Watching a bike race involves conjecture.
We make assumptions and deliver tactical manoeuvres on behalf of the riders. We do this with great authority, from the comfort of our settee, a range of drinks and snacks within our wingspan.
We wonder why rider x hasn’t attacked. We are bemused by rider y’s meek surrender of the wheel in front, on a 20% cobbled climb, two-hundred kilometres into the bike race.
We rarely make the wrong tactical decisions.
If only we’d paid more attention at school and bothered to learn a language (or five) we’d be getting paid to analyse bike races like Eurosport’s Rob Hatch.
A commentary Ninja.Embed from Getty Images
As the peloton barrelled towards a second ascent of the Kemmelberg at the 2019 edition of Ghent-Wevelgem recently, we had an on-board shot from the Jumbo Visma team car. Instructions were being calmly delivered to the riders, via radio, out on the course.
In Dutch, presumably.
I dunno, I thought to myself, bemoaning my lack of commitment to learning Dutch as a young boy, summat about Van Aert?
Hatch stepped in to sooth my furrowed monolingual brow.
“OOOhhhhhhh!” he said, in that excited half growl that he has, “Wout Van Aert is looking good…the team are being told he has free reign to attack on the Kemmelberg …we are about to get fireworks!”
Not only can Hatch speak all the languages but he can convey the current race situation – time gaps, tactical manoeuvrings, likelihood of Niki Terpstra just riding away from everyone – through nothing more than the cadence and tone of his delivery.
Seven seconds later the race hit the foot of the Kemmelberg. Wout Van Aert looked good. Wout Van Aert attacked. Zdenek Stybar was with him, the duo captured in a wonderful side-on camera shot as they pushed the power through their pedals…
…and other words beginning with ‘p’.
Perfect positioning…pyrotechnics from the pair of them…pummelling the peloton…you get the idea.Embed from Getty Images
Eventual winner Alexander Kristoff came into view, latching on to Van Aert and Stybar as they caught him post-Kemmelberg, having dragged his huge frame maniacally up the slope like a hod-carrier getting paid by the brick.
We understood that if he got over this, the final berg, in a good position, he might gobble up the remaining twenty-odd (flat) kilometres and contest a ragged sprint for the win.
Which he did, all muscle, a brutish finish into a headwind.
Rob Hatch’s diligent translation and dramatic delivery had pricked up our collective ears, and dragged our attention away from gawping and swiping our collective smartphones to ensure we didn’t miss a key moment in the race.
This is essentially the job of the modern day sports commentator: make the viewers look up from their phones.
(I still recall, syllable for syllable, Hatch doing exactly that to me during stage eighteen of the 2018 Giro d’Italia: “He’s lost the wheel…oooohhhhh, and Yates is in crisis!” He bloody was in crisis too, as it turns out!)
The finale of Ghent-Wevelgem saw a selection of normal sized cyclists play cat and mouse awhile before Kristoff, a giant of a cyclist, set up the sprint, led out the sprint, and then won the sprint.
All guesswork taken out of the equation. Any conjecture rendered moot. Hatch preparing himself for the post-race interviews – in fluent Norweigan, naturally.
(Microphone image: via pixabay.com)