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INTERVIEW: Christi Valentine-Anderson

Christi Valentine-Anderson is unique in the world of pro cycling, at least in our eyes. Sure, she goes to the Tour every year, but then she calls the live racing commentary for Europort tv, and is married to ex-pro Phil Anderson. She gave us an insider’s down-lo on 13 years around the pro peloton…

You have what many PEZ-Fans would consider a very coveted job – but as James Brown says – it’s in a “man’s world”! Tell us how you got involved in the sport as a television commentator.

Christi: I was a runner more than a cyclist and I did few triathlons from the years through high school, university and while working after University. I ran a few Marathons but my best distance is half Marathon. After 21 kms I’m surviving not racing. I met Phil in 1992 at the Tour DuPont where I was taking some time off and volunteering. I had just completed my Bachelors degree (physics/ communication) at NYU, and I had three months before I was due to start Law School. I met Phil and left the country with him ten days later. I never looked back.

Christi and son Aidan. You can see a little Phil in there, can’t ya?

I was born and raised in Up State New York. Went to NYU and lived in the city on the upper east side for a few years. My mom and dad are both scientists and now retired still near Ithaca NY.

In order to be with Phil and work in the cycling Industry I began to write about and take photos of, the events where Phil was racing.

Now 13 years (and thirteen Tours de France) later I’m commentating the live Giro d’Italia as well as the Tour de France with Eurosport. I owe this opportunity to two men predominantly. Eric Boyer (former team mate of Greg LeMond) for booking my hotels with Eurosport in 2000 Tour de France and introducing me to the French Eurosport people. And Patrick Chasse – he runs the cycling programming at Eurosport for all languages. Patrick was instrumental in placing the first woman in the world to commentate the live Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in 2002. They have both helped me all along the way, and it just keeps getting better.

Tell us about your role as a commentator. This year you’ll be working on Eurosport’s tv coverage of the Tour with Sean Kelly and David Duffield – which aspects of the race do you focus on?

Christi: I cover the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France every year. I am looking to work more for Eurosport in future years and would really like to cover the Vuelta. I focus on what we see on the live television and the cyclists themselves. This year, Mike Smith will open and close the shows and provide stage background and colorful banter with Sean and I. This will be a first for Mike and I working side by side at the Tour de France, although we did work together on a link up program at the Giro d’Italia this season. David Duffield will surely be missed by many many loyal listeners in the UK and around Europe. It has been a pleasure working with him.
Sean Kelly, well, he’s Sean Kelly! He has forgotten more about cycling than I may ever know. He’s fantastic when it comes to race tactics and good stories from the 80’s & 90’s. And I know all the personal strengths and weaknesses of the current peloton.

My favorite part of the job is the prognostic for each stage & the interaction with the cyclists themselves.

What have been some of the challenges for you as a female working in a sports dominated by old-school European men?

Christi: As a woman in the beginning, it was really hard. The fact that I had 6 years university and a brain, never played much of a role in people’s perception of me. But by being consistent with my reporting and basically straight and reliable after 13 years in the business, I now find very few barriers to entry. Now, for example, at the start of each stage of the Tour de France I will go first to Fassa Bortolo and have a cafe with Giancarlo Ferretti. In dramatic contrast to years past when I was living on power bars and sleeping in the car, I now feel like part of the circus family.

The male domination definitely has been tough, but working as a commentator employed by a French organization, is evidence to the fact that I am getting past the rough years.

This is just one of the many animals that share Phil
and Christi’s ranch 170 km outside Melbourne.

The sport has such an international character, with teams and riders from all over, so many different languages and mannerisms. What are some of the differences in how various teams / nationalities treat you as a female reporter? Who is/ are the best and worst?

Christi: The best treatment comes from the Germans and the Italians however. My favorite teams to work with are Fassa Bortolo, T-Mobile, Seaco, Quickstep, Lampre, and Gerolsteiner. I find that because most of the Directors Sportif are former cyclists, they know me and therefore trust me to have access and knowledge of their riders. And on a good day the riders will look to have a chat with me. This certainly helps the commentary.

The worst treatment I received as a woman reporter is easily by the American teams. Phil’s last team Motorola, were possibly the very worst, as they did not like having Phil’s “girlfriend come wife” at the races. And in those years it was the popular opinion. That was hard. But it is better with US Postal. Jogi Mueller (former Mapei cyclist) is the Public Relations man and he sees that things are level between the sources of media and access to the team. Plus Lance’s success has brought many more American media women into this environment, and it all helps.

What’s a typical day like for you covering the Tour de France?

Christi: A typical day begins with a 40 – 50 min run, and a rough cup of French coffee, but by the second week I can’t look at a croissant or cheese of any type. By the start of the third week I wait until I get to the start of the stage where I can find Italian coffee.

The hotels are usually 50 – 100 km from the start, and I arrive at the Village Depart 1-1/2 hours before start. I’ll walk around the start talking to teams and riders about the stage to come and pertinent information for the stage. Then I’ll take notes and photos and set up feature type interviews for days to come. With the recent release of the Gossip – Tabloid type book about Lance, the media access which is limited at best, I fear will become non-exisistant. Even now the riders tend to stay in the busses if they don’t want to chat and on some days, (like when there are scandals brewing or it is raining), I spend the entire morning standing in the parking lot in front of a closed bus door!

With 15 minutes before the start remaining, I hoof it back to my press car and drive along the course to the finish. While dodging spectators and rouge children who are lining the streets, sometimes 4 deep. I will stop and do a first live cross to Eurosport. I report on conditions at the start, any late breaking news and my opinion of the course. When I finally arrive at the finish, I go to the broadcast booth, situated on the finish line, where I don the head set and join Sean Kelly and Mike Smith for the final two hours of commentary of the live images.

Once the live commentary is done, I get back in my press car and drive either to a team hotel for a feature type interview or to my hotel which could be another 50 – 100 km from the finish. I arrive at the hotel usually between 9 – 11 pm then hunt up some dinner…and sleep.

Wake up the next day and do it all again!

Having covered le Tour myself last year, I saw first hand that potential disaster lurks around every corner… in 13 years you must have had your share of bad days, what was the worst?

Christi: That’s a tough one! This is a 24 hour story… OK in 1994 half way through the tour, there was a rest day in Lourdes. On that day I went for what was supposed to be a 15 km run, followed by the press conferences of Indurain and Rominger in the afternoon. At least that was the plan.

Well, as luck would have it I got lost in the labrynth of Lourdes and ended up running 25 km before finding my hotel. By the time I got to the press conference of Indurain, I was dead on my feet. I sat in the front row, as I was filing daily reports for the Melbourne Age and developing feature stories for magazines around the world. Sitting in front with my tape recorder on the table, I lasted 15 minutes before I proceeded to fall asleep.

Being the only woman in the room and in the front row… this did not go unnoticed. Miguel even made a comment to Phil the next day on the bike… Great Impression! I never made it to Rominger’s press conference.

The following day I picked up Alexandra Anka, wife of Jogi Mueller and good friend of mine. Jogi was riding for Mapei at the time with Rominger. Phil was with Lance on Motorola. She was to travel with me to the second half of the Tour. I also had Rupert Guinness in the car who was catching a lot of flack about traveling with one and now two women at the Tour… and once more we were rider’s wives (ie: two headed leppers!!!).

So at 7 am, I collected Rupert and Alex and we departed for the start. Rupe ditched us chics at the village depart and made plans to meet us at the car for the transfer across to the finish. OK no problems so far. I did some interviews and said hi to Phil. Alex spoke to Jogi and we were off. The stage had a mountain top finish on St. Lary Soulon. It was a long drive on the course and so 2 hours into the drive we stopped at a little cafe for a drink and toilet break.

Being the driver of this car I went to the toilet with keys in hand. When I realized it was a French “stand and deliver” toilet (you know the two foot prints and the HOLE in the floor?) I put the keys in my pocket. Bad move. As I stood up the keys, as if in slow motion flicked out of a pocket and directly down the HOLE… and I had to get them out. It was horrific! I have never taken the keys of any car into a public toilet since that day.

I pulled myself together over a beer and a piece of hard, gum bleeding, bread and drove my happy team to the finish. But the icing on this 24 hour cake, was the fact that I had forgotten my lap top at the hotel in Lourdes and that I would have to hand write and fax my story from the press room that evening, high a top St. Lary Soulon. Then I had to drive back to Lourdes that night at about midnight as traffic was in full lock all the way back to my Hotel. Alex was exhausted, Rupert already looking for a new car (as he was hitting the estrogen wall), and I was simply dog tired and had ten days to go.

That was a bad day.

Aah – but with the bad comes the good – what’s your favorite part of the job?
Christi: That’s easy. My favorite part of the job is the commentary. My favorite Team Fassa Bortolo and my favorite cyclist, Alessandro Petacchi.

Any words of advice for aspiring commentators out there?
Christi: It’s the passion that makes the difference! I believe people can feel your energy through your commentary.

What is Phil doing during the events – do you now travel together – and with
you and Phil both away from home during July, who looks after your kids?

Christi: Phil and I never travel together. He takes tour groups and I work with the media, it is impossible to combine these elements. We have tried working together, but it just doesn’t gel.

We have a family that comes and lives at our house with Aidan, our 4 year old, while we are away. Incidentally, I get a lot of criticism for traveling as much as I do, and not taking Aidan with me. For the record, Aidan has a wonderful father and a wonderful relationship with his father. They do just fine while I work and it is a perfect arrangement for us. Phil has had a gut full of travel and cycling, so unless he is racing, seriously, he has no interested in chasing the race.

I love my work and Phil knows it, so I think we have a uniquely satisfying program.

What attracted you to Phil – was it his pony tail?
Christi: The hair was definitely a hit with me. We have the pony-tail framed on the wall. It was good chemistry… love at first sight for me anyway. You’d have to ask Phil for his recollection.

Which country’s riders hit on you the most?
Christi: Italians

And finally, this question from our own Dave Berson: “I’d like to know what ever happened to the hot Australian girl that was living in Italy as a therapist or chiropractor that I met with Christi @ the 99 tour in Toulouse. Also, is Christi planning on ever returning my umbrella?”

Christi: That’s Danni Molica. She lived and worked in Italy for many years and has just moved back to Australia. She’s still gorgeous and riding her bike!

About the umbrella: AHHHH Maybe not… I may owe you a new one!

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