Ned Boulting;  Retour De Ned

What I Talk About When I Talk About The Tour de France…

After a year away from the front line, ITV’s Tour de France commentator Ned Boulting returns with a fresh assault on our cycling senses.

The cunningly entitled “Retour de Ned” is an indispensable theatrical road map for anyone aspiring to wear the yellow jersey on the Champs Elysées: a really very rough guide to the tactics (pedal faster) and challenges (not pedalling fast enough) which will need to be deployed to win the biggest bike race in the world. Along the way, there will be time to call to mind the greatest racers of the age, and to do hopelessly bad impressions of them. There will be scope to celebrate all that is French about France, and all that is Tourish about the Tour: Stuff like ignoring 12th century cathedrals, peeing at the side of the road, pushing spectators over, punching demonstrators and generally behaving like a shaven-legged hooligan for a month while riding over entire mountain ranges.

So come along for another ride through the peaks and troughs of the silliest and the grandest month of the year, as Ned hands out his copious, thoroughly unreliable, advice on How To Win The Tour de France. Or if not that, then at least How To Watch It On The Telly.

CYCLING WEEKLY VERDICT: Re-Tour de Ned is tightly prepared, expertly performed and laugh-out-loud funny throughout.

There’s a moment in Ned Boulting’s new one-man show, Re-Tour de Ned, where the cycling commentator does an impression of Richie Porte. It’s both oddly authentic and utterly ridiculous. Boulting crouches, raises his hands in a Kung Fu gesture and barks in a piercing Australian accent, pretending to be Chris Froome’s bodyguard in the Tour de France.

The sketch is one of countless impersonations that bring the new stage show to life. For the best part of two hours, Boulting masterfully weaves silly accents with commentary anecdotes and history lessons, offering a glimpse behind the curtain of the world of cycling.

Boulting begins by transporting the room back to the origins of the Tour de France. The year is 1903 and the audience is suddenly in Paris, watching on as plans for the sport’s newest and most gruelling event are hatched.

What follows is a journey through the decades. After a four-year hiatus from the stage, Boulting spins tales of the race’s biggest stars, from its early pioneers to its most recent champion, a humble fish factory worker called Jonas Vingegaard.

The second half of the two-part show hones in on the Dane’s heroics this past July. “Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are time trialists,” Boulting starts one section. In another, the commentator takes a self-deprecating swing at his own well-trodden clichés.

Some theatregoers might be disappointed by the lack of robust racing analysis throughout the performance. This, it’s worth noting, is not the point of the show. Instead, audiences should turn up ready to unwind and laugh along as Boulting unveils the brilliant surrealism of his own imagination.

I saw a dress rehearsal staged in a cosy theatre above a London pub. The seat cushions were tired and mismatched, and scuffed plastic busts were scattered throughout the venue. Such is the charm of the show, that the dingier the setting, the better.

With this one-man show, the commentator proves that he is more than just a friendly voice off the telly. He’s a showman, an entertainer and a captivating raconteur, who hops around at ease under the bright lights of the stage.

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