Mike Tomalaris talks about a very different Tour de France on SBS TV

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“I really thought I would only be there for a year,” he says. “But when the Australians started to arrive [to race], the number of views started to increase. Then I knew we were on a winner. ”

Like the yellow jersey: the Tour de France omelet at Café Cycle. Credit:Cornichons Edwina

Finding a place to have lunch with Tomalaris is easy. He occasionally stops on Saturday mornings from the southern suburbs at BarCycle, a cafe and bike shop in Walsh Bay and owned by former professional rider Alberto Talone.

Choosing what to eat is just as simple: from a bike racing themed menu that includes breakfasts from the Italian Giro, the Spanish Vuelta and the Tour Down Under, it’s two Tour de France, two mineral waters and a green salad to share. Healthy and on topic.

Tomalaris, the boss of the Sydney University Velo Club and a regular runner of charity events, talks about the big race with all the impetus of Peter Sagan hurtling down a mountain road. He estimates that half of viewers watch the race; the rest for the cultural experience.

“First and foremost is the push of the pedals,” he says. “And these guys have to back down every day for three weeks. There are no other sporting events taking place during this period.

“But it’s also the landscape, it’s history, it’s cuisine. There are so many layers, the Tour. ”

Tomalaris admits he knew little about cycling for his first few laps and would come home to Australian viewers – also new to the sport – asking basic questions such as’ why the group is staying together? “And” what is it with the jerseys? “.

Now the public – at least those who aren’t just looking to plan their next vacation in Europe – are widely familiar with terms like domestic, red flame, hat and everything in between. Some set up their bike coaches in front of a screen and cycle with the peloton.

When the food arrives, Tomalaris notes that the omelet is a perfect match for the yellow jersey – the famous yellow jersey – then quickly looks back at how the Tour has changed since his first job was to Australianize the UK blanket.

Armstrong helped popularize the event (“Of course he was a bad boy, of course he was a bully, of course he was a cheater and a liar, but [before that was revealed] Australians might consider him an English-speaking non-European ”); the first language of the Tour changed from French to English (“A French hasn’t won for 85”); then, remarkably, a former mountain biker from the Northern Territory won the race.

Tomalaris says he still gets chills thinking about Evans’ victory.

“The Tour offers something new every day… I don’t think it will be different this year. “

“Australians have been so successful in the sports world with Jack Brabham, Don Bradman, Dawn Fraser and all of our Olympic champions in the years since, but what Cadel really did was the last frontier for an Australian athlete.” , he said. . “It was such an incredible moment. ”

Tomalaris recalls that executives from the country’s three commercial networks all called SBS’s CEO the next morning to offer his congratulations and ask, just in passing, when the tour’s broadcast contract expired.

The current answer – in case they’re still interested – is 2023, with negotiations underway to extend for five years.

This year’s race, 21 stages over 3,470 kilometers from Nice to Paris, will be a different experience.

No door Gabriel Taste Le Tour – a TV showcase of recipes from each region For a start.

“He used to go through May, record 21 segments, flip them really quickly, go back, produce them, present them and it was a tough challenge as he got older, so he decided to give it away, ”says Tomalaris.

The new French chef of the show is famous restaurateur Guillaume Brahimi who will focus on classic cuisine.

Former winners Froome and Geraint Thomas and champion sprinter Mark Cavendish are also absent from their teams for lack of form during a season disrupted by COVID-19.

With riders remaining in a ‘bubble’, crowds watching the race are expected to be much lower and, in another change in response to calls for sexism, Tour organizers have abandoned the tradition of two podium hostesses for one man and a woman.

Cadel Evans celebrates his Tour de France triumph in 2011. Credit:Bernard Papon, AP

Offscreen, the biggest change is that COVID has prevented the SBS team from traveling to France. If Tomalaris has a Greek family heritage – his parents arrived from Romania in 1950 – he feels he feels more French after 24 consecutive annual visits. But these aren’t really relaxing tours.

“We only get about six hours of sleep when we cover the Tour there because we follow the runners – not literally, but we are at the finish line every day and it’s an event that moves,” says Tomalaris.

“I return the car to Charles de Gaulle airport every year. I throw the keys to the guard and say, “Here you can have it”. He looks at the speedo and says: “Mr. Tomalaris, he says 7,000 kilometers. This is not possible in 28 days. “Believe me, mate, it is.” ”

Instead, three-time Green Jersey winner Tomalaris and Robbie McEwan will broadcast from the Sydney studio while commentators Matthew Keenan, David McKenzie and newcomer Bridie O’Donnell – a former professional cyclist, doctor and sports advocate. female – will be in Melbourne. studio.

The race has been delayed for two months but cases of the virus have increased again in France, with more than 3,000 daily cases last weekend.

“The Tour will start but will it end? Said Tomalaris. “All it takes is a positive result and the riders will retire on the left, right and center. They don’t want to be infected. This is my biggest fear. We have invested so much money and effort and the taxpayer’s budget in all of this, it would be a travesty if it does not end. ”

With seven of the last eight rounds won by Team Ineos (formerly Sky), young Colombian Egan Bernal – who triumphed last year – is again favored.

The bill for lunch.

The bill for lunch. Credit:Bar cycle

“I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t earn more than five in his life,” says Tomalaris. “He won his first Tour at 22 with a lot of reserve. ”

There are also high hopes for Ewan, the Australian who won three stages last year.

“Caleb is the best sprinter in the world,” says Tomalaris. “He won stages in his first year. Robbie, it took him three years to win his first stage in 1999. I’d like to think he’ll win more than one or two this year. ”

Does he think better drug testing has eliminated drug cheaters? That a “positive” is more likely to be for the coronavirus than doping this year?

“There may be riders who are still taking doping drugs – I can’t be sure – but my theory is that when the big races come… it’s not necessarily the ones leading the pack who take them,” Said Tomalaris. “I really think it’s the ones at the back who are trying to follow. All they really care about is extending their contracts and putting food on the table for their families. ”

What does he hope for in terms of TV moments?

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“The Tour offers something new every day,” he says. “If it’s not a crash, it’s controversy. Last year was the landslide. I don’t think it will be any different this year. It’s chess on wheels, it’s a love story, it’s a tragedy, it’s beautiful, it’s There is nothing like it in world sport. ”

As I pick up the tab – after Talone tries to silence her – he and Tomalaris start arguing like cyclists do: about the next Belgian Eddy Merckx, if Australian Richie Porte has a chance, what bikes sell. You have the impression that Mr. Tomalaris could speak all afternoon about cycling.

The Tour de France is broadcast on SBS from August 29 to September 20.

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