Hugh Porter MBE, a four-time world professional individual pursuit champion, has been the BBC’s voice of cycling for more than 25 years. Richard Allen talks to him about his lifelong passion for cycling in the saddle and behind the mic…
You’ve been commentating on British cycling since the ’70s – what have been the highlights?
I’ve commentated on every Olympic Games since 1984 and all the world championships in recent years, but Beijing was the highlight because of the unprecedented success of the Great Britain team.
I’ve always supported British cycling and it gave me an immense sense of pride and pleasure. It has also been a privilege to call all of Britain’s Olympic successes going as far back as Chris Boardman at the Barcelona games in 1992.
Another highlight for me was being asked to be the master of ceremonies at the Tour de France team presentation in London in 2007. Trafalgar Square was packed, and to present all of the riders and do commentary on the prologue and ﬁrst stage are experiences I’ll never forget.
You retired from pro racing in 1973, so how did you become a commentator?
I like communicating and am the sort of guy who collects facts and remembers statistics. I read a lot and I think it’s a natural progression to use those qualities as a commentator.
During the ’70s I worked for BBC Radio Birmingham and I cut my teeth by reporting on cycling and other sports – I did football reports on Wolverhampton Wanderers for ﬁve years.
I also presented a sports programme every Friday evening, looking ahead to the weekend’s events. I had two producers there – Jim Rosenthal and Nick Owen – and both of them went on to become famous!
With four professional individual pursuit world titles to your name, you’re regarded as one of the best pursuit riders of all time. What did you like about it?
The individual pursuit is the fairest and hardest race on the track. You race man against man, and the best one wins. When I was racing, the pro pursuit was over 5,000 metres and the amateurs raced over 4,000 metres, which is now the standard distance. The longer distance always suited me better.
You only raced at the Olympics once because of the rules on professional athletes. Was it disappointing to not win a medal?
I was selected for the Tokyo Games in 1964, but got a chest infection that put paid to any chance of a medal. It was disappointing, but I’m glad I went to Tokyo because I met my wife Anita there [swimmer Anita Lonsbrough, who won gold in Rome in 1960]. We’re still together and she’s my best pal.
After winning world titles in 1968, 1970 and 1972, you still wanted one more. What drove you on to win it?
By winning three pro pursuit titles I’d equalled the record, but I wanted to be the one who had won the most pro pursuit world titles. I won my last title in San Sebastian in 1973.
You weren’t just a track racer though. You won the Star Trophy series (now the Premier Calendar) in the UK and raced against the great Eddy Merckx…
I think myself lucky to have raced against the two men I consider to be the greatest of all time in their respective disciplines – Merckx on the road and Patrick Sercu on the track.
Eddy is the greatest bike rider ever to draw breath. He was an animal, the strongest bloke I have ever known. He rode 12 months of the year and won the big classics and grand tours.
How does Merckx compare to Lance Armstrong as a Tour de France champ?
Lance is obviously a phenomenal rider to have won seven Tours. But if Merckx had prepared just for the Tour, as Armstrong does, then Eddy would have won about 10 of them!
You were recently given the freedom of your home city of Wolverhampton. That must have been a great honour…
It’s a massive honour, which means my sporting achievements have been recognised by my home city. But it’s great for the sport as well.