Viewing Cycling

‘Tis a long aul’ winter.

4 Oct , 2009  

The cycling season is coming to a close now, there are only two major races left to be decided. Namely, Paris-Tours on October 11th and one of the five monument classic races, the Tour of Lombardy taking place the following weekend. For the cycling addict out there, there’s not much else between now and the dawn of Team Sky and The Shack at the Tour Down Under next January. Although, the ‘off-season’ has gotten steadily shorter over the last few years. There was a time when the first major race of the season was Het Volk, now known as Het Nieuwsblad at the end of February. Now, races in January and February like the Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar and the Tour of California are all televised and provide cycling fans with some very early tasters (although the California stage race has since been moved).

In 1998 Pantani won both the Giro and the Tour, the last time that feat was achieved.

In 1998 Pantani won both the Giro and the Tour, the last time that feat was achieved.

Surely, it’s this gradual extension of the season that has seen a shift from riders such as Seán Kelly who competed all year round to most of the riders in the current peloton who, more and more, are aiming to peak for only one or two races of the season.

So what to watch on the indoor trainer between Damiano Cunego winning Lombardy again and next January? There’s always the vault of cycling DVDs you might have amassed down through the years. Why not throw on Marco Pantani dancing his way to the Giro-Tour double in 1998 when the Tour visited Ireland, or how about watching Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle pipping Franco Ballerini by a few millimetres at the finish of Paris-Roubaix in 1993?

Gilbert Duclos Lassalle beating Franco Ballerini by a whisker in Paris-Roubaix 1993

Gilbert Duclos Lassalle beating Franco Ballerini by a whisker in Paris-Roubaix 1993

For those who don’t have the luxury of an extensive DVD collection, one of the other options available is to subscribe to Cycling.tv and dip into their back catalogue of the last two seasons of racing. While their database of races since 2008 is extensive, I’ve been a Cycling.tv subscriber for the last 12 months and I would not be quick to recommend it to anyone. I paid my $60 for the Premium package last year and was under the impression that I would be able to view the following races:

Tour Down Under E3 Prijs Vlaanderen Amstel Gold
Tour of California Brabantse Pijl Fleche Wallone
Het Volk 3 Days of De Panne Liege Bastogne Liege
Kuurne Brussells Kuurne Tour of Flanders Tour of Romandie
Paris-Nice Gent Wevelgem Dauphiné Libere
Tirreno-Adriatico Paris Roubaix Tour de Suisse
Dwars Door Vlaanderen Scheldeprijs Eneco Tour

I was happy as Larry, $60 (or €41) seemed a reasonable price to pay for all these races. However as the season wore on it became more and more apparent that a lot of the races that I was ‘subscribed’ to were in fact only available to subscribers in North America. A detail which the people at cycling.tv conveniently neglected to mention during the sign-up process. Most of the races that were geo-restricted were the stage races, in fact, the only stage race on the above list that were available to Premium subscribers in Europe was the Eneco Tour. This meant that out of a promised total of 70 days racing, European viewers were in fact only allowed to watch 20. Furthermore, the countries in which the races are available are only revealed one or two days before each race. This was very frustrating. There are ways to unblock any geo-restrictions that may be in place on a web stream, but they only work from home, they’re usually not able to penetrate the firewalls in place in college or work, which is where I was for most of the live racing.

Matt Keenan - The new voice of cycling?

Matt Keenan - The new voice of cycling?

Of the races that were actually available to me, I found the commentary by Magnus Backstedt, Brian Smith, Anthony McCrossan and Martin McCrossan (who strangely has changed his name to Marty McDonald) to be very insightful. However, on days when  I was allowed to watch the racing, there were constant network issues, sometimes whole races passed me by while I tried incessantly to log on without success. Throughout the season, confronted with a whole host of races I thought I had paid for but couldn’t watch, I discovered on the internet a vibrant community committed to providing links to streams of live races. The most notable and best website being Cycling Fans. They have constant updates on what to watch and how to watch it. Often the commentary can be in French or Italian which can be slightly annoying. But equally as often the commentary will be in English, and if you’re really lucky, providing the commentary will be a guy called Matt Keenan who I find to be the best in the business. All of this means that I will not be subscribing to cycling.tv for next season (although I believe cancelling payment is no easy task). Most definitely, I’ll be keeping faith with the team at Cycling Fans to provide me with my live racing. So, 105 days till the Tour Down Under then…

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