Interview: Ashley House on life behind the scenes at the Grand Tours

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Ashley House, left, with Juan Antonio Flecha, right, during the Giro d’Italia 2016. All photos courtesy of Ashley.

Ashley House has, since 2011, been presenter of Eurosport’s Tour de France and Grand Tour coverage shows, both pre- and post-race. As well as Eurosport, he’s worked for Sky Sports, the BBC, and Channel Five. He’s presented on football (including the world cup in Brazil), tennis, and rugby, and he also anchored a show throughout the 2012 Olympic Games. Together with ex-professional cyclist Juan Antonio Flecha, Ashley now provides interviews and analysis for the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España — in 2015 this amounted to over sixty days spent following cycling’s biggest events. Now, after the Giro and before this year’s Tour de France, he’s well into his 2016 season on the road for Eurosport. We caught up with Ashley to find out a bit more about life on the trail of the Grand Tours, how he gets on with the rest of the Eurosport team, and about his feelings towards the great sport of cycling.

Marmeladrome: Hi, Ashley. First, can you give us a feel for your daily routine during a Grand Tour? Are there any rituals that make life easier when you’re on the road for three weeks?

Ashley House: Every day is pretty similar on the Grand Tours. I wake up around 7.30 and try to go to the gym, just to get the endorphins flowing. If we happen to be by the sea, I try to go for a dip before breakfast. Especially on the Tour de France, we usually have a good hour or more to drive from our hotel to the finish line, so we’ll leave mid morning to be there for a briefing. If I can, I like to sit alone in a café away from everything for half an hour or so, to read what the papers have to say about the race and do some final prep ahead of the day’s stage.

Ashley, Juan Antonio, a giant Giro-pink bike.
Ashley, Juan Antonio, and a giant Giro-pink bike

After the post-stage shows, we usually spend at least an hour in traffic jams (much more if coming off summit finishes), and our journey to the next hotel is between 2 and 4 hours, although there will be a couple of days per race that can be 6 or 7. We are in cars of 2 or 3 so share the driving.

Driving for so long every day and living out of a suitcase/unpacking every night is exhausting, so my lifesavers are collapsible shelving which fits into my luggage, and an extension lead pre-plugged with all my chargers. That way I am unpacked and charging in a couple of minutes! Sounds terribly dull, but it has totally changed my Grand Tour experience!

M: How do you keep abreast of the comings and goings of the riders during the Giro, for instance the news that comes in over night (such as Kruijswijk’s injuries)? Do you sit down each morning with La Gazzetta or are you given a daily briefing by Eurosport?

AH: When there are so many of us all covering the race we all hear different news and share information all the time. Plus with Twitter, the newspapers, websites, and the general chatter from other journalists, news tends to spread pretty fast.

M: How does the constancy of life on a Grand Tour affect your diet? Are you eating local delicacies in traditional restaurants every night, or is it more the case that you’re buying sandwiches in petrol stations at 11pm?

The glamour of the Grand Tours.
The glamour of the Grand Tours

AH: That very much depends on the length of the transfer. We very rarely arrive at a hotel before nine o’clock but, as most of the Eurosport team are French, we do tend to go out for dinner all together most nights. Although that’s great for team-building, it does add to the cumulative exhaustion! If it looks like being a very late arrival we’ll certainly grab food from a petrol station… it’s much, MUCH less glamorous than you might think!

M: How does the world of cycling compare to other sports you’ve worked with and around?

AH: The proximity of the pros to both the media and fans is one of the things that sets cycling apart from other sports. In my career I have covered football, rugby, and tennis, amongst other things, and cycling is the only one (apart from darts!) where – whether at the buses, the start line or the hospitality villages – anyone can talk to the sport’s superstars.

Ashley and Norwegian professional skier Aksel Lund Svindal
Ashley and Norwegian professional skier Aksel Lund Svindal

M: Do you get much ‘you’ time during the tours, or do you always feel like you’re on duty?

AH: There is almost no down time or ‘me’ time at all, really. Until I close my hotel room door behind me, there is always something to be discussed, someone to be entertained, research to be done, debriefs of the day’s shows, planning for the following day, and, with social media now such a huge part of my job as well, even when I’m in my hotel room I don’t really stop because I like to try to respond to everyone who so kindly takes the time to send me messages/comments. My family hardly hear from me for the entire 3 weeks.

 

M: How does the Giro stack up against the Tour de France and La Vuelta? Do you have a favourite, or do all tours blur into one?

AH: For me, the Giro beats the others hands down. I went to university in Italy so I am biased – I love the country, the people, the culture, the food and the language. In fact I want to move back there!

In terms of the race, I think the parcours tends to be more balanced too, and while unfortunately and for well-documented reasons the startlist doesn’t tend to be as strong as the Tour or the Vuelta, in recent years the race has almost always been more exciting/intriguing. This year was a great example of that, with three different riders wearing the maglia rosa on the three days before Turin.

Eurosport presenter Laura Meseguer and Eurosport cameraman Marco Camilloni.
Eurosport presenter Laura Meseguer and Eurosport cameraman Marco Camilloni

M: You must have built up some rapport with the riders over the course of the tours you’ve been on. Who stands out as a favourite to interview? Are there any memorable difficult or awkward interviews you’ve had to conduct?

AH: Actually, I only ever see the riders on set really, so although many of them know me either from watching or being on the shows, I don’t get to spend any time with them — so I couldn’t say I actually know any of them. I saw quite a few riders and Directeurs Sportive at the end of Giro party and it was nice to see them relaxing and having a drink… some a few too many!

It’s always a pleasure to have Esteban Chaves on the show – he’s a joy, as are the Dutch guys like Tom [Dumoulin] and Steven [Kruijswijk]. In terms of the most awkward to interview – I think we all know who that is!

M: What’s Juan Antonio Flecha like as a colleague? And do you spend much time with Carlton Kirby (whose quips are a favourite on this blog)?

Ashley and Juan Antonio on set

AH: JAF is great. His ability to analyse the race, the tech, the tactics, and the teams is incredible, and I think it gives us something that no other channel or show can offer. Carlton is a great guy – as funny and mischievous in real life as he is in the commentary booth or on twitter. My current favourite is, “you can say what you like about the Swiss, but their flag’s a plus.” He’s also extraordinarily well-informed about professional cycling, of course.

M: Are you an enthusiastic rider, and do you get out much on a bike? If so, what bike do you ride? Does following the elite riders make your more or less keen to get out yourself?

AH: I do ride, but not very much. As a relatively new convert to the bike I’m still tentative, inexperienced, nervous, and not fit enough, but I love the freedom and the feeling it gives, especially when we are away in Italy, France, or Spain, where cyclists are respected so much more on the roads. I ride a Greg LeMond Washoe with Shimano Dura Ace Di2 electronic shifting.

M: I’ve only once ridden a Di2-equipped bike, and it’s a fancy bit of kit! In closing, Ashley, do you have any predictions for this year’s Tour de France? And, looking further ahead, are there any young riders in the peloton who you’d pick for future grand tour success?

'Garibaldi', a regular Giro supporter.
Ashley and ‘Garibaldi’, a regular Giro supporter, await the riders at the finish line

AH: I am terrible at predictions. Last year I said that Contador and Froome would definitely not win the Giro and Tour respectively, and this year I advised everyone to bet against Vincenzo, which looked like it was good for a while, didn’t it! …So no, no predictions!!

 

Catch Ashley next on Eurosport’s ‘Tour Extra’ with Juan Antonio Flecha before and after every stage of the Tour de France 2016, from 2nd July to 21st July. He’ll also be presenting a daily analysis show alongside Greg LeMond throughout the Tour. Tweet to him at @tweetingashley, or following him on Instagram.

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