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Ashley House: British Eurosport’s Grand Tour coverage’s Johnny-On-The-Spot when it comes to grabbing a candid word with riders and sports directors as the pre-stage espressi are sunk and the finish line carnage and elation erupts. Armed with a microphone, an easy charm and his boyish yet playfully rakish smile, it’s Ashley’s voice, smooth with a pleasing hint of Sloan-ish grain, that you hear drawing out the hopes, fears and reactions to the day’s drama from the key players of the great Grand Tour soap-operas. Probably the dream job for any fan of professional road racing, Ashley inhabits an access-all-areas world of the three biggest races on the planet, rubbing shoulders in the press melée and after-hours nightspots with the great, the good and the sometimes downright prickly stars of the cycling world. Always Riding caught up with Ashley on the eve of his departure to Noirmoutier-en-l'Île for the start of the 2018 Tour de France.


Always Riding: So, Ashley, the Grand Tour voice of the start and finish lines, what does the job look like from the inside?

Ashley House: We tend to get to the start town a couple of days before the race starts. We have prep meetings and a big Eurosport dinner. The Eurosport team is so huge now that it’s ridiculous. Up until recently it used to be just a British team but now we have a Dutch team, a Polish team, a couple of German teams, there’s well over a hundred people working on it which logistically is just about impossible! We all travel in cars, split into two or three people. Some guys do the start every day, then drive to the finish and do the finish show also – that’s what I do: pre-stage interviews, drive the route and then get interviews on the finish line. Most of the guys just do their shows from the finish and for that whole operation we have an articulated truck which is three stories high with a studio on the roof! It’s massive. All the production is done from that truck which just goes from finish to finish each day.

As far as the driving in the cars, we all take it in turns. The driving is the absolute worst thing about covering Grand Tours. It’s just so awful! I mean, I never complain about my job at all, but the driving… we drive on average about five or six hours every single day for twenty-three days straight. And you’re just knackered because the days are really long, it’s hot, the work is pretty hard as I physically run quite a lot with having to run after riders and run around all over the place with video cards to send back for production etc. The day finishes quite late, after we’ve recorded and got everything out, so we’re leaving the finish around 7pm and usually have at least an hour’s drive, if not more, when all you wanna do is go sit somewhere with a beer. But you can’t, you have to drive. We do about seven thousand kilometres throughout the Tour, twice the race distance. So times that by three Grand Tours. I reckon I’m driving twenty thousand kilometres in three months.

The driving is the absolute worst thing about covering Grand Tours. It’s just so awful! I mean, I never complain about my job at all, but the driving…

Ashley House

AR: Who’s the worst driver in your crew?

AH: Ok we share the driving. Usually Juan Antonio Flecha, Laura Meseguer and me. As to who’s the worst driver? Good question. I guess if you actually asked everybody else who the worst driver is they’d probably say me! I really don’t enjoy it! Juan Antonio thinks he’s a good driver – well, he actually is a pretty good driver - but he drives crazily up the hairpins and around the mountains. I hate driving up the mountains. It’s really, really tough going up the mountains in the Tour, less so in the Giro and the Vuelta. But at the Tour, there are thousands upon thousands of people on those mountains at the side of the roads, plus all the cyclo-tourists who are trying to do the climbs on the day of the race and they aren’t as good as the likes of Froomey so they’re weaving all over the road, then you’ve got the ones who’ve already got to the top and they’re coming back down really fast!

All the spectators are making an already narrow road very narrow and they’re all drunk and falling into the road. Or they’ve got pets or kids. And the kids all have inflatable beach balls. Then add in all the race and media vehicles. At the top of each mountain stage there’s around ten thousand people working on the Tour. So, in a two hour period all of that lot is trying to get up or down or play with their beach ball and it’s a miracle there aren’t deaths daily. It’s really, really hairy. And of course, when you beep at the cyclists they get really annoyed ‘cos they think you’re having a go but you’re not – you’re just beeping to let them know you’re there! What we tend to do is keep all of the car windows open and blast out very loud techno so everyone knows we’re coming. Of course, the problem with that is because the fans are drunk as hell they start chucking stuff in through the windows – water bottles, beer, all sorts - as we’re trying to drive up! At least one Eurosport car has even had somebody piss through the windows! It’s a bit like Takeshi’s Castle – the Tour of Takeshi’s Castle!

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Juan Antonio thinks he’s a good driver – well, he actually is a pretty good driver - but he drives crazily up the hairpins and around the mountains. I hate driving up the mountains. All the spectators are making an already narrow road very narrow and they’re all drunk and falling into the road. Or they’ve got pets or kids. And the kids all have inflatable beach balls.

Smooth talker Ashley House during some pre-Tour downtime

AR: It’s sounds draining but at the same time still a dream job for a cycling fan - how did you land the gig?

AH: When I first got asked to work on the Tour de France back in 2011, I was, at the time, presenting the rugby on Sky Sports and the tennis on Eurosport. The guy in charge of cycling at Eurosport called me and said “Do you know anything about cycling?” Now, as a freelancer, you basically have to snatch any job that you’re offered. So I told the head of production at British Eurosport at the time that my uncle had been a mechanic on the 1971 Tour de France and that my grandfather had actually ridden the tour in the 50’s! All a complete pack of lies - I’d never watched a cycle race in my entire life!

AR: So you totally blagged it, basically?

AH: Yes. It was kind of a totally different job back then for British Eurosport. As it was just a British production team they were only interested in UK riders, so I basically spent the entire race sitting and standing outside the HTC-Highroad bus waiting for Mark Cavendish – due to Bradley Wiggins breaking his collarbone early on. Three weeks and every single day is the same: Stand outside the HTC bus in baking sun for hours on end every morning waiting for Mark Cavendish to finally come down the steps of the bus to look at me like I’m an absolute idiot and, no matter what I’d ask him, tell me how stupid I was and what a stupid question I’d asked. It really wasn’t a very nice experience at all!

I told the head of production at British Eurosport at the time that my uncle had been a mechanic on the 1971 Tour de France and that my grandfather had actually ridden the tour in the 50’s! All a complete pack of lies - I’d never watched a cycle race in my entire life!

Ashley House originally blagged his way into his post at Eurosport
Ashley House

AR: A baptism of fire…

AH: My first Tour de France was spent with one of those books – ‘The Dummy’s Guide to the Tour’ type thing – stuffed in my back pocket. I had no idea what was going on. I have two really good friends who are both massive cycling fans and I was on the phone to them between the start and the finish everyday asking them “What the hell should I ask? What the hell is happening?” I was exactly like the people I speak to now who don’t know about cycling: "They all ride along and nothing happens and then the guy that wins isn’t actually in the lead? What’s going on?"

But once you start to understand and people start explaining to you about the tactics it is the most extraordinary sport to watch and to be a fan of. Once you understand it – and bear in mind that none of us completely understand it, no matter what you say – it’s just insane! Everything from tactics to echelons to sprint-trains to burning riders at different parts of the race. Perhaps the pinnacle of all of that was on Stage Nineteen of the Giro this year with Froome’s seventy-five kilometre solo break. I was speaking to Dave Brailsford – it’s all now widely known and after the fact - on the morning of that stage and he said “Look, there is nobody to speak to you today, Ashley – nobody: The press officer, the mechanics, the guy that takes the mattresses on ahead of us, everybody – they’re all up that mountain and they’re going to be relaying just to make sure that the calorific intake versus the output of Chris Froome is absolutely spot on and at the roadside for him.” It was all so carefully calculated.

You have no idea about this stuff if you’re not ‘into’ cycling, but the depths it all goes to and that you can go to in order to understand it are just incredible. I’m lucky, I get to work with a lot of incredible people here at Eurosport, especially Juan Antonio Flecha, who really taught me about life inside the peloton…

My first Tour de France was spent with one of those books – ‘The Dummy’s Guide to the Tour’ type thing – stuffed in my back pocket. I had no idea what was going on.

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Ashley House

AR: How do you pick your interview targets each day?

AH: In terms of actually picking the targets, I’m instructed as to who I’m going to talk to. The producer of the show, during the stage, will advise me of what the topics of the day are as they have to put a timeline down, a narrative. So, if there’s been a significant crash early on or something controversial or you see a team riding on the front at some point and you simply can’t work out why the hell they are doing that, those are the things I’m instructed to go and ask about. Obviously, if there’s something I think is interesting then I’ll go ahead and do that myself too.

AR: And how do you know when it perhaps is not a good time to go shoving a microphone in someone’s face?

AH: In terms of how you gauge whether you should talk to someone or not is a very controversial subject. These guys have just cycled for six or seven hours, maybe in the pouring rain, maybe the blazing sun. The very last thing these guys want to do is talk to me! A lot of it is about cultivating relationships on better days and over the years so that they know who I am. Nights like the after parties and things like Girona Gala help so that they see me out of work as well.

I think one of the big reasons they’ll talk to me is because, if on a certain day on the start-line or after a big stage, they turn to me and say “Look, I really don’t want to talk today” - for whatever reason - I respect their wishes. Maybe a lot more than some of the more ‘paparazzi’ type guys out there. I’m not pushy and I won’t hound them in that way. If I get the impression they don’t want to talk that’s fine, I’ll say to them “No problem, we’ll talk another day”. We’re not covering a war here – it’s only a bike race! I don’t want to be getting in anybody’s face. It’s about gauging, as a human being, your interaction with another human being. I’m not looking through a cage at zoo animals.

AR: I can see how that approach would be appreciated by these guys…

AH: Perhaps a good example of this approach is the opening stage of the Giro this year, the prologue in Jerusalem and Simon Yates’ effort. He’d been so impressive and I really wanted to talk to him so I chased – and these guys all stay on their bikes and ride back to the bus or hotel – so I followed on, running and running to meet him until he just stopped at the roadside and just started puking, his effort was so enormous that day. He just turned to me and I said “Look, it’s fine, not today” even though I’d run about two and a half kilometres for a word. Days like that are just as important for me. Hopefully next time he’ll know I’m not an arse.

Simon Yates stopped at the roadside and just started puking, his effort was so enormous that day. He just turned to me and I said “Look, it’s fine, not today” even though I’d run about two and a half kilometres for a word. Days like that are just as important for me. Hopefully next time he’ll know I’m not an arse.

Running after cyclists is part of the job for Ashley House

AR: Who are, for you, some of the great people you’ve met through your work? Do you ever find yourself in awe at all by these legendary figures of the sport?

AH: That first year I didn’t really know who anyone was anyway! But now, yes there are times - I mean, working with Greg LeMond is just ridiculous. I knew a little about who he was back then but when I actually started working with him and understanding about who he is – he’s just an amazing, lovely guy. And his stories! Listen, the stories from these guys from the 70’s & 80’s are so much better than the guys who race now. It was a lot more crazy back then! One time, back when me and Juan Antonio were working closely together, we were live on air and all of a sudden our trousers are whipped down from behind us! We turn around and there’s Fabian Cancellara pulling our trousers down! Stuff like that.

Working with Greg LeMond is just ridiculous. I knew a little about who he was back then but when I actually started working with him and understanding about who he is – he’s just an amazing, lovely guy. And his stories! Listen, the stories from these guys from the 70’s & 80’s are so much better than the guys who race now. It was a lot more crazy back then!

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I think the amazing thing about cycling compared to when I’ve worked in football – and I’ve worked at Real Madrid football club, very possibly the biggest names in world sport, for example - you just don’t get that access. The cyclists are so much more approachable, much less star-striking. There was a good anti star-striking moment, actually, last year. I gotta remember this guy’s name, he came to the Tour – some really hot, famous actor. Patrick Dempsey. That’s it. Grey’s Anatomy? Maybe? No idea. His nickname is something like McDreamy or Dr Dreamy or some rubbish. And he wants to come on-set and everyone’s swooning around this guy and I was like “What is this guy doing on my set? I don’t recognise him as being a cyclist.”

One time, back when me and Juan Antonio were working closely together, we were live on air and all of a sudden our trousers are whipped down from behind us! We turn around and there’s Fabian Cancellara pulling our trousers down!

Ashley House

AR: Did he [Patrick Dempsey] know you hadn’t a clue?

AH: Oh yeah! I was literally like “I have no idea who you are”. I’ve never been a star-struck kind of person though. I mean, you see me excited on TV, I’m an excitable sort of person. I get excited when somebody has done something amazing. That person might be someone you’ve never heard of, like when Davide Formolo won Stage Four in the Giro back in 2015, holding off some real hitters from the break, soloing fifteen or so kilometres for the win. I can remember being just amazed speaking to this guy, this young guy on his debut Giro. Same when you speak to riders like Adam Hansen – I could talk to him all day. Well, if he spoke a little more that is! It’s those guys I want to speak to ‘cos it’s those guys who’ve got the stories you want to hear. I want to ask the questions that the people at home would ask: “What did you actually talk about in the peloton? What was happening in there, what did you hear when the break was forming and trying to go?” all that sort of stuff, those stories. Not so much the whole “How do you feel now you’ve won the stage?” That’s pretty obvious! “Yeah, I’m really happy, I want to thank my team etc, etc” Oh, really? No kidding. I’m interested in the nitty gritty, the intricacies. The stuff that you never hear. Working with Juan Antonio you hear this stuff. For example, there’s a guy who the whole of the cycling world loves but everyone in the peloton thinks is a complete tool because he’d never do an ounce of work on the front in the break and then would totally flick you right at the end… I’m not naming names but he’s a prolific winner.

There’s a guy who the whole of the cycling world loves but everyone in the peloton thinks is a complete tool because he’d never do an ounce of work on the front in the break and then would totally flick you right at the end… I’m not naming names but he’s a prolific winner.

Ashley House - looking casual
Ashely House

AR: What about the most dramatic stages you’ve enjoyed being in the midst of via your job? Stage Nineteen of this year’s Giro with Froome’s solo voyage through the mountains might be a starting point…

AH: Sure, that ride in this year’s Giro is possibly – and I know there is a whole lot of discussion and polemic surrounding it – the most outstanding ride we’ve seen for, what? 20 years?

AR: It harks back to whole Claudio Chiappucci and Fausto Coppi stories – soloing for hours across the mountains…

AH: Exactly! And what I loved about it is – and maybe if people are honest with themselves, and whether people choose to believe or not – is that it harked back to a racing that we never thought we’d see again, because of race radios, because of ‘marginal gains’. And we saw it that day and cycling was again the exciting sport that it was years ago.

For absolute drama, though, the stage in the 2016 Giro when Steven Kruijswijk crashed into the ice and snow. That day he was leading the Giro and then lost it in that split second on, again, a stage nineteen. That then resulted in the battle of Chaves and Nibali for the GC: Chaves moving into pink on the penultimate mountain stage and then Nibali taking it from him as Chaves crumbled on the way up to the Santuario Sant'Anna di Vinadio the following day. That day I was standing on the finish line with Juan Antonio and Alexander Vinokourov and it was just the most amazing – and tragic - thing to witness. Maybe even more so now for Mitchelton-SCOTT and Matt White is it’s happened again this year with Simon Yates! It just goes to show how difficult it is to win a Grand Tour if you’re not a big budget team. I remember saying to Matt White after that 2016 Giro “Why didn’t you put just one person in the break – just one to help Chaves later on in the stage?” and Matt said "Look," - because he starts all of his sentences with ‘Look’! - “We tried so, so hard to get somebody in the breakaway but we just couldn’t…” That’s the great thing about having the full stages on TV these days, seeing that battle to get in the break, it’s fascinating.

But for me the best moment was Tommy Dumoulin winning the Giro last year, 2017, because I’m a massive Dumoulin fan. That final time trial, it worked so well, absolutely brilliant. I was in floods of tears when Tom won cos he’s such a lovely guy – the whole Team Sunweb team are such lovely guys. That’s my best moment.

For me the best moment was Tommy Dumoulin winning the Giro last year, 2017, because I’m a massive Dumoulin fan. That final time trial, it worked so well, absolutely brilliant. I was in floods of tears when Tom won cos he’s such a lovely guy – the whole Team Sunweb team are such lovely guys. That’s my best moment.

Ashley House

AR: Let’s talk about when the racing is done. Let’s talk about the after parties: Which are the ones not to miss?

AR: The most legendary one is the one after the Tour de France. It’s the one which for a lot of years - way before I have been there or thereabouts – has been known as the party. It’s at the same nightclub every year. It’s a grotty, sweaty basement of a disgusting, stinking, sticky floored beery mess. All the riders are there, pretty much. Sure, they all have their own team parties and the partners, the production companies and sponsors and whatnot all have their own little things straight after: presentations, meet and greets etc – but nobody really cares about those. Everyone just wants to get to this particular nightclub. It’s called Duplex. It’s amazing. You’ve got to remember that racing cyclists don’t really drink alcohol so when they do, after a Grand Tour, it really affects them - and a lot quicker! It’s amazing, just hilarious!

But my favourite is the Giro party. It’s much more relaxed. Everything about the Giro is much more relaxed. That’s where I met Greg LeMond. He was visiting the Giro as we knew he was going to be working with me on the Tour later that year. Greg is a Party Animal! And I mean he is a party animal in all the right ways, the best possible ways: He is so much fun, he’s not inappropriate, he’s not weird, he’s not precious, he’s not diva-ish, he says “Hello” to everybody – and he’ll be dancing on the tables at 3am. My first memory of meeting Greg LeMond was me and him dancing on the tables in Roberto Cavalli’s night club in the open air in the middle of Milano, dancing away on tables at four in the morning to ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ by Goyte. It was brilliant and still a really treasured memory for me.

My first memory of meeting Greg LeMond was me and him dancing on the tables in Roberto Cavalli’s night club in the open air in the middle of Milano, dancing away on tables at four in the morning to ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ by Goyte. It was brilliant and still a really treasured memory for me.

Ashley House
Ashley HouseAshley House

AR: Who would be your cycling hero?

AH: I’ll give you three. Modern hero: Peter Sagan. I find him so exciting to watch, I find him so much fun to talk to. I find him so intriguing as a human being and so entertaining off the bike. All-time legend would be Greg LeMond. Not only his cycling in respect to him being shot in the back when his brother-in-law mistook him for a grouse or a deer or something and him then coming back from that and taking that legendary Tour de France win in 1989 in Paris, overhauling Fignon by seconds in the final time trial, but because I’m biased as I know him and he’s such a lovely guy! I would also want to add that I feel it’s largely because of him that the whole investigation into Lance Armstrong started. I have very strong feelings about Lance and Greg does too – for much more personal reasons – and if it hadn’t been for Greg making some very deliberate but non-accusatory comments then I don’t feel we would have the clarity that we now have. Ancient legend - that would be Gino Bartoli. For the way that he raced and also politically; there are more and more stories now coming out about how he fought against the fascists and what he did for the Jewish community. My family are Jewish. Bartoli did a lot for Jewish people during the second-world war when that part of Europe was really suffering under fascism.

I have very strong feelings about Lance and Greg [LeMond] does too – for much more personal reasons – and if it hadn’t been for Greg making some very deliberate but non-accusatory comments then I don’t feel we would have the clarity that we now have.

AR: Now. There is something that is perhaps even more keenly anticipated on the morning of each stage than the racing itself, Ashley. Your daily wardrobe. From the peach coloured chinos and pastel braided belts to the race-logo festooned fanboy polo shirts, it is truly marvellous!

AH: Hahaha! A complete accident. Ok, one day, probably my first Giro, I happened to wear a pink polo shirt. I’d been to the merchandising stand at the race village, got myself an official Giro d’Italia polo shirt to wear on the television that day and somebody put up on Twitter a challenge type thing along the lines of “Nice to see you wearing something pink, I think you should do it every day for the rest of the race”. So I did. Until about half way through when one day I didn’t wear anything pink which resulted in so many messages about how I’d let everybody down! From that moment on I’ve always worn something either pink, yellow or red depending on the race. Of course, once these things start building a bit of momentum, well – that’s it then! I now spend quite a bit of time looking for clothing that’s going to top it, even to the extent of last year on the Tour I actually made a pair of white with red polka dot trousers! I find it hilarious, it’s just the sort of thing I’ll take and run with and take it further than any of you thought – or perhaps even want me to!

Ashley House looking quite the country gentleman

One day, probably my first Giro, I happened to wear a pink polo shirt. Somebody put up on Twitter a challenge type thing along the lines of “Nice to see you wearing something pink, I think you should do it every day for the rest of the race”. So I did. Until about half way through when one day I didn’t wear anything pink which resulted in so many messages about how I’d let everybody down! From that moment on I’ve always worn something either pink, yellow or red depending on the race. Last year on the Tour I actually made a pair of white with red polka dot trousers! I find it hilarious

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About the Rider: Tim
Tim Bladon lives in Nottingham. He strongly suspects his chances of a solo victory in Il Lombardia are starting to fade and so seeks to distract people from this fact by writing about cycling instead. Tim has his own blog, Ciclissimo!
@LanterneBeB
https://eurissimo.wordpress.com
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