Australian talking through the Tour de France

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 23/06/2013
Greg Henderson
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The Tour de France starts on Saturday, with British hope Chris Froome favoured to take cycling's highest honour. David Long spoke to the commentator who will be providing the insight to New Zealand viewers with every gripping stage.

As cycling fans settle in for each day's stage around the English speaking parts of the world for this year's Tour de France, it will be Australian Matt Keenan again guiding them through the first couple of hours.

With about an hour and half to go, he'll hand over to the doyens of cycling commentary Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, but up until then it's Keenan, a mic and a huge global audience.

This will be Keenan's seventh Tour de France, well behind Liggett who will be covering the three-week spectacular for the 41st time.

However, Keenan has established himself as cycling's next great commentator and for many of the other big races he'll be calling the shots on his own for hours and hours.

His informative and entertaining style keeps the viewer informed, even when nothing much is happening.

"Phil, Paul and I work for ASO, the company that owns the Tour de France," Keenan said. "Our commentary goes to about 17 different counties, such as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, UK and USA.

"I do the commentary up until the point where it goes live on TV in the US, prior to that it's on NBC Sport online, but once they switch from online to TV, that's when I throw to Phil and Paul."

Of course, Keenan would love to be calling the action when Mark Cavendish is winning the sprint on the Champs-Elysees or Chris Froome triumphs up the d'Huez but is happy to wait for his time to come.

"It is an apprenticeship and I've got to earn my stripes," he said. "I'd love to be able to do the latter part of the stages, but Phil and Paul are institutions and for me to get the opportunity to work with them is a real privilege.

"So often the part I call is when there's not much happening. The break has been established, the teams with the sprinters are controlling the peloton, the gap is five minutes and nothing much is going to change for the next hour."

Keenan will have more of a presence for the Tour in New Zealand this year as he'll be reporting into four shows over the length of the race Sky TV will be making in Auckland, hosted by Stephen McIvor.

"I'll be trying to get an insight into what isn't part of the normal commentary," he said.

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"I'll be taking somewhat of a New Zealand approach to it, in terms of Greg Henderson being there and working with Andre Griepel.

"So I'll talk about Greg and the role he plays in helping Andre win. I'll try to get more of the behind the scenes stuff."

As for the race itself this year, Keenan sees it as Chris Froome's to lose.

"He has been phenomenal this year," Keenan said. "It is a carbon copy of Brad Wiggins last year and Cadel Evans the year before.

"The one question mark Froome had over him was whether he'd be able to cope with the pressure of being the team leader and clearly the answer to that question is yes.

"At the Criterium du Dauphine [earlier this month] he was head and shoulders above everyone and I felt that on the last mountain stage Alberto Contador ran away from a fight for the first time in his career.

"Contador dropped back to help Michael Rogers protect third place, when there was no way he was going to be able to do that."

Contador said during Dauphine he was happy with how his buildup for the Tour was going and felt he was still on track for a great Tour, but Keenan believes he was bluffing.

"I think that was the public message and not the private reality," he said. "It's like boxers at press conferences, they all say they're going to beat the other guy to a pulp. This was a public bluff for Contador and I'm sure he's worried."

Keenan predicts Contador will come second in the Tour and compatriot Cadel Evans will finish third. But for the 2010 winner, Andy Schelck, it will be another disappointing Tour.

"Andy's problems are all from his shoulders up," he said. "He seems to have lost confidence and the desire to do the hard training.

"It is sad to see a guy who's achieved what he has performing the way he is. I hope he turns it around, but he can't possibly do that for this year's Tour because he's shown us nothing so far."

Tour de France: Stage 1 live on Saturday, Sky Sport 3 from 9.55pm

- Sunday News

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