Monday, April 16, 2012

A Look at the Cape Epic TV Highlights

An interesting thing about competing in high-profile events like the ABSA Cape Epic is that you get to experience a much greater level of media coverage than you would at local events in Australia. And even more interesting than that is comparing how the media coverage of the event differs from what you actually experienced. And when the media highlights package finally arrives on Australian TV (only five weeks after the actual event mind you – modern technology certainly is incredible!) it’s almost impossible not to take an ever-so-slightly critical look at how it is presented by Mike Tomalaris and the SBS Cycling Central program.

Mike Tomalaris and I go way back…all the way back to October 2011 when he attended the finish and hosted the presentation ceremony at the Crocodile Trophy - more on that here.

He is certainly passionate about cycling and along with SBS TV’s Cycling Central program, has done a lot to help grow the profile of the sport in Australia to the point where nowadays we can watch every stage of the Tour de France live on TV for three weeks in July and also awkward interviews with Anthony Tan on Sunday afternoons.

I don’t like to give Mike Tomalaris too much of a hard time, even though he did take a swipe at my level of sobriety after the Crocodile Trophy, but it’s really hard to resist giving his unique brand of commentary a bit of critical analysis.

To be fair, Mike wasn’t at the Cape Epic and the SBS broadcast was basically a highlight package from the event organisers with Tomalaris’ poetic musings dubbed over the top. If you’ve got a spare 18 minutes and 43 seconds you can watch the 2012 Cape Epic Highlights package here:

What I love about these types of highlight packages is the way they manage to gloss over what is actually important and interesting in favour of other things more easily consumed by the wider audience. For example, at 1m:04s Tomalaris remarks at the extra prestige bestowed by the presence of “…four-time Formula 1 champion Alain Prost, who’s racing in this year’s event.”

Now sure, Alain raced the event, and sure, he is one of the all time great champions of Formula 1 racing, but the real story here should have been about Alain’s race partner, ex-pro waterski champion Sebastien di Pasqua…or more specifically about Sebastien’s biceps.

Waterski Champion Sebastien di Pasqua (578-1) seems to be carrying spare biceps for team mate Alain Prost (578-2)
Obviously, a guy built like this is not going to make for a very good climber, but Sebastien still managed to put his assets to good use:

Alain Prost walking one of the nasty climbs in the Cape Epic
Now, what you can see above is Alain Prost (and a bunch of other nobodies) walking up one of the tough climbs during the race. It’s hard to tell from the photo but this may or may not be the 'Compulsory Portage' along a section of heritage trail on the final stage where competitors were forced to dismount and walk their bikes (also not mentioned). If you look closely, what you’ll see is that (unlike all the other nobodies) Alain is not pushing his bike, in fact his bike is nowhere to be seen. It was decided that Sebastien (and his biceps) would carry both bikes up the hill thus allowing Alain a much needed rest…from all that annoying portaging. Surely this in itself is a story worthy of publicising – a true team defined, mateship, giant biceps and all that garbage – but unfortunately there was no mention of this by Tomalaris in the highlights package.

But it’s not what Tomalaris leaves out that has made him so famous, it’s the things that he does say, and say incorrectly, that we that we have all come to love. He manages to cleverly mispronounce many of the riders’ names, even race winner Burry Stander, to whom he gives the illustrious honour of spoonerisation at 3m:41s. And while “Barry Stunder” might sound quite at home in Australia, I’m not too sure how this would have gone down in South Africa. At 7m:41s he gives the Swiss Stöckli Pro team the treatment with “Konny Looser has a crash costing valuable time.” You could be forgiven for thinking that Konny just has an unfortunate sounding surname, but being Swiss, it is actually pronounced Loh-zah, which sounds a lot less unfortunate. Tomalaris was clearly rattled at this point because not only does he mess up the surname, but he also calls him “Kenny”, which is just plain wrong, in any language.

Then there were a host of place names that Tomalaris got wrong, not by a lot mind you, but they all add up. He mispronounces the name of the prologue venue - Meerendal, the finish venue - Lourensford, "Kogelberg" became "Cockelberg" and then, at 8m:05s the second race village became "Cail-don". It is actually pronounced Cal-e-don but Tomalaris is not deterred, referencing Cail-don again at 9m:18s, 10m:12s, 11m:20s and then finally again at 11m:36s. I guess it doesn’t really matter to an Australian audience but if I lived in Caledon I might have gotten a strong urge to punch Tomalaris in the face by now. 
It was at this point that I was starting to wonder if Tomalaris harbours aspirations of one day taking over from the doyens of cycling mispronunciation, Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwen. This soundbite  compilation from Bicycle Radio immortalised the climb up the Col du Platzerwasel from the 2009 Tour de France stage won by the Aussie/German rider Heinrich Haussler and provides an outstanding example of what Tomalaris might someday be capable of. You can also get a free download of the podcast on iTunes here – click on Podcast No. 150.

Another great moment from the SBS highlights package comes at 13m:16s when Tomalaris takes on “…the most famous mountain in the area, the Groenlandberg…”. In Afrikaans, which sounds quite similar to Dutch, the letter ‘G’ is handled very differently than in English. Here are a couple of samples of how ‘Groenlandberg’ might sound in Dutch or Afrikaans. Prior to the start on race day, the announcer was having great fun trying to exaggerate the pronunciation of this ‘famous mountain’ and when he really nailed it, it sounded something like “Hhhhrrrooowlandberrrrgggghhhhhh”.

Now you can imagine how Tomalaris was going to struggle with this one. In fairness, I think he made the right decision by not even attempting to pronounce it correctly in Afrikaans, instead opting to fully Anglicise (or Ozicise) it to ‘Groan-land-burg’.

But apparently it’s not just words that Tomalaris has problems with because at 7m:21s he notes that Stage 3 includes “…four major climbs…” and despite the on-screen graphic clearly denoting the total climbing as 2900m he then goes on to cunningly depreciate the amount by ten times to a total of “…almost 300 vertical metres…”. 300m! From what I recall, we’d already climbed 300m in the first hour, and most of that was walking!

It’s at this point that I start to wonder whether there’s really any point trying to make the truth heard. Is the voice of the media just too strong? Does the real story even matter? Obviously this is a debate for another time, so until then I’ll just send my own memories of the Cape Epic off to post-production to add Barry and Kenny, the Cockelberg, Caildon and only 300m of climbing in a day. Hopefully now I’ll sleep better and stop waking up to nightmares of Sebastien’s biceps.

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