a word in your ear - matt barbet

matt barbet

my radio alarm switches on at 6am each and every morning. heaven knows why, because i have no need of arising much before 7:30am, but the knowledge that i have an hour and a half of dozing on and off is somehow rather comforting. mrs washingmachinepost would prefer that i listened to something other than radio four's today programme; i believe something a tad more entertaining might float her boat, but since the radio alarm is on my side of the bed, basically it's tough cookies.

yet, though some will find 6am a rather early hour at which to be awake, we ought to at least pay a modicum of attention to the time those poor presenters must awake in order to be in the studio prior to the programme's start. and not only be there, but give at least a passing impersonation of someone who is bright and shiny personified.

in my younger years, i delivered newspapers for some extra pocket money, a job that entailed arising mostly at 6am, but every so often, at 5:30am, for we each took it in turns to collect the newspapers from outside the town hall where the distributors unceremoniously dumped them each and every morn. it was at that point i learned the necessity of being at work at least ten minutes before one was due to start, otherwise everything was a rush and all blended unceremoniously into each other.

so think back to those early morning radio presenters; they have need not only of arising at stupid o'clock, but being in at work an appropriate amount of time before start, in order that they might familiarise themselves with the two or three hour task ahead. you'd hardly think a working week such as the aforementioned would make for an easy cycling obsession. yet matt barbet, presenter of the news hour on itv's daybreak tv show has the same schedule imposed upon his person.

matt barbet

this, you would imagine, would come as something of a shock to the system, as matt previously worked at channel 5 presenting the teatime news. then, he could almost have rolled out of bed around 3:30 of an afternoon and still been early for work (only joking). however, as most of us will know, the job that pays the bills is not necessarily the job we'd have plumped for given the choice.

in cycling circles, matt's almost as well or better known for his exploits and interest in two wheels, even having recently appeared on the couch in itv 4's the cycle show. however in his case, was television presenting something he was aiming for, or was it an opportunity that offered itself?

"a bit of both. i started as a journalist, first and foremost, and that's how i would still describe my job above anything else. 'tv presenter' covers many areas, and some i'm not sure i'd be suited to. however, it's broadcasting that i quickly got a passion for, working on the student radio station when i was at cardiff university, so that's when i focussed on being in front of a microphone. i've worked on radio a lot, via bbc radio 1, 5live and - online - monocle 24, and that's what eventually opened doors to the world of television."

in my past days working at flight catering in an international airport, we had an internal joke that went something like this "what's the difference between a week in the operations department and a week's holiday? nothing at all.. that, of course was particularly untrue; the folks in operations worked every bit as hard as the rest of us, it's just that the bulk of their job was over and done with by the time the rest of us rolled up for the day's travaille. and if the aircraft hadn't landed, they'd not much to do.

it is therefore easy to poke the same contentious whimsy at news presenters, whatever time of day they arise. matt's on-screen for around an hour, probably at least seven hours less than the rest of us spend at work. but how much more involved is the job off-screen?

"a lot, as i'm sure you can imagine. i don't just rock up a few minutes before 6am and leave as soon as the weather is on just before 7. my alarm goes off at 3.30am, and i'm in the newsroom about 45 minutes later. news is a constantly changing beast, and while it might not be in full metamorphosis at that time in the morning, things do still happen, while our own opinions come into play regarding the importance of one story over another, and how much time we should spend on one item, etc. put simply, surrounding what you see on-air, is an awful lot of honing by everyone on the team to make sure our scripts, guests, interviews, correspondents and many other components are the best they can be. we also discuss afterwards what worked, what didn't, what could be improved, what should be revisited. it's an evolving process. what people see for that hour is really only the tip of the iceberg."

matt barbet

there's no denying that stupid o'clock is darned early, much earlier than my alarm going off at 6am. yet even though i'm usually in bed between 10:30 - 11pm, i still look and feel as if i've been dragged through a hedge backwards when i shuffle into the kitchen for breakfast just after 7:30am. so if he has to be a picture of health and vitality just as my alarm sounds, boring though it may be to have to answer yet again, what time does he go to bed?

"it varies, but usually around 9pm. i have two young daughters, so quite often i'll eat with them around 5pm. it's a peculiar existence, not least for my wife."

when mrs washingmachinepost spent a week in glasgow recently visiting our daughter and newly born grandson, i made the supreme effort by arising an hour earlier than usual and nipping out for around 25km before breakfast. i managed that for the entire week (though mystifyingly not at all since her return), a remarkably pleasant and refreshing routine. however, getting up and about at 3:30am after going to bed around 9pm would seem to preclude anything like the opportunity to nip out on the bicycle in this manner. do these constraints engender a more unorthodox cycling schedule that for the rest of us?

"it does mean i can cycle during weekdays more than most, but it's surprising how many other people have jobs that are flexible enough to allow them to ride then too. i miss not going out for a ride at the crack of dawn when the roads are quiet, and even though i occasionally do that on a sunday, i tend to do my longer, 100km plus rides during the week. i do subscribe to the graeme obree school of training of not doing it when i'm tired or don't feel right, and i'm probably more attuned to the importance of rest than i used to be, as a result of the job."

as you are no doubt tired of of me and pretty much everyone else reminding you, in the light of britain's success at the 2012 olympics and two consecutive british winners at the tour de france, cycling in britain has taken on a rather greater importance than was once the case. however, without giving away matt barbet's age, his interest in cycling substantially pre-dates it's current increased popularity. what brought this interest in cycling as opposed to other sports?

"well, it's not opposed to anything. i'm still a football fan, and have supported liverpool since i was a young boy. i enjoy most other sports too, and love a decent test match, whether its cricket or rugby union. however, i distinctly remember how much more exotic road-racing looked on channel 4 all those years ago, and i can also vividly remember hearing about stephen roche winning the tour on the news. it was almost as if it were a home victory, despite his being irish. i wouldn't say i was an avid follower then - and i'm still learning now - but it's the big names of the time that piqued my interest the most. the likes of indurain, virenque and pantani. again, and it's not that long ago, i remember when i heard about pantani's death. so sad, given his (admittedly drug-fuelled) heroics. i guess it's the fact that there was so little british involvement in the late 1980s and early 1990s that made the sport so attractive. now there is, in the form of sky, wiggins, froome, cavendish and others, makes it perhaps more interesting, but in a different way. in fact, i love the way one's interest in it can ebb and flow along individualistic, nationalistic or stylistic lines, or even for no particularly tangible reason. some riders i love just for the way they ride, and not because they win a lot these days. danilo hondo is one. i just love the way he rides a bike. i also love the way vasil kiryienka falls off one!"

and perhaps to expand on that just a tad, why not mountain biking as opposed to road racing, considering the former was massively more popular at the time?

"i grew up in north wales, so did ride mountain bikes and bmx with my brother around the hills. i craved a muddy fox, but never got one. i actually had a peugot, and maybe it was the brand's road-racing heritage that rubbed-off, i don't know. puch was another brand i liked, but never managed to get one.

i'm easily as much of a cycling nut as the rest of you, with an intrinsic interest in road cycling and its racing offshoot. however, as i have maintained until i'm blue in the face, not only do i have little or no interest in training of any form, i absotively posilutely have no intention of pinning a number on one of those back pockets and attempting to beat others doing likewise. has matt succumbed to the attractions of amateur racing, or does he, like me, simply attempt to ride his bicycle very fast at weekends?

"it's something i've considered, but i think it's just too risky. i do have a provisional licence, and friends who do race at various levels from cat 3/4 up to elite and pro, reckon i could cut it in the lower reaches! crashing would be a disaster though. i'm self-employed, so that's one reason i wouldn't want to stop working, but in my line of business being off-air for too long isn't wise, nor is sitting on the sofa with a broken collarbone. i've dabbled a bit in media-related races, and i pushed myself to 4hrs48m for last weekend's RideLondon 100, but that - and Strava - is about as far as it goes for now. I'm not ruling out getting a TT bike, mind you..."

matt barbet

and though his training was as a journalist and subsequent broadcasting, did he ever harbour thoughts of taking on the mantle of professional racing cyclist?

"no, i didn't. my interest is much more developed now, and it's clearly too late, unless a pro-team reckons i could be some sort of very late-blossoming Jens Voigt. i wanted to be ian rush when i was growing up."

somewhere on the interwebs you will likely find a series of statements attesting to 'you know you're a cyclist when...', statements that are intended to be humorous, but more often than not are remarkably close to the truth. you know only too well that the minute you've fallen off your bike, first concern is often for the bicycle. it's hard to detect when interest stops and obsession takes over; i've no idea when it happened, but i'm quite comfortable to raise my hand as a cycling obsessive. is this the same for matt, even if he regards it as a healthy obsession?

"yes, i probably am, but i think it is healthy. it certainly keeps me healthy, and that is the main reason i enjoy it. healthy body, healthy mind. the side benefits like enjoying bikes, and kit, and sunglasses and those 'petit peloton' figures are just that - side issues. but if i don't get out for a decent ride at least a couple of times a week, i can be quite irritable."

itv4 presenter ned boulting is on record in his first book (how i won the yellow jumper) as admitting to being less than au fait with the ins and outs of professional cycling, despite having been parachuted into the tour de france as part of the televisual team. allowing for the fact that their contracts are with different broadcasting companies, can matt ever see himself joining ned to present the tour de france?

"clearly, ned is irreplaceable. i'm a big fan, and we do know each other. i like what i do now, and although i'd never say never, i know other people who work in the sports they love and they end up not loving them anymore. the passion they once had goes, and it becomes just a job. i realise that's not true of everyone, or you get those - like ned - who started covering cycling knowing very little and then becoming genuine experts, but i don't think i would want to risk losing my enjoyment."

in common with many other tv personalities, matt has worked for more than one employer over recent years, and there's no doubt that the broadcasting freelance world involves twists and turns that do not apply to the rest of us. arising at 3:30am each weekday could perceivably become a tad tiresome after a while, so what may lie ahead in both roads of matt's dual existence?

"no other plans, work-wise. just continue doing what i'm doing now and enjoying it. i've dabbled in writing about cycling, for cycling plus, rcuk and now cyclist magazine, so again, more of that would be good, on the side. as for cycling itself, well again, more of the same. i've got an etape under my belt, as well as london-paris and tours-london, so more along those lines would be great. i've never ridden in the pyrenees, so it would be nice to tick off a few of those monster climbs, while i've long thought the annual week-long cycle oregon ride looks a lot of fun. i love that state anyway, as it's utterly beautiful. given it's probably the most cycle-centric place in america, and i have two american bikes i obsess over in a carbon Parlee and a steel Independent Fabrication, it seems like it should be spot-on."

though i have engendered an infrequent number of e-mails over the course of the years bemoaning the fact that the post contains no capital letters, i am inclined to leave them in situ when an interviewee uses them in reply to my questions. genuinely nice bloke that mr barbet is, he commenced his response to my queries with "here we go, and i've tried to keep it lower-case!"

sunday 11th august