his tenth anniversary.  

Phil Jones

“Which must be difficult for a journalist because there’s, I’m guessing, during that period, the riders know they have to do press conferences. They know that the usual questions are going to come up. It’s very much ticking the box, get it done, get me out of here, let me get back to my room and start my recovery, so for you to gain these deeper stories must have been quite difficult. 

“Did the pandemic help that because the riders were a bit more accessible; probably weren’t racing quite as much. I remember them on the balconies on turbo trainers in Monaco and Monte Carlo, on the balconies taking selfies. Do you think that was an advantage for you when writing the book?”

Sophie Smith

“Yes and no. It made them, I guess, I was able to do that. They were at home. They weren’t necessarily doing anything else, but if you speak to most sports psychologists, they say time management is a thing with cyclists; they’re not very good at it! So, in some ways it was, doing it over the phone, but, also, doing it over the phone when you’re asking questions that go behind the glamorous veneer of the Tour can be quite difficult: asking people about eating disorders and mental health over the phone, when, typically, in society, let alone sport, we don’t openly discuss those, was challenging. And, also, last year at the Tour, the restrictions that ASO, the race organiser, put in place to minimise the spread of Covid: that was difficult.

“I always say that I start to feel irresponsible if I’m covering the Tour from home. By the second week, the real stories you get from being on the ground; from being in the paddock and talking to people, and actually saying, how’s your day, rather than interviewing them, face-to-face, because you’ll get a lot more from them  because they’ll be honest, whereas the restrictions that were put in place last year physically separated us from the riders and the team officials. You had to yell over a barrier and know them so that they would stop. Yelling out to them, also, as a journalist  from The Telegraph said, it was really degrading, given that pre-pandemic, we didn’t really run after…adults running after fully-grown adults is probably on par. 

“But that is, again, where that professional rapport that I’ve always focussed on and tried to build came in handy because they would come over to you or they would stop whereas if they didn’t know you…If the Tour stays like this for the new generation of journalists coming through, I think that will be a challenge for them. We’ll have to find different ways to be able

to communicate with them.”

Phil Jones

“Do you find riders now are far more protected by their press offers and news is much more micro-managed, effectively? Having over ten years of black book contact is probably very advantageous for you because you’ve built a good rapport, built good relationships and all of those things. To some degree, you can text or message these riders directly, whereas if there was a new journalist starting, it would be far more difficult because they would be constantly filtered by a press officer. Do you think you could have achieved the same outcomes starting in 2022 in professional sport?”

Sophie Smith

“It would be a lot different, because I think when I started, particularly early season races, press officers were few and far between’ probably only a handful of big teams had them, so you could just say to a rider, ‘What’s your number? What’s your email?  Let me get in touch,’ and to some extent, I still do that but also now, because every team has a press officer, I do, as a courtesy, even though I know I can speak to that person directly, I do say, ‘Heads up. I’m doing this.’ 

“Back in the day, cutting out the middle man, so to speak, the press officer, was easier and more direct, but it would be disrespectful to do that. And a good press officer is a good press officer. They can help you to communicate and give you a heads-up on something that might be happening behind the scenes, but it’s another layer.”

Phil Jones

“You’ve got the best of both worlds, really. You know how to ‘play the game’, you know the system, but equally you have that ability to perhaps go directly to somebody because of that long relationship that you’ve built up. 

“What fascinated me when we were talking at Rapha was that you said your dad was a federal agent in Australia, and I thought, ‘No wonder she’s a journalist, and no wonder she’s really good at interviewing people because your dad as a federal agent probably listened a lot and knew what he had to do to get things out of people in his professional career.”

Sophie Smith

“He was probably a better interviewer than I was. He sort of had a more softly, softly approach, whereas mine is a bit more direct. It sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.”

Part Six: Hunger Pains

Phil Jones

“In the book, Sophie, what do you think are some of the chapters which you are most proud of or which you think bring a deeper insight to this sport that people may not have seen or heard before. Can you walk us through a couple of chapters that you think the audience listening today might really learn something new about.”

Sophie Smith

“It’s funny. This happens to me with the stories. I’ll write a chapter where I’m really under the pump, and I just have to get it out, and the publisher really loved those stories; the ones I laboured over for ages, not so much. 

“There are things in the book that even I learned something from. The chapter called Hunger Pains, I focussed on mental health and eating disorders in the peloton because weight is a huge performance gain still in pro cycling. It was something that was always obvious. You go to the Tour every year and even then the riders are so, so lean. You look at some of them

and they have biceps that are the size of my wrist. 

“There’s a line in there where I once interviewed Chris Froome, and I said to him, ‘You look in lean in January; you look super lean,’ and he said, ‘Oh, no. I’ve still got to lose a few kilos.’ It’s the opposite to society where men want to be big and bulky.

“Hunger Pains, I spoke to riders about what is that fine line between being lean enough to tackle these mountains that are thousands of metres about sea level and having an eating disorder; being clinically under weight. I heard Froome say, and it’s in Pain and Privilege, his ideal race weight - and not many of them reveal this - is really thin. They constantly, every season, talk about needing to lose a kilo or two kilos, but very few of them will actually say, ‘This is my race weight’. And Chris Froome, when I asked him, said he was 67kg. That was 3kg more than I weighed at the time, and I’m a 5’10” female, and he’s a six foot something male. 

“But that chapter...I learned something in that. A, it was quite a personal experience just talking to riders about their relationship with food, which was sometimes quite unhealthy, and then speaking to team staff like the head nutritionist at Jumbo-Visma. I didn’t know any of this, but Jumbo-Visma have a food app. The riders log into it every day, and it tells them exactly what they need to eat, down to the gram, every single day, during the Tour, in the lead up to the Tour. 

“Comparing that to previous generations who didn’t have that. I was speaking to James Forsythe, who’s the head chef at INEOS-Grenadiers, and he’s the head chef at the Tour. It’s only him. He was talking about the insane pressure of that. He said: ‘If I get something wrong. If the food’s not fresh enough, or tasty enough, or appetising enough…’ I don’t know how tasty…

“That was one of the challenges for him was to make it appetising enough to eat. That falls on him because, as it turns out, the Jumbo-Visma nutritionist was saying that if the rider is not sick or injured at the Tour and they have a bad day, he’d put that down entirely to what they have or haven’t eaten. You can win or lose the Tour de France purely based on diet. That sort of behind-the-scenes focus was not something I knew of. Obviously, I knew that they have to stay lean and eat what-not or certain foods, but how it all came to me and how fine it is was something new to mix.”

Part Seven: Master and Apprentice

Sophie Smith

“And also the chapter, I’ve forgotten the name of it now, which was focussed on the yellow jersey winners and Chris Froome, specifically: his rise to being a four-time Tour de France champion. Contrasting that with a chapter called Master and Apprentice, which was on Richie Porte and his rise: how he and Chris went from being very close friends, very close team-mates, whom Richie sacrificed for, to being rivals and how that worked out. Froome was honest in saying he’s cut-throat when he gets on the bike. Nothing stands in his way, which Porte struggled with. That change in relationship was tough for him. 

“And also just the pressure that’s put on title contenders every year…the noise that surrounds them,  and pressure from the team not being supportive. Sometimes a lot of them talked about not being supported off the bike and have someone that was able to guide them in the right way. That was a big in terms of that mental look. For me, mentality is a huge part of it, as well, as much as physical ability. 

“Richie, in ‘Master and Apprentice’, talks about when he was a title contender, that pressure of being a title contender, as opposed to a super domestique, was something that he struggled with. He crashed out. I appreciated how honest he was. He said he felt like he was running away from a fight. He was like, crashing out was not a relief but almost a relief.

There were a few that I learned something from.”

Phil Jones

“That’s fascinating. I’m sitting here, because that resonated with me a little bit. I was in the fortunate position from going from the number two to the number one in the company. When I went to number one what I realised was that everything changed. There are only so many people who can go from a number two to number one. Some people are better left as number twos and are world-class number twos but to cross that bridge to make number one, I think only a few people can make that selection, so I’m sitting here with that reverberating. It reminds me a bit of my story. 

“I wanted to track back for a moment because this whole issue of weight management in professional cycling. It’s probably one of the fewest sports where men greet each other and say, ‘You look lean, and we think that’s great,’ rather than, ‘You look big, and you look in good shape.’ It’s about that looking skinny, but in reality, you’re right, I didn’t know that this

absolute micro-management was going on, but I’m sure there are other riders who completely reject that and say, ‘I just want to eat what I want to eat.’

“Robbie McEwen, you recently wrote, there’s an excerpt taken from the book and published in the Telegraph in the last few days where Robbie McEwen was almost the opposite of that and was like, ‘Forget all that. I just want to eat seven meals a day: three big ones, four small ones, and I’m just going to eat.’ And it didn’t stop him performing, did it?”

Sophie Smith

“No. That’s the thing. I asked him about the food app, and he said it would just have done his head in. For him, it was a different era. That’s another thing I talk about in a chapter is the dynamics of a team and the Tour. There are some stages: Matthew Hayman says he would come up to a mountain stage, and he was almost riddled with fear. That would have been a day for this team-mate and for him, or a sprinter like Robbie McEwen, he talks about surviving a mountain stage and compares it to waterboarding. 

“It was interesting. He said his relationship with food was a lot healthier. He said if he went back to his room and wanted a chocolate then he’d have a chocolate. In his mind, that made him happy. He didn’t have this extra stress of, ‘I can have that, but I can’t have that, or I shouldn’t have that or I should have that,’ and that worked for him. If he had a craving, within reason…if he wanted some fresh fish or a chocolate bar. 

“It’s down to physiology as well. He just had veins upon veins and physiology really came down to it. Some people can naturally do that, and some people can’t. The other element is that a happy cyclist is generally a good cyclist.”

Phil Jones

“So he wouldn’t be reaching like I do for a whole packet of Haribo Starmix.”

Sophie Smith

“Some of them do that, if you look, straight after a stage. Peter Sagan is one. If it’s a really hot day, he will have the little packets; literally, handfuls of it and will shove it into his mouth until his checks almost burst. The are exceptions which I didn’t cover in the book. Immediately after a stage, the rules are slightly different. It’s a Coke can or a Haribo.”

Phil Jones

“Sophie, who will this book appeal to? When you’re writing it, who did you have in your mind for this? Is it for the hardcore cycling fan? Is it for the generalist? Is it for a Tour de France fan? In your mind, when you were talking to the publisher about the book, who did you have in mind for your audience?”

Sophie Smith

“It was both, actually, and that was tricky as well. You wanted something that was…Obviously, the Tour de France is a massive event. I wanted to cater for the cycling aficionado, who doesn’t need an explainer as to what the peloton is, but for the publisher and for me it was also important to bring in that mainstream audience, because there is a mainstream audience that watches the Tour every year, mainly just for scenery, but they do!

“I open with an introduction that gives an explanation so that when you read the chapters, there are some terms that are everyday for cycling fans, but may not be. I try to cater for both. I sort of reveal that other, more tarnished side of it, with the Tour and with cycling, because a lot of the time, especially with the Tour, it’s glamourised and celebrated: the athletes are gladiators who suffer these insane crashes and solider on, and the race is spectacular and there are twelfth century chateaus in the coverage.

"The reality is that Ibis is good. That’s a five-star option when you’re in the middle of regional France! I’ve stayed in a nunnery before. I’ve stayed in a converted mental asylum. There’s that option, but also trying to get into that other side that you don’t see."

“And also not even just interviews the winners but with people that you might not have heard of but who have incredible stories. Jesns Debusschere, a Belgian rider who one year gave up his own chances at the race to help his team-mate make the time cut when his team-mate and everyone else around him said, ‘No. He’s done.’ It’s difficult because there are an infinite number of stories around the Tour, and a lot of them are so compelling. 

“I was trying to cater for both audiences, trying to meet my brief to get under the skin of riders and show a different side of the Tour, so I hope both.”

Phil Jones

“Finally, how long did it take you to write?”

Sophie Smith

“I got approached in October 2020 and my deadline was October 2021, which I pushed slightly, so about a year, which, I know, to a lot of accomplished authors sometimes is a dream. The trouble with the Tour is that the narrative changes every year. A lot of the book I sort of wrote in the first half of 2021, when Sam Bennett was the benchmark in sprinting. I wanted to make it not timely either, so I did something that people can come back to and read in future years. There are a few chapters on the green jersey and sprinters. I’d sort of covered that and then the 2021 Tour happened and everything changed, as an example. Sam Bennett wasn’t selected, and Mark Cavendish made this insane career comeback and won four stages

“There was some of it that was planned, and then, after the 2021 Tour, navigating back to Australia, quarantining, and some of it felt like jail. A lot of it I had to almost rewrite and very, very quickly. So, a year - and then a month!”

Part Eight: Hard Work and Hustle

Phil Jones

“And then before we wrap up, obviously you’ve come over to cover this Tour, the 2022 edition of the Tour de France. What I thought was fascinating from when we were chatting before recording is that you cover your own costs for this. Effectively, you’re a freelancer, so that means you’ve got to pay for your flights, you’ve got to organise your own hotels, your transfers, everything: your bar bills.”

Sophie Smith

“And they can add up as a journalist too!”

Phil Jones

“Yeah. I’m sure bar bills are an important part of getting good stories and getting great content. So how does your business model work for that? You’ve got all this outlay. You then generate your content and then you’re, what, trying to syndicate that out, effectively to whoever will buy it, fundamentally?”

Sophie Smith

“Exactly. It’s a hustle every year. Sometimes you’re fortunate enough where you have a client who will cover your expenses and sometimes you have to recoup that yourself. It’s almost like a year’s worth of planning or six months worth of planning. 

“I was lucky this year in that I’m travelling with a journalist from Cycling Weekly who did the hotel itinerary for me, but it’s a massive undertaking, financially and logistically. It’s a

5500km round trip in a car, so you have to like the people that you’re travelling with or accept the fact that you’re going to fall out at least once. I think that’s the same for everyone!

“Accumulated fatigue at the Tour is huge. I say this in Pain and Privilege. I almost call it a face diary, where people just start to physically age from all the transfers and from how intense the racing is or from how the intense the reporting around the race is. So, hustle, hard work.”

 

Part Nine: Accumulated Fatigue

Phil Jones

“Yes, I can understand that. We first met in 2018 when James Golding and I did the Tour of Britain One Day Ahead and that was only eight days, but I got a small glimpse then into what they really means. You spend a day on the bike, and then do this enormous transfer of sometimes maybe 150 miles. You get to the hotel, and you’re knackered, and the mechanics are doing their bit, and you’re, “I’ve got to eat. I’m really tired.’ 

“Suddenly, I began to realise that tiredness and fatigue builds up and builds and up and just catches up with you, doesn’t it? It does build up over those days. It took me a few weeks to get over that after we’d done it. It was a few weeks before I got ride of that relentless tiredness, not just from the energy that you expend on the bike, but it was everything. When you bring the aggregation of it all together, the energy output you have to put out as a human being to do that. So over 21 days of racing and over 24 days, I think, this year of the entire Tour. That’s a hack of an undertaking, so how do you keep going through all of that?”

Sophie Smith

“Coffee and adrenaline. I think, for me, at least, at the end of the day, I have my own hotel room to go back to. Sometimes, I’ll skip breakfast and will take a coffee cup with me. I’ll sometimes take one with me from a hotel and just skull it in the car on the way there. 

“But for the riders, especially, even outside just the physical feat of competing on the roads everyday and staying concentrated and vigilant, you just don’t get a let up from other people, and this was something else that I didn’t  know before writing this book, or, I did, but I’d never explored it. 

“The riders, because of what the Tour is like logistically have to share accommodation. Some of them are used to that. Geraint Thomas used to say that he would share a room with Ian Stannard more than with his wife. He was used to that. He didn’t like being on his own. 
 
“There’s a chapter I do on soigneurs, whom a lot of the riders describe as quasi-therapists because they don’t get any time alone. They have breakfast together, they’re on the team bus together, they race together, they’re on the team bus again together. They have dinner together, and then they share a room. The 45-minute window that they have with a soigneur to

get a massage is the only time that they have to say nothing and not have anyone come to them, or they can just ‘let out’ and criticise their team-mate and blow off some steam. 

“That would kill me: not having some alone time to decompress during a race. I also say you can feel the heartbeat or the pulse of the Tour. I used to have an editor at Cycling Weekly who wouldn’t let us so more than five days on, five days off, and I hated it because you’d come in, and it takes a couple of days to get into the rhythm and for the nerves to settle down, for everyone I think, and then you’d leave again, and that’s when you started to notice just how people had physically changed when you come in and out. When you’re in it, you don’t notice it as much. You’re speaking in pigeon English at the end. It’s a huge undertaking. If you’ve had a bad day, you can’t go home and see the family or be substituted out. If you don’t start and finish the stage, you’re out. There are real personal and professional challenges to it.”

 

Part Nine: Men's National Road Race

Timothy John 

“What a panel we’ve got here today. We’ve got the leader of a major business, we’ve got the manager of a cycling team, we’ve got the former manager of the Team GB road team, and we’ve got an active rider, so we’ve got some pretty valuable insights. 

“I’m just going to use that cue from Phil about Mark Cavendish because we haven’t used the men’s road race at the national championships at all and that was arguably the best race of the weekend. What a sensational race. Tony, you were inside it, as we’ve already heard. 

“Just stepping back, as a fan, as a spectator, let’s have a takeaway from each of you. For me, at least, it’s that Mark Cavendish, who isn’t always the easiest individual to deal with, but who has achieved incredible amounts within our sport - a world championship, 34 Tour de France stage wins, and a Monument Classic victory - still, the British Championships mean something to Mark Cavendish, and isn’t that a wonderful takeaway. 

“Ian, what was your big takeaway from the men’s road race?”
 

Ian Watson

“Well, one is that it was raced from start to finish as a race should be. We talked earlier about how men’s racing can be very predictable, and that was the very opposite of predictable, so that was really good.

“What I liked the most was the way that Mark Cavendish rode, to be honest with you. He’s pigeon-holed, of course, as a sprinter, and he spends most of his time in bunches being led out for the last few kilometres, and it’s his job to do that, and he does that very, very well. 

“It’s easy to think, that’s just a sprinter. I know from my coaching and managing point of view, when I’ve got to tell a rider how to ride, they try and pigeon-hole themselves into things. To watch him ride like that is to say, no, he’s not just a sprinter. He’s a brilliant bike rider. He’s very, very clever. He marked every move and made a few moves and won the race. I think it

was fantastic.

“You already mentioned Sam Watson. I mean, what a find, you know? Incredible riding: such mature riding and clever riding, and then, to see him on the podium. He looked 12, didn’t he? No disrespect. He’s a young rider. He’s going to be an absolute superstar. There were some real revelations.

Timothy John 

“Daisy, you probably would have been drying out still while the men’s race was on. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to watch it and form any conclusions.”

Daisy Barnes

“It’s nice to see. You just feel he loves it. He’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m a bit sick of it now,’ or. ‘It was better back in the good old days,’ or anything like that. He loves it, and it’s so good to see.”

Timothy John 

“Phil, you mentioned earlier, you watched every kilometre of both road races. What’s your big takeaway from the men’s race?”

Phil Jones

“Very similar to Ian, actually. For me, I just thought what you saw was a world-class bike rider with intent, going out from the gun, going, ‘I’m up for this today.’

“At times, making moves. At times, just moving behind and saving a bit of energy. They tried so hard to get rid of Mark Cavendish, didn’t they in the race? They were trying so hard.

They were ganging up on him and all sorts, but the class shone through. 

“It was 2013 when he last had those stripes on, and he’s coming to the end of his career, relative to where some of these younger riders are, and he still had that hunger. He had the hunger to have those stripes on again, and you could see that in every pedal stroke that he made during the race. It was genuinely fantastic.

“I just want to give out shoot-out to Alexander Richardson because I thought he rode a spectacular race. Absolutely brilliant. Again, he looked a bit disappointed at  the end of it all not to kind of get up there and maybe take the win. I thought he looked brilliant, and, obviously, he’s now signed for St Piran. He rode the race as a privateer on the day, but it will be great to see him back in the National Road Series and showing his class. 

“But there are so many bits and bobs in it all. Across the whole race, there were breakaways, bits of intent, INEOS trying to make it a bit difficult for everybody. But for me, the men’s

road race, and, simply, the sheer class of Mark Cavendish, was the standout story of the day. 

“I made that much noise when he went over the line. I literally jumped off the sofa and was jumping around the front room because I just thought: ‘That is going to mean everything to him. It’s going to mean everything to him.’

“I really liked the magnanimous way he went to all the other riders and congratulated them for their own performances; to the U23s. There are nice pictures of him with Sam Watson in their [national champion’s] jerseys: all this kind of thing. 

“Cav stands at the women’s races and cheers them on. Cav’s a true cycling fan, isn’t he? He’s a cycling fan, and I’m really, really glad that he got the jersey that day. Genuinely, I am.”

Tony Barry

“We all say that Cav is a sprinter. On that day, he put just as much into that break as anybody. He drove it, and he was talking to people: ‘Come on. You’ve got to come through.’ Nobody sat on, because Cav wouldn’t let them do that. 

“He was the same as a junior when he used to come over from the Isle of Man and ride on Wavertree playground in Liverpool. He was full of cycling, and he will always be a cyclist. He was out riding when the women’s race was on, and you could see him at the side of the road. That’s the guy. He lives cycling.”

Timothy John

“Tony, we already know that you finished fourth in the elite men’s road race. I just wondered if you had a different takeaway? You saw the race from the inside. What will be your lasting memory of that race?”

Tony Barry

“I mean, to criticise them, I would say the three lads, including Cav, lost it in the sprint. They let Cav, not have it, but do his thing. They should have split and gone either side of the road and made Cav either go up the middle or take one of them. 

“It’s easy to criticise, isn’t it, after the race and say, ‘This is what they should have done.’ Cav would have won anyway, I think. He’d have done that, but they all put their best on that day. I’m sure they did.”

Phil Jones

“Tone, on that one, before you finish: normally, natural service would be taken off at the deviation before the finish, but you weren’t at the nationals, so what was going on there?”

Tony Barry

“Because, we were asked to continue because there were three riders there with a fourth maybe a minute behind. If one of them had had trouble, at least we were there. That’s what Dave Menzies, the commissaire [wanted]. He said: ‘Go through.’

“Normally, we go into deviation, but, fair play to him, he’d seen what was going on, and that could have been the loss of a podium place if one of them had punctured. Moat probably, he would have just ridden across the line, but there was another guy coming up [from behind].”

Phil Jones

“And there was me thinking you just had selective deafness to make sure that the Brother logo could be seen by all the viewers; yes, over you rolled. 

“But, yes, that makes sense to me now that, effectively, you were there until the final metres, even if you just needed to get a bike off the roof or if there was a crash or whatever that

someone would still cross the line and earn their podium place. That was the rationale of the commissaire.”

Daisy Barnes

“It was a shame you didn’t make it onto the podium.”

Phil Jones

“Yeah, Tony. It’s the medal that never was.”

Tony Barry

"We couldn't have gone any faster."

Timothy John 

“Since we were last speaking, we’ve been joined by another guest, by Adam Kenway, a Brother UK-sponsored athlete, former British hill climb champion. He has residential rights, I think, on the podium of the national hill climb championships, he’s won so many medals.

“Adam, picking up on that thread, we were talking about Mark Cavendish, and while we watch Cavendish as fans, you’ve actually competed against him. What sort of competitor is he?”

Adam Kenway

“Furious. He really is furious. The first time I raced against him was in 2016, at the national road race championships. I was a real underdog. We were going across the main break at one point, and I asked him to give me a turn, but he wouldn’t have any of it, and told me where to go, and about three minutes later attacked on his own and dropped me in the middle of nowhere, so I was in no man’s land. 

“A couple of years later, it was the Tour de Yorkshire, and [the stage] started in Richmond. It was a beautiful day; an amazing day. I’d had a good day the day before, so I was on a bit of a high. There were crowds everywhere. I was on the front, on the start line, with Cav, and he started chatting away, saying, ‘How amazing is this?’ and he was a real joy to talk to. 

“I can remember a bit of a team meeting beforehand, and we said: ‘Ok, there are no climbs in the first 10 or 15 minutes. The first climb is Sutton Bank.’ At the team meeting they said,

‘Adam, you’re doing ok on GC, so you don’t do anything but just sit in and chill.’

“We rolled out, and I was thinking: ‘Richmond. I know Richmond. I don’t think there’s a flat way out of Richmond.’ I think the climb was in a neutralised zone, but, obviously, neutralised zones are really neutralised zones. It’s probably the hardest point of the race.

“Two guys went, and Dimension Data, whom Cav was riding for at the time, were favourites for the sprint in Scarborough, and Scarborough is the big spritzers’ stage, so they didn’t want a break to go away.

“But two riders went away, and I think they were happy with that. I went, and Bernie Eisel pulled me back. It wasn’t even an effort for him. I looked across and said: ‘I really need to be in the break.’ I had Chez shouting in my ear: ‘Go Kenway, Go.’ Basically, he looked at Cav, and Cav gave him the nod, and I went. 

“They said, ‘You can go, but you won’t get across to them now.’ I went. I can remember being out there for about five minutes. I could see the break but it was almost untouchable. In the

back of my head, I thought: ‘I just can’t go back to the bunch.’

“Luckily, there was a bit of a descent, a climb, and I got across. It was one of my best days ever on the bike, really. The crowds were amazing. Unfortunately, I went up Sutton Bank nice and steady, but there was another climb, which we weren’t expecting to be as hard as it was. It was quite narrow. We got over the top of that and then heard on the radio, ‘Cav’s been dropped out of the bunch on the climb.’ BMC had hit the climb hard. They had Greg Van Avermaet at the time.

“As soon as I heard that, I thought, ‘That’s the end of the break,’  because BMC were drilling it to make sure that Cav didn’t get back on, and I think Greg did win the sprint in the end.”

 

 

 


 


 

 


 


 
 


 


 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 

 

 
 
 


 


 

 
 

Outro

Phil Jones

“Amazing. I literally could sit here talking all day to you. It’s fascinating. You have this layer of information, I guess, that many of us who watch the sport would love to understand better, but at least we now have your book. It’s book plug time, where I tell the audience, it’s Pain and Privilege: Inside Le Tour, is out now, isn’t it? It came out a couple of days ago. It’s available everywhere, as far as I can see. It’s on Kindle, it’s on Amazon, it’s in all good bookstores and all that good stuff, and it’s under a tenner, which I think is amazing, so great value for money. 

“I think It’s actually £8.99 on Amazon or something like that, so that sounds to me like an incredibly well-priced book which will hopefully sell really well. One thing I realised, because I know a few people who have written books, is that you don’t write books because you’re going to make a fortune out of them. There isn’t a huge amount of money for you as the writer

book writing.”

Sophie Smith

“No. It’s my first book, but that’s what I’ve been told!”

Phil Jones

“You’re not going to make your first million from your first book but it’s great to see that book out there, and at least you now understand what it takes to write a book. We are able to tuck into those ten years of networking and knowledge and people that you’ve developed in your professional career as a  people, and from what I’ve heard today, the book is all about that. It’s getting under the bonnet properly of understanding the Tour through your eyes.”

Sophie Smith

“Taking you through the stages. I was actually quite anxious when the book came out, and it was nothing to do with money. It felt like my baby was going out into the world. Because these riders had been so open and honest with me, it added another layer to the anxiety. You’re putting out raw accounts. 

“Thank-you. I’m hoping it’s well received.”

Phil Jones

“I’m sure it will be. Everybody, please, rush out, buy the book, let’s make it Amazon’s number one b best seller as quickly as we can and hopefully drive Sophie onto her second book and the multimillion pound book offers that will come off the back of that. 

“Sophie, thank-you so much for giving us your time this morning. Absolutely fascinating. I’m sure all the listeners who’ve heard you speak today will be enthralled that you’re here. Also, one thing that I wanted to mention, if people wanted to keep track of you on Twitter, @sophiesmith86. So please follow Sophie on Twitter. You’ll be posting from the race, will you?”

Sophie Smith

“Always. Every day.”

Phil Jones

“You’ll be posting from the race so you can keep up an inside track of what’s Sophie\s up to, day-by-day, so perhaps we can see how tired you begin to look by day nine or ten or 15. That will be very funny. Sophie, have a great Tour.”

Sophie Smith

“Thank-you so much.”

 

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