In part one of our exclusive interview, Eurosport’s David Harmon shared his thoughts on a wide range of cycling-related topics, from Lance Armstrong to archaeology. Here he discusses his plans for his forthcoming sabbatical.
Sheree: So what do you do when you’re not commentating?
David: I have a company called Spokesmen, which I set up about 14 years ago, initially called Torque Wrench and involved in media, PR and television production in motorsport. But it’s really taken off since Lara Thornton joined me in 2011 from one of the major PR agencies and it’s now focussed on cycling. We’re working with the Herne Hill Velodrome Trust and produced the film Best Seat in the House.
We handled Yorkshire’s bid process for Le Grand Depart 2014 where the only people we had to win over were ASO, nobody else really mattered. We work largely on big-scale projects. We’ve stepped up the television production side. We negotiated and handle the UCI’s increased coverage of the Women’s World Cup, producing news round-ups, race highlights and features packages. That’s a good illustration of where the UCI has invested time and money to increase the visibility and stability of women’s cycling.
We’re producing a documentary in the Channel 4-type mould for Eurosport which will include some big household names and some normal families about a much-loved branch of the sport, which is often overlooked, as part of the 100th Tour de France. I can’t give you any more details yet.
The company’s really starting to take off. We have too much to do but not quite enough to pay for some more people, which is one of the reasons why I’m scaling back on the commentating. But the main reason is my family. I have a 17-year-old son whom I missed seeing grow up and I don’t want that to happen with my six-year-old. I’ve recently moved house – I’m still in Shropshire but it’s a much more accessible location so that I can easily get down to London and back.
In fact, you’re the first person I’ve told this to. I’m ‘single’ again – it’s been coming for a while. It’s all very amicable but I’m seeing somebody whom I love very much and it’s changed my life completely. I’m going to live on my own for a bit and I’m quite nervous about it. I haven’t done it for 25 years, it’s quite scary.
I haven’t ridden much in the last year, haven’t had the time. In fact the last thing I did was Hot Chillee‘s London-Paris 2012 where I won the Spirit of the Event Award. After a series of mechanicals, I found myself in group seven full of very inexperienced riders and short of ride captains so I pitched in and everyone made it to the finish, which was amazing given the terrible weather conditions: driving rain and heavy winds every day.
Sheree: I did that in 2010 and really enjoyed it. It’s so well organised, all you have to do is pedal. But we did have superb weather – I’m not sure how I’d have coped in those conditions. So what else is on your agenda?
David: 2010’s the only one I didn’t ride. I’ve done all the others. I’m now a trustee of the National Cycle Museum, in Llandrindod Wells. It’s a fantastic private collection of physical exhibits which ended up in Wales at the Automobile Palace through historical accident. It’s a wonderful broad collection which desperately needs reorganising and relocating. We’re in discussion with some major museum trusts and we want to make it the definitive Museum of the Bicycle – the best in the world – with digital and virtual technology, real cutting-edge stuff. The bicycle has to move, not just hang on a wall. There’s a whole range of things we’re looking to achieve. The bicycle is also part of many countries’ social and economic fabric and we would have people such as Dr Steve Jones, the eminent geneticist explaining why the bicycle was important for genetic spread and why some years back the bike was voted the best invention of all time.
So, you can see, life’s looking good. I’ve sorted out my priorities. Eurosport has been incredibly understanding and is allowing me to pick and choose so that I can still feel the love for the sport. First up it’s the Tour of Turkey, and then I’ll get settled in my new home, work on stuff for Spokesmen and come back for the Tour [de France] with renewed zeal.
Sheree: Let’s get back to cycling. A few years back you were doing quite a bit on a tandem. What’s happened?
David: Well, I’m now 47 and before I’m 50 I definitely want to break some records. I used to ride with Jez Hastings but he’s based up in Islay and we’re not physically well-matched. I’m large, he’s small, I have a slow cadence and his is fast. I almost never need to eat on the bike while he has to eat every 20 minutes. I’ve now paired up with Richard Hallett, who’s a fantastic rider and former technical editor of Cycling Weekly. He holds the Isle of Man mountain record on a trike – took it from David Duffield. We’re a much more compatible pairing. We want to go for the side-to-side record (that’s less than 17 hours from Pembroke to Yarmouth) and, if all goes well, we might attempt the end-to-end as well. If you’ve got form you might as well carry it forward. The issue is finding the time to do enough training to maintain the required average speed of 22mph for 6-8 hours in the saddle. So we’re keeping quiet about when we’ll do it as it’s just impossible to say when.
I love riding a tandem, it’s like meditation. I sit on the back, can’t see a thing, I’m not in control, I have to place blind faith in the person on the front and just pedal.
Sheree: Mmm, not sure I’d like ceding that much control to someone else.
David: We’ve no chance of breaking any of the short or London records because (a) they were all brilliant athletes at the top of their game and (b) road furniture. All the London records start in Tyburn and you’d have to start at 3pm and run every red light to have even half a chance.
Sheree: I don’t get back to the UK very often but when I do I’m always amazed at the growth in the number of cyclists and cycling shops.
David: There’s been a phenomenal explosion of interest in cycling in recent years. But they’re a different breed. I’ve been cycling for the best past of 30 years and, while I know you’re a recent convert, you must ride with people who’ve ridden all their lives.
I’ve just come back from a great ride with Emma [Davies]. I like riding with her, she’s another proper old school rider. I’ve known her for years. I haven’t ridden for ages and we went up the Col de la Madone. I took my girlfriend, she’s not been riding long but she’s from Yorkshire, she’s tough and was in better condition than me when we got back. I was in a bad way, so bad I couldn’t even clip in while we were riding up it.
Sheree: Well, if I hadn’t ridden for a while, I’m not sure Madone would be my ride of choice! Going back to Emma, I enjoyed it when she used to work with you and Sean and bring you all the gossip from the start and finish lines.
David: Sadly, Eurosport don’t have the budget for that. They’re not a big budget channel, not like ESPN, Versus or ITV4. It’s not free-to-air and the US won’t take the feed.
It’s at this point David and I start reminiscing about last year’s Tour, people we know, baking, diets … .and I switch off my recorder.
I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing David much success in his new ventures and plenty of quality time with his family and the new love in his life. I have to admit he was looking leaner and more chilled than at last year’s Tour and we’ll look forward to hearing his dulcet tones at this year’s centenary Tour de France. Many thanks to Emma at Cycle Cote d’Azur for arranging the interview.