Cycling commentator Matt Keenan is looking for a team, whoever wants him he said, he’s shaved his legs and believes that his performance has increased by 5%. Matt is an ambassador for the Hanover ConnectEast Ride for Home, a charity ride catering for all types of riders to support homeless people in Victoria. Without wanting to give too many of his training secrets away, his preparation has been limited, but like any good cyclist he’s driven the course, studied the winds and hoping for a tailwind home.
Matt was happy to answer our questions as well as commenting on the changes necessary in women’s cycling to create a stronger foundation and create a more positive future. He is also confident that Cadel Evans will wear the maillot jaune in the 2012 Tour de France with more time trialling than we’ve ever seen in the past 20 years.
Rowena Scott of Bicycles Network Australia (BNA) speaks with Matt Keenen and taps into a fountain of cycle knowledge.
BNA: How did you become an ambassador for the Hanover Connect East Ride for Home?
Keenan: The people who are involved on the organising committee contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be involved. I was very humbled by it, to get an opportunity to be an ambassador for such a good cause is a great thing to be apart of, it has a feel good factor about it and you feel like you’re actually contributing something to the community.
The job that I do really, is a pretty selfish job, I sit in front of a television and talk about bike racing. Cycling is my hobby and I’ve managed to make a job out of it. To get a chance to do something that is really positive and constructive through a sport that I love is a great thing to be involved in.
BNA: Do you know what you’re up for with the 75km ride; are there any hills on East Link?
Keenan: I drove East Link recently on the way back from one of the stages of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour and as I was driving back up I was assessing the road and to have a look at it to see which way the wind would be most likely to blow, hoping I can get a tailwind home. Perfect road surface, it’s as good as it gets. I did the Mt Macedon Challenge last year in the same sort of physical condition and that was 136km, it was hilly the whole way and I was exhausted by the end of that; I should be okay with the 75km.
BNA: When commentating professionally, how much work is there behind the scenes in building knowledge and information to be ready for a broadcast or is it all spontaneous?
Keenan: You’ve got to do a lot of research in order to be spontaneous and there is a lot of research that you do, that you don’t end up using, but it comes into play if the scenario presents itself you can use that information. For example, the Tour De France, there are 198 riders and you need to know the story about all 198 riders, because in the period particularly where I commentate, it fills in the race when there’s not much happening and there’s a long breakaway, normally it’s the guys in the breakaway that are in their first Tour de France or their second Tour de France so you need to have something to say about everybody. You have got to do the same amount of research for everyone of the riders to get plenty of background on them. Then there are some guys who go through the race who are completely anonymous and you never mentioned their name, yet you’ve done a lot of research on them, it’s a fair bit of work that goes into being prepared for any situation in a race so you’ve got something to say.
BNA: Since Cadel Evans’s win at the Tour de France have you noticed any significant change amongst the media in relation to the way cycling is reported?
Keenan: The benchmark now to get a cycling story in the paper is actually higher than it was in the past because Cadel Evans has raised the bar. In the past if we had a guy like Jack Bobridge riding a bike race in Australia who this year won two world titles on the track, he’s broken a world record and he’s a favourite to win a gold medal at the Olympics. In the past that would have instantaneously created media coverage, but now it doesn’t. Now it virtually doesn’t rate a mention, the bar has been raised so high by Cadel Evans. It’s a catch-22, he’s put cycling on the map but now cycling has got to live up to the standards that have been set by Cadel and they’re pretty lofty standards that he’s set. He has achieved things that no other Australian cyclists has ever achieved, brilliant result for the sport, best thing to happen to cycling in Australia, now the next generation has some really big shoes to fill.
BNA: Can Cadel Evans win the Tour de France again?
Keenan: Yes, because the course that was designed for 2011 had everything against Cadel, it had the least amount of time trialling that we’ve seen in the last 50 years. There where lots of mountain top finishes that favoured his rivals, next year there’s more time trialling than we’ve seen in the last 20 years, there is almost 100km against the clock and there’ only three real mountain top finishes. The course for 2012 suits him a lot better than the course for 2011 and he’s got a better team around him for next year on the tricky transitional changes, I think he’ll start next year as a favourite; he is the man to beat.
BNA: GreenEdge made mention early on in its launch about a women’s team, I understand that the women’s pro-tour licences are easier to come by and the dates are different to the men’s. Have you heard any further developments on the matter?
Keenan: They will have a women’s team and it will be announced later November I think and there will be a couple of international riders in the team with plenty of experience to really guide a bunch of young Australian women. In the last couple of years we have had quite a few of our experienced Australian women retire and there is a generation of women in there early twenties that are just starting to make their mark internationally, so they’re going to have a couple of internationals that can hopefully guide them and go on to do some of the great things we’ve seen female cyclist do in the past.
On the road for example at the Olympic Games, there has only been one Australian who has won a medal of any colour in the men’s side of the event. In the women’s we’ve had two gold medallists, we’ve had a lot of success in women’s cycling and I think that there’s a group around that twenty to twenty-two mark that are going to have that success in the future.
BNA: Where do you think women’s cycling is heading? Is it heading in a positive direction?
Keenan: It is there’s been a lot of discussion about it recently about whether there is enough support for women’s cycling. One of the challenges for women’s cycling and women’s sport in general is getting media coverage, because its media coverage that attracts the sponsors and in cycling that is even more so than club based sports, whether it be soccer or national sports based. In cycling you only sponsor a team because you’re getting exposure for your money that you’re investing in the squad. Women’s cycling needs to make a push to get more media coverage and it’s really difficult to do, it’s not something that happens over night. How they go about doing that I’m not exactly sure. It might mean a slight change in some of the formats of the racing that allows tours to run in conjunction with men’s tours that have slightly shorter stages near that end with higher impact style racing. Perhaps they need to tinker with the format of the races to make it more appealing to media coverage.
BNA: As a sport loving nation what can we do as members of the cycling community to firmly cement women’s cycling as a sport that should be celebrated in Australia?
Keenan: Watch it on television for starters and when you read newspapers articles about women’s cycling, particularly if it’s online, make comments and show that people are actually reading those articles. It’s a demand driven thing, if you look at the Herald Sun website, for example, they’ve always got the top five articles rolling over and the ones that are read the most are football, AFL football and that’s why they cover AFL football because that’s what the readers are demanding. It comes down to the people that are in cycling actually demonstrating that they’re supporting it and demonstrating that they’re watching it and its not something that will change over night, it will take a while to build that up.
BNA: Do you think the era of doping has ended in professional cycling?
Keenan: It will never end in any sport, there will always be someone out there trying to cheat in any walk of life, beyond sport as well. But that doesn’t mean that you give up the fight; it’s like law enforcement, there’s always going to be people out there that break the law, it doesn’t mean that you just say lets get rid of the police force and not bother with it. The one thing that cycling can be really proud of is how hard it has fought to try and catch people. A guy like Fabian Cancellara, for example, was tested fifty-five times last year, which is more than once a week. We hear some athletes from other sports complaining that they’re test six times within a year. I think that cycling has improved a lot, it’s made significant progress and it’s doing a lot to try and get the cheats. It’s the right path to be on and we’ve got to stay on that path.
BNA: In Alberto Contador’s case, its been going on for sometime, do you think its fair for the UCI to be dragging it out for so long? Has the recent discovery of the five Michigan Football team members having clenbuterol in their system going to make a difference to the outcome?
Keenan: I think that will help with Contador’s case but as far as how long it’s taken to get to this point; it’s embarrassing. We’re still waiting to see who won the 2010 Tour de France and we’re almost at the end of 2011, it should have been solved within six months at the very worst. If it continues to drag on, it continues to drag the sport through the mud so to speak, its one that I wish was solved before the end of last year and certainly before this year Tour de France. But we’re still waiting for a result; it’s a bad look for the sport if this continues to drag on.
Bicycles Network Australia would like to thank Matt Keenan for his time, we wish him all the best with his role as ambassador for the Hanover ConnectEast Ride for Home and the 75km ride that he will embark on this November 13.
For more information on how to donate to the Hanover ConnectEast Ride for Home or to join Matt on this ride, head to: www.rideforhome.com.au