Matt Rendell shares his thoughts with me...

by jimmythecuckoo   February 24, 2011  

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Matt Rendell has been part of the cycling media for quite some time now. Most famous for his book on the demise of Italian legend Marco Pantani, Matt is part of the Real Peloton podcast team with fellow ITV Tour de France presenter, Ned Boulting.

I caught up with Matt earlier this evening as he tried to pack his bags and leave for an early flight. This is what we had to chat about...


Matt Rendell
Hi James

James Warrener
Hi Matt, Thanks for your time this evening...

Matt Rendell
Mind you, I haven't given you any time yet!

James Warrener
I wanted to ask you one or two pieces about Real Peloton specifically. Firstly why it went from visual to audio... I was an avid purchaser of the DVDs.

Matt Rendell
Thanks for that. You might have been the only one. I think we were ahead of the times, or behind them, or possibly parallel to them but in another universe. It was the spring of 2006, and the first episode unfortunately coincided to the day with Ivan Basso, our cover star, was sent home before the Tour de France. That stuffed edition 1.

Number 2 came out the day Floyd Landis's positive was made public. That stuffed the second edition. I had edition 3 ready to start editing, but the market was showing no signs of recovering. To be fair, I think the monthly cycling magazines would have gone into the red without subscription sales. We, being new, had no subscriptions. The business plan was very modest - but we never imagined the cycling publications sector going into free fall.

James Warrener
I was going to ask this question later on, but it seems appropriate to ask how you keep motivated to broadcast and write about our sport considering the state it is in through the actions of some riders?
I had about 5 years away where I sold my bikes and barely watched any television coverage... I think I needed the time out.

Matt Rendell
Simple: Colombia and Colombian cycling. No money in it at all, but it keeps going because it's in the blood. Wonderful, passionate people, races and teams that haven't the backing to get up and running, but do so anyway.

Just last month, I went to Urrao, Rigoberto Urán's village, and spent the day filming interviews with his mum and with people who've known him all his life. It was an unforgettable experience, and a very emotional one (during one interview, both parties, interviewer and interviewee, were in tears). Sport stripped down to the essentials, which have very little to do with which wheel crosses which white line in the road.

This is going to sound naive, but it's meaning of life stuff. Or it is to me. That's what keeps my batteries charged.

James Warrener
I understand where you are coming from. There is something almost unquantifiable about the buzz of cycling and talking about cycling. I just wish the sport wasn't linked with drugs all the time (having said that I am reading "From Lance to Landis" at the moment!!)

I am looking forward to seeing Uran riding for Team Sky this season, which seems an appropriate opportunity to ask your thoughts on their progress so far and chances for 2011. I don't think it is overly critical to say they didn't make the impact they wanted in 2010, especially in the Tour of Britain where I never tired of using my blog to say Greg Henderson was the wrong man for them to back.

Matt Rendell
Agreed, although I suspect the clever Mr Brailsford has a five-year plan. Whatever he achieves or fails to achieve in the first couple of years will be utterly forgotten by the final couple of years of the contract. Having said that, who, other than Stalin and Mao, ever got the chance to implement a 5 year plan?

James Warrener
Well it doesn't look like a certain Libyan dictator is going to get another 5, so agreed... Is Wiggins a contender for a grand tour in your opinion?

Matt Rendell
Well, you have to be something of a physical freak. You have to choose the right parents, as they say, and you have to be incredibly, astonishingly consistent.

Two out of three isn't bad. Can he repeat his climbing performance from two years ago? Well, there was an interview with Jonathan Vaughters a while ago where he effectively said, 'He can do it on a stage with one big, smooth climb, but not on a stage with five of them, and abrupt changes of acceleration, etc.' That's one opinion, and a pretty well informed one. Me? I don't know. I doubt Brad knows. I hope he can because I like him. But whoever beats him will do so on merit (we hope!), so if he doesn't then we'll simply be celebrating someone else's great performance.

James Warrener
I remember getting some stick for saying that 2009 was his chance and that he wouldn't go close again. I would love to see a British Tour winner, I just wonder if the people in the know think Peter Kennaugh is the best bet?

Kind of close (please forgive me Irish readers; I am trying to do a link!) to being a British Tour winner was Stephen Roche in 1987. That was the year I fell in love with the sport. How did you get hooked?

Matt Rendell
I studied in Italy in 1989 and 1990 and my closest friend was a cycling nut.

I went to stages of the Giro, won by Franco Chioccioli, 'Coppino,' and discovered cycling as a part of Italian culture. I had two Italian professors who both used to tell stories of cutting portraits of Coppi and Bartali out of the papers when they were kids. They would mount them inside bottle tops, and roll them down circuits made of sand or dirt.

It was real, deep, thick cycling culture. It always seems to me that we Anglo-Saxons are very good at adopting other people's cultural practices, stripping them down to (what we think is) their underlying technique, and making that our own. We're doing something like that with cycling right now (although that'll make Tim Hilton's blood boil!).

James Warrener
I loved Will Fotheringham's book on Coppi. That painted a real picture of Italy and Italian cycling, and gave an insight into a bygone era. Speaking of books about Italian cycling... I want to ask about the Pantani book that you wrote. It was a rollercoaster for the reader, how did you feel writing it?

Matt Rendell
Nightmares, nocturnal panic attacks, insomnia - the works. Burying yourself in someone else's life is very demanding, especially when it has recently ended in such horrific circumstances. To tell the truth, I felt almost crushed by the responsibility of memorialising a life in words, which is why I probably go into more detail than most readers require. On the other hand, I tend to read biographies and watch films and then ask, well, what happened next? The anxiety of completion, they call it... probably.

Either way, it was pretty horrible, and written in a ridiculous hurry, although I suppose, in the end, I was more or less happy with the end product.

I should add that the Pantani book more or less completes my book-length thoughts on cycling. I don't think I have another cycling book in me.

James Warrener
That's a fair point. The book pretty much stands on its own as it is so comprehensive.

I am aware you are a busy man (and I would love to do a part 2 if you are up for it when time allows!) so will make this the last question for now. Are you and Ned aware of the cult following the podcast has, and how much cyclists and cycling fans enjoy it?

Matt Rendell
Well, sort of. You have no idea how cobbled together some of them are. At the moment I'm in the middle of writing a non-cycling book, and reporting on the Champions League (well, asking absurdly banal post-match questions like 'Great goal?!' and 'Your thoughts?' in a number of languages to multi-millionaire teenagers) for money, and I'm probably more ignorant about cycling than 90% of our listeners.

But still they listen. Or, more likely, they listened in until they read the last sentence.

But we have enjoyed doing it. The big question with podcasts is how to monetise them. God knows. I've come back from Colombia with some wonderful filmed footage about Team Sky's latest signing, and I'm failing miserably to monetise that, so how I'm going to monetise the nonsense Ned and I spout is anyone's guess!

James Warrener
I tried running a podcast (ironically about Weymouth FC) and it is the most difficult thing in the world to stop it from sounding over rehearsed and contrived. So the fact Real Peloton sounds natural and appeals to the audience is a positive.

As for opportunities to make cash from it? I have no idea either!

I know I said last question, but do you ever see the point where Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen hang up their cliches and mic's and ITV give Ned and you the call?

Matt Rendell
We'd both love to commentate together. I think it'd be tremendously funny. But I doubt any responsible broadcaster would trust us. There's every chance we'd be the Ross and Brand of cycling. Probably get taken off air: but we'd have a glorious three and a half minute career. Watch this space!

James Warrener
I fancy a crack too, so I will be up for that job when it ever comes up.

Matt Rendell
It's everyone's dream job, isn't it? That's why, when you do commentate, you're probably on a hiding to nothing.

James Warrener
Harmon is great though I think.

Matt Rendell
His rider recognition is sometimes incredible. I remember stage five of last year's Giro, the ‘Strade Bianche’ stage, when they came across the line covered in mud. They were almost unrecognisable, and he did what I thought was a fabulous job.

I admire the commentators who at least make an effort to acknowledge that there are 200 riders out there, each with their own lives and experiences and stories, not just 3 headline acts and 4 Americans. Some of them seem to find the vast majority of the peloton utterly foreign.

James Warrener
He is one of the few who isn’t ‘anglocentric’ if that is even a word. I love him! He is next on my interview hit list!

You have been brilliant. I really appreciate it.

Matt Rendell
I'll tell him to fit the car with bullet proof windows then


And with that Matt was off to pack his suitcase before travelling. It was a pleasure to speak to one of the key broadcasters in cycling today and we agreed it wouldn't be too long before we chatted again and shared it with you all.

3 user comments

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"You have no idea how cobbled together some of them are."

Oh yes we do Matt!

Either that or you're very good at making a slick production sound a bit of a shambles Wink

But it's an endearing and refreshing one that I look forward to each time the feed tells me there's a new edition online.

Jimmy, you might like to add a footnote about Matt's other books. I have a copy of Kings of the Mountains which I'm looking forward to after I really liked A Significant Other. Have just picked up the Pantani book from ebay after reading a chunk and feeling that I want to know the whole story about the iconic Italian climber.

I suspect Matt is a little modest when saying that 90% of podcast listeners know more than him about cycling; his knowledge is broad and deep. But equally valuable is a writing style that keeps the reader interested and tells a story. Some knowledgeable forumites and fans may be able to dig up more detail on a rider or event but they usually don't have the skills to sort or present it in anything like the same way. That is what might save (some) journalists from starving while the others can't retain an audience.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2338 posts]
25th February 2011 - 17:27


My favourite cycling book, ever, is Blazing Saddles. It was exactly the kind of entertaining, bite-sized book of factoids that I needed to get me hooked and start investigating deeper.

Any chance of a Blazing Saddles Mk2 looking at the Giro and Vuelta? There's a definite gap in the market for books on both...

Chuffy's picture

posted by Chuffy [203 posts]
25th February 2011 - 17:41


Always enjoy reading,listening and learning from Matt Rendell. His passion for world cycling is infectious. a real treasure. :0

posted by Tomonator [1 posts]
5th March 2011 - 3:50