Brian Barwick: Great Brit Bradley a highlight for ITV4
19:58 GMT, 12 July 2012
One of the real annual treats of sports television during the summer has become ITV4's coverage of the Tour de France.
Stunning scenery, cyclists getting into sprints, scrapes and scraps,
crazy road-side spectators and now, a British man very much at the front
of the field.
Stunning: Bradley Wiggins and the French mountain backdrop
eleventh stage of the 2012 Tour de France
Bradley Wiggins is great television on and off his bike, even if his
press conferences can occasionally turn the air blue just like, say,
Westminster Magistrates Court.
But for the Tour's broadcasters in the UK, he is absolute gold dust,
just like his Team Sky colleague and last year's BBC Sports Personality
of the Year, Mark Cavendish.
At last we have our own riders to get
excited about, having lived on a diet of brilliant exponents of this
two-wheeled drama from much further afield.
ITV4, like British Eurosport, carry
large chunks of the Tour live, anywhere between three and five hours
daily, but for many it is their highlights programme at 7pm that is
required viewing. It is a little gem.
A comprehensive pull-together of the
best of the day's stage action, post-stage interviews and analysis, with
a regular feature on some unusual aspect of Tour life.
Marvellous: Chris Boardman
At the helm of the company, who put the ITV4 output together, are the vastly experienced Brian Venner and Carolyn Viccari.
Brian, a former BBC Grandstand producer, now in his late seventies, and his distinguished colleague Carolyn have been associated with Tour coverage since the mid-1980s when Channel 4's half-hour highlights show became a cult hit.
ITV took up the reins in 2001 and have benefited in recent years from an upsurge in cycling, both as a sport and a leisure pursuit, in this country.
In a team of long-termers, Gary Imlach has fronted the Tour coverage since 1991. A much underrated presenter, his journalistic instincts have served him particularly well over the years in the balancing act of rightly praising great sporting feats of derring-do, while also reporting with authority about the shadow of drug abuse that has plagued the sport.
He has become well practised in having to switch gears quickly.
Alongside him is the former Olympic champion and Tour veteran, Chris Boardman. His analysis often involves him getting on his bike himself – and the other night giving us a run-down on the use of elliptical chainrings, as you do.
Ned Boulting is a talented maker of short films and gets a lot into a little. He is also the man asking Wiggins and Team Sky the questions at the end of a stage.
In the commentary box, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen describe the action. Their commentary is taken by broadcasters the world over but you sense at the moment they are relishing the 'UK angle'. However, occasionally they could help the newcomer to this sport by way of a little more explanation.
Finally, away from the riders and their bikes, there is the programme's other great attraction – the stunning French scenery.
Somebody once told me that half the people who watched Ski Sunday tuned in to look at the beautiful snow-clad mountains.
During the Tour de France many viewers must just love France Television's gift of showing us their country's breathtaking summer face.