It’s difficult to say when I first started listening to The Cycling Podcast.
I believe it was sometime around the 2014 Tour De France, which kicked off on the crowd-laden roads of Yorkshire, saw Chris Froome abandon on the cobbles of Northern France, and Vincenzo Nibali seal an easy win (he would be in yellow on all but two race days, and the gap to second place would be over 7 minutes) with victories on La Planche des Belles Filles, Chamrousse, and Hautacam.
If memory serves, it was part of a drive to immerse myself in the milieu of the race – to be surrounded by the noise, the stories, the chatter, and the behind-the-scenes info of the race itself – which caused me to look beyond what television could provide in its very action-centric coverage.
Podcasting, as a medium, although having been on the go for a number of years, was still somewhat niche, and far from the Joe Rogan-shaped, true-crime-drama filled behemoth it has now become.
The iTunes store was not exactly packed with options, so after a search for “cycling”, I just picked the first one that caught my eye.
It was a good thing I did because I’ve been hooked ever since.
We definitely put a bit more thought into it but it’s never scripted or overly planned. It has to be as spontaneous as possible because the best moments come when someone says something unexpected.
As De La Soul correctly pointed out, three is the magic number, and so it is with The Cycling Podcast, as it is helmed by the triumvirate of Lionel Birnie, Daniel Friebe, and Richard Moore.
Their jocular relationship – all nicknames and in-jokes at each other’s expense – backed up by keen journalistic instinct, a deep knowledge of their subject, and an always interesting take on cycling matters past, present and future, provides both an entertaining and informative listen.
Lionel Birnie is a journalist and writer who has previously written for numerous newspapers and Cycling Weekly magazine, whilst also being the owner of Peloton Publishing, which has published biographies of football manager Graham Taylor and cycling legend Sean Kelly.
Daniel Friebe has worked for Procycling magazine, written a biography on Eddy Mercx, ghost-written for Mark Cavendish, and authored the brilliant Mountain High and Mountain Higher.
The story of how these two came together, with Richard Moore, to create The Cycling Podcast, is handily described on their website.
It took me some time to realise that the previous work of the Richard Moore I was now listening to was something I’d already come in contact with.
As Richard himself will intimate later, if you’re Scottish and liked cycling, you knew who Robert Millar was, and were probably a fan. Moore’s first foray into the world of books in 2007, “In Search of Robert Millar“, covered the enigmatic Millar’s life and career, and was a book I’d already read and enjoyed.
Once the connection was made between the voice in my Sennheisers and the name on the dust jacket, and similar to when hearing a band you like for the first time, the hunt was then on to find out what else there was in the Moore back catalogue. “Etape: 20 Greatest Stages of the Tour De France“, “The Dirtiest Race In History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the Seoul Olympic 100m Final“, and arguably Richard’s finest work, “Slaying The Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the greatest ever Tour De France” – subsequently given the ESPN treatment for TV – were swiftly purchased and consumed.
The standard of each was surprisingly high, with a forensic level of research into each subject combining with Moore’s easy delivery to provide an always entertaining read.
From the point in 2014 where I first downloaded an episode, The Cycling Podcast has gone from strength to strength.
A “Friends of the Podcast” service allows listeners, for a very small fee, access to a large number of other special, feature-length episodes throughout the year, dedicated to a particular subject. Past highlights have included brilliant episodes on the history of the HTC-Highroad team of Mark Cavendish, George Hincapie et al, the 1987 Giro according to winner Stephen Roche, a behind-the-scenes look in to the Cannondale Drapac team car during a Tour stage, and my personal highlight, “The Lionel of Flanders“, Lionel Birnie’s report on the cycling-mad Flandrian’s build up to their gift to road racing and beer and frite consumption, the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.
The team are are now present at all three Grand Tours throughout the year, providing an episode a day reporting on the race itself, and also the “KM0” series which takes an insightful look at the characters, stories and issues surrounding the race.
There’s The Cycling Podcast Feminin, where Richard Moore is joined by Orla Chennaoui to discuss the women’s pro-cycling scene.
The latest iteration is The Cycling Podcast Explore, which shines a spotlight on the world of endurance cycling. The Transcontinental Race, The Pacific Wheel Race, LEJOG and RoundTheWorld record rides, and the sheer joy of packing the panniers up with gear and setting out on the long road are all covered.
There’s also been time for a book and several live events, which bring the chemistry you get on the audio out in to the live environment, ably supported by a bevy a guests.
With this constant mammoth workload, we felt immensely happy and privileged that Richard took 15 minutes out of his day to give the BCR boys a small insight into his own cycling life, writing work, and what exactly goes into making arguably the world’s best english-language cycling podcast.
Grab a glass of single malt and enjoy…
BCR: There’s very little information out there about Richard Moore the cyclist. There’s some notes in your books about training camps in Stirling, and if memory serves I’ve heard mention of time spent training in Italy, but what was the journey that led you to the Commonwealth Games, Tour De Langkawi and Ras Tailteann?
Richard Moore: I got into cycling through my dad, who was always a cyclist, from youth hostelling to track racing at Caird Park in Dundee as a young boy. It was watching the Tour de France with him in the 1980s that got me interested, and I got my first racing bike, a Harry Quinn, when I was 12.
I started racing with Edinburgh Road Club when I was 13, just club 10s initially, then schoolboy races all over Scotland. From the age of 13 onwards I was completely obsessed. My big regret is that despite living in Edinburgh I didn’t race much at Meadowbank Velodrome – I didn’t do track league. I was too scared. But I think it would have made me a much better rider.
I won the Scottish junior road race in 1991, and my brother, Robin, won it a year later, which made me very proud. When I went to university in ’91 I was committed to cycling for the first year, then not so much as I discovered more enjoyable things, but after graduating I re-committed to cycling. Lottery funding started and I got a grant that helped justify the commitment. My ambition was to go to the Commonwealth Games and I was very focused on meeting the selection criteria.You had to perform in Premier Calendar races, so I did most of them. In 1997 I won a stage of the Lands Classic Premier Calendar in Yorkshire, and that helped a lot, though I also got good results in the Manx International, the Tour of the Cotswolds, the Girvan 3-Day, and a couple of others. It got me selected for Great Britain for the Tour de Langkawi in early 1998.
BCR: Did you train much with your brother and was there a burning sibling rivalry?
Yes, we trained together a lot, especially when we both ended up at Aberdeen University. No sibling rivalry at all — on the contrary, I was happier when he did well than when I did well. I was more committed (obsessed) than him, it’s fair to say. He always had other passions and went off to the US to pursue them — he’s now a photographer and conservation biologist and has been published by National Geographic among other titles.
I wanted to go to the commonwealth games but didn’t give a lot of thought to what l wanted out of it once I got there. I think a lot of athletes make this mistake.
BCR: Your 1998 Commonwealth Games ended with a 22nd place finish in the Time Trial, covering the 42km course in 58:30, and a DNF in the Road Race. Can you give us your memories of both races, and of your experience in Kuala Lumpur as a whole?
The experience was terrible. It made me realise I wasn’t cut out for racing at that level. Not because I wasn’t good enough, but because I struggled with the pressure and expectations, which were mainly self-imposed. We had too long out there, too much time to think. I got ill – I think I made myself ill with nerves – in the run-up to the road race and didn’t sleep for about three nights before it. Then I punctured, and that was pretty much it. I felt empty in the time trial a few days later. I couldn’t help contrast myself with Chris Hoy and Craig MacLean, who were both competing in their first multi-sports games. They seemed relaxed and unfazed by it all. The ability to deal with pressure (whether external or self-generated) is such a huge but underappreciated part of competing at a high level.
BCR: Turning a hypothetical, 20/20-hindsight, “what if” gaze to your comment on self-imposed pressures and expectation, do you think that if you were given the sports psychology tools, strategies and techniques that most teams and organisations now deploy, could you have bridged that gap and pursued a racing career?
Maybe that kind of support could have helped me a bit but I don’t think it would have turned me into a superstar — or even a very average pro. I think I set a ceiling on my ambition — I wanted to go to the commonwealth games but didn’t give a lot of thought to what l wanted out of it once I got there. I think a lot of athletes make this mistake.
BCR: How did the switch from cycling to writing come about and what was your first big writing gig?
While I was training and racing I was also working part-time on an Edinburgh University publishing project, to collate and publish all the letters of Thomas Carlyle, the 19th century Scottish philosopher and writer. I also worked on a Scottish literary magazine. Then I met Kenny Pryde, the Cycling Weekly journalist, at the 1996 FBD Milk Ras in Ireland, after I’d been thrown off the race for holding on to the car after crashing (long story). I talked to Kenny, told him I was interested in writing about cycling, we kept in touch, and I started doing some interviews and features for Cycling Weekly. Then when I stopped racing, in 1999, I applied for and got some shift work on the features desk at a new business newspaper, Business am. That proved a great experience, and led me into journalism full time.
BCR: Your first book, “In Search of Robert Millar”, covered the story of Scotland’s most underappreciated sportsperson, and won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. What made you want to write about Philippa’s life, and what effect did the critical success of your debut book have on you and your career?
I can’t really exaggerate the impact of Robert Millar on my initial interest in cycling and the Tour de France. Millar was the only rider we had, so we pinned all our hopes on him – I certainly did. I wanted to write the book because I had always been impressed and fascinated by Millar. The fact the book did well, and won that award, was important mainly in giving me the confidence to write other books.
BCR: Your two non-cycling books, The Dirtiest Race in History and The Bolt Supremacy, both have athletics, and more specifically sprinters as their subject. Can you explain what drew you to the fast men when moving away from cycling, and what were the challenges in switching from writing about a sport in which you have personal experience of competing at a high level, to one where you don’t?
The 100m final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics left a deep impression – I was 15 and they were the first Olympics I followed quite obsessively. You couldn’t help but be fascinated by the Johnson-Lewis rivalry. It had everything. The race itself was incredible but when Johnson then tested positive and was bundled out of Seoul I remember feeling sorry for him, and worried about what would happen to him. That book, The Dirtiest Race in History, was a very rewarding experience, so doing a follow-up on Bolt and the Jamaican sprinters just seemed like a logical thing to do – I really loved doing that one too.
BCR: What does your book writing process look like, from idea to print and which aspect do you garner the most satisfaction?
Both parts are enjoyable but it is nice when it all starts coming together. With most of the books I’ve done I’ve had at least a year, so I would spend a minimum of 6 months doing research then 6 months writing, but the research never really ends – you’re doing that until you hand in the manuscript. The writing bit could go on forever too, but obviously has to finish when you send it to your editor.
BCR: We picked up a copy of your most recent book ‘A Journey Through the Cycling Year’ at your show in Edinburgh where we were suitably entertained by the extracurricular tales from the tour. What has been your most memorable night at any of the Grand Tours and why?
Gosh. You don’t get much of a chance to socialise at the Tour, because our hotels tend to be so spread out, but we had a good meal and night out in Montpellier in the first week of the 2013 Tour with some of our American colleagues. Paid for it over the next few days, though.
Other than that, we’ve stayed in some amazing places and had some fantastic meals, and those are the best nights. Picking one at random, I really enjoyed a night in a beautiful hotel, with a lovely restaurant on the terrace, close to Nuits-Saint-Georges in 2017. We actually recorded a lot of that meal for an episode of Kilometre 0 on food and wine.
BCR: How does delivering a podcast compare with print-based journalism and book writing?
Chatting is a lot easier than writing. I still love writing, and especially working on a book – I enjoy that process – but I really enjoy the podcast. It feels very liberating, because there’s more scope for humour, gossip, rumours and speculation – stuff that can be hard to write. On the podcast you can qualify and caveat this kind of stuff more easily, simply, in a lot of cases, through tone of voice.
BCR: The Cycling Podcast retains an appealing homegrown feel to it, but how has it evolved from the first show to the latest with regards planning, recording, production and people involved?
Evolved is the word. It has just gradually developed. We definitely put a bit more thought into it but it’s never scripted or overly planned. It has to be as spontaneous as possible because the best moments come when someone says something unexpected.
BCR: The Cycling Podcast just seems to go from strength to strength. With a book, live tours, branching out in to women’s cycling with The Cycling Podcast Feminin, and long-distance cycling with The Cycling Podcast Brevet, what’s next for The Cycling Podcast?
Consolidation! Again, the above have all been part of a process of evolution. Our Explore series worked really well – it even inspired me to think about cycling adventures. With Féminin I think there’s scope to develop that in terms of frequency and race coverage, so that will be a priority in 2019.
BCR: What podcasts do you like to listen to?
Adam Buxton, Longform, Radiolab, Remainiacs, Revisionist History and various books ones. Don’t listen to any sports ones, apart from some of the 30 for 30 ones.
BCR: Do you have any big rides or adventures planned on the bike this year?
I was very inspired by the Explore series, I must say, and thought that the thing that would motivate me is not an event, and definitely not a race, but an adventure. I’m hoping to join Lionel’s magical mystery tour in June.
BCR: In your ‘unbiased opinion’ who from the Cycling Podcast world is the best and worst at;
Best, in his opinion: Daniel
Worst: 2-way tie between Lionel and me
Best: 2-way tie between Lionel and me
Best: me! (historically)
Worst: in some ways Daniel and in others Lionel (and actually at the moment, me)
Best: 3-way tie
BCR: One drink, one album and one book?
Laphroaig, Tigermilk by Belle & Sebastian, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.
BCR: Do you have any plans to bring your shows North of the Border again soon?
Early winter 2019 hopefully.
A huge thank you and chapeau to Richard for generously sharing his memories and thoughts on his writing, cycling and podcasting life with us. Subscribe to the Cycling Podcast via iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. To connect on social media follow Richard Moore on Twitter , or The Cycling Podcast on Twitter and Instagram.
Sign up as a friend of the podcast here. For Richards Books here.
Daz & Craig