"I don't have time to get excited, because I'm so busy packing." Belfast-born TV presenter and journalist Orla Chennaoui is preparing to leave her family for three weeks to head out to cover one of the world’s most prestigious and iconic sporting events.
Orla is leading Eurosport’s 2019 coverage of the Tour de France, alongside special guest presenter Sir Bradley Wiggins.
This will be Orla’s 10th Tour de France, she’s also covered two Giros d’Italia, two Olympic Games, a Commonwealth Games and has over 17 years of experience covering news and sport.
BT TV caught up with Orla to get her verdict on the ones to watch on this year’s Tour and learn a bit more about her life off-screen...
1. Who are you most excited to watch on this year's Tour de France?
Everyone is talking about Egan Bernal and it’s hard not to think about him when you’re talking about someone who could make for an exciting three weeks.
So much has been made of his talent and his potential, he’s so young and there is the possibility he could win the Tour de France.
He's only 22, he hasn't led a Grand Tour team before, never mind a team on the scale of Ineos. He's not been tested on this level before. But... he’s had an amazing season. And the fact he’s the co-leader with Geraint Thomas, the defending champion, shows the team's belief in him. I'm really excited to see how he does.
From the sprinters, I'm also really excited to see Groenewegen. He's won on the Tour before, he's an Amsterdam lad and now I'm living there I'm hoping there might be a bit of a party if he does well. I think he a really good chance this year to set the sprints alight.
2. How does the Tour de France compare to other sporting events you've covered in your career?
It doesn't compare to anything else. It doesn’t even compare to the other Tours and three-week races. The size and magnitude of it all isn't like anything else. It's the one race a year, whether you following cycling or not, which everyone will tune into. Everything that happens here is important.
And logistically, getting around to cover this event for work is like nothing else I've ever covered. I've done Olympic Games and they are huge and significant, but from a personal point of view, you are in one spot for the whole games. You stay in the same bed every night. On the Tour de France, you are moving every single day. You have to organise your luggage, your clothes, your toiletries, so you can check in one hotel in the evening, check out in the morning, drive to a new location you’ve never been before, start it all over again and if you're lucky you might squeeze in some time for dinner. The amount of time you spend getting around to cover the event, let alone actually doing your work, is mind-blowing.
3. The women's event La Course is getting more coverage every year. Do you think we'll ever get a female Tour de France?
I don’t think it’s going to happen. The organisers of the Tour de France have said that it won’t happen. And I also don't think we need it. And more and more people are coming around to that way of thinking.
La Course is wonderful because it gives a showcase to women’s cycling, when casual sports fans are paying attention. But in the female sporting calendar,there are other events that are better supported, better televised and more significant.
There is a women’s tour in the UK that is adding new stages this year, which is being covered on TV every night and it’s a standalone event. It's proof that we don’t need to hang in the coat-tails of the men. There is the Giro d'Italia, which happens at the same time as the Tour de France. That clash is unfortunate, but I’d much rather see more coverage and attention given to that event and we are starting to see that.
So I don't think we need an event that the organisers don't want to make happen. Because then we're just doing it to tick boxes. Women’s cycling is much better than that and deserves much more than that. It doesn’t need any crumbs off the table of men's cycling."
4. How much sexism have you faced in your career as a sports journalist and presenter?
I hope it’s changing, but it’s hard to know because I’ve been in sport for quite a long while now. I know that I experience it a lot less, but that might be because after doing it for a length of time I hope I’m respected in the sport and I know what I’m doing.
In the hard news environment, where I started my career, I got used to things being cutthroat. Moving into sport, what I wasn’t expecting was that being a woman I would have to prove myself more than the guys. When I started, I would have people ask, ‘Do you even like cycling? Do you even like sport’ Not once did I ever hear that asked of a male colleague.
It might a guy's worst assignment ever, he might hate cycling or no nothing about it, but it is always assumed that guys just like sport. With the teams, atheletes and riders, it took a while to prove that I wanted to be there as a sports journalist. I think that has changed that now.
It can be difficult from a broadcast perspective. You don’t want to be asked to present an event because they want a female host. You want to be asked because you’re the best person to do it. But what’s wonderful about working with Eurosport is that they have always told me they will only use the person who is the best for the job. I have always felt sure with them that me being a woman makes any difference whatsoever.
5. You do lots of podcasting and have your own series When Orla Met. Who would be your dream guest?
Serena Williams. As much about her motherhood as her tennis. And how she has combined the two. Find out what she's done well and what she’s found difficult as a mother. I'd also want to hear about all the prejudices that she has overcome. The body fascism and trying to show the world that you can a strong, powerful woman and it doesn't make you less womanly. Of course, I'd want to chat about her incredible dominance in the sport, but it's really the woman behind that who I'd like to get to know."
6. Sir Bradley Wiggins is presenting the Tour coverage with you on Eurosport. What is he really like?
I've interviewed Bradley for a long time. We've known each for a decade and it's been an absolute pleasure to now sit next to him rather than opposite him. He's a fan of this sport like no other person. You would be hard pushed to find anyone who knows the history of cycling like Sir Bradley Wiggins. And the way his mind works is really interesting and listening to him explain how a breakaway is formed and the dynamics of a race as it is happening, is fascinating. To get his experience and insights is amazing.
He is also one of the funniest people I've ever met. People used to say that but I never saw it as the journalist interviewing the cyclist. But now he's in the Green Room, his impressions of people are hilarious and his observational comedy is genius. He's also a student of sports broadcasting and he's determined to learn and be the best at it, which is really refreshing because often sports stars don't want to watch themselves back and don't take it seriously. He's always learning and doesn't just assume he'll be good at it. It's not as easy as it looks.
7. What is the hardest part of your job and what is the highlight of your job?
The hardest part and the highlight are the same thing – the travel. Leaving my husband and two kids, especially my young boy who is only 5 months old, is incredibly hard. He'll turn 6 months when I'm at the Tour de France, which is just heartbreaking. My little girl is 4 and she understands why I'm not there, but doesn’t like it. I find that heartbreaking.
There are so many fathers in professional cycling, for some reason I assumed it would be easy to do. And I've known for four years how hard it is to be a parent, so I thought that it would be an escape to get away, but it turns out it's not because, not surprisingly, I love my kids. So a week before I go away, I spend a lot of time shedding tears and feeling physically sick. I know it’s worth it and I know why I’m doing it, but is it incredibly tough.
On the flipside, the travel is incredible. The magical thing about cycling is that it takes you to all these wonderful, natural arenas that come alive during the Tour De France. And you are living in this little bubble for three weeks with all the cyclists and broadcasters and crews – it’s something very, very special to be part of.
How to watch the 2019 Tour de France on Eurosport with BT TV
Eurosport 1 and Eurosport 2 are available to BT TV customers on channel 412/413.
If you get a HD TV package, you will also get Eurosport 1 HD and Eurosport 2 HD on channels 435/436.
Viewers can watch every minute of the Tour de France with all 21 stages broadcast live from kilometre zero for the first time ever.
Eurosport brings fans closer to the action than ever before with a new show The Breakaway, which airs immediately after the conclusion of each stage on the Tour.
Orla, Bradley and the presenters will tackle questions and discussions, inspired by fans questions on social media using the hashtage #thebreakaway.
Watch every minute from the 2019 Tour de France LIVE on Eurosport and Eurosport Player.