Carlton Kirby: The Face Of Contemporary
Cycling Commentators Talks About His Art

Time is an important factor in any sporting event. Various allocations of time are thus too made to various sports. Football, for example, is allocated ninety minutes; a rugby match is given eighty minutes while a basketball game can end in merely thirty-eight minutes. Interestingly it is a strange fact to notice that a Tour de France single stage alone can last for well over six hours.


Primarily the hardest and challenging role is that of a commentator in such type of games. As is seen in most cases, the major action of any game takes place during the beginning and ending part. The rest part is very tedious and quite naturally the onus of filling that gap falls on the commentator.

“Commentating on cycling is not like snooker or tennis,” says Carlton Kirby to Betway, a principal commentator for Eurosport’s cycling coverage, who has worked in the sport since 1996. 

“In tennis, you never talk through a point because the crowd don’t. In certain sports, you have to respect the action, and then you comment on it. That makes for a really easy job, as far as I’m concerned.

“There are some other sports, like cycling, where the commentary has to be complete. There are no gaps – you might shut up for five seconds or so to listen to the crowd, but that’s it.” A myriad range of distractions is there for a commentator. He has to deal with the never- ending frenzy of action, incessant radio announcements and having to tackle the director. Thus concentrating becomes a tough task for a commentator.

“Quite often you are talking while being handed a note, being spoken to by the director, and listening to race radio at the same time as well,” says Kirby.

“There’s an awful lot of distractions to keep on top of, so if you happen to be looking at your notes when somebody has a moment and you don’t see it, it’s not your fault.” Kirby laughs. “But try explaining that to Cycling Weekly and their letters column.”

Myriad kinds of criticism by fans:

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what actually is being referred to here by Kirby. He has to face the criticism of a lot of fan forums who intend to remove him from Eurosports. They apparently have several grievances directed against Kirby and have in fact generated petitions against him based on ‘inane chatter’, ‘terrible jokes’ and ‘unnecessary screaming.’ It must also be acknowledged that Kirby doesn’t lack genuine fan followers who are his source of constant motivation and encouragement and who actually revere the huge
knowledge base of Kirby.

Kirby is unhinged by the massive rise of criticism due to social media platforms. In fact, he welcomes them with open hands.

“It’s not like the written press where you can write something out and finesse it and shave it,” says Kirby. “I don’t have that gift. Once I’ve said something, a couple of hours later it’s hitting Saturn. It’s gone, it’s irretrievable.

“There is no editing process, except between brain and larynx. Once it’s out there you’re done, so you’ll just have to forgive me if I make the odd gaffe.”

Kirby is one such man who still believes in the importance of the notion of commitment and passion.

“You cannot do this half-heartedly. If you only do it sporadically, it’s obvious,” he says.

“Some commentators won’t commentate, they’ll fall back onto stats. Anyone can log into Pro Cycling Stats and start pretending that they’re highly knowledgeable about some guy who’s in the breakaway.

“‘Oh, I seem to remember he rode for Crédit Agricole back in the day.’ Fuck off! That is not commentary, that is bullshit. That is essentially just reading off-plan. And you can hear it. “If anyone starts giving you any palmarès, they’re not commentating, they’re reading off a list. I could sit there and start giving you stats, I could start giving you tech. Stats and tech
are the stock-in-trade of the uninformed.

“You’ll get an awful lot of history coming out, which is completely useless as far as I’m concerned, for the entertainment value of the day.

“I’d honestly rather be talking about a chateau that is going by to make the day move along, rather than talk about what some guy didn’t win when he raced seven years ago for Skil-Shimano.

“Nobody cares.”


Kirby has thus found his own distinctive and unique style which has brilliantly worked for him all these years and he is working relentlessly, trying to improve on them. Being a commentator is all about improvisation and Kirby knows this quite well considering his huge range of experience. Having spent over twenty-five years in the field, he has seen a lot as has many other countless commentators like him who are veterans in the field.


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