Introducing Off the Beaten Road
It all started with a phone call in November. A prospective client said she wanted interview content people hadn’t read before that offers insights into athletes’ personalities and could answer to the description “quirky.”
A few days later hints from the universe began to arrive.
First, a tweep I rarely interact with, @petereum tweeted me with a link to the Ushi video interview of Andy and Frank Schleck. Whether or not it was staged, it was different from any interview I’d ever read or seen, and hilarious. I’m not sure I learned anything new about the Schlecks or the sport of professional cycling, but I was entertained. Ushi asked several questions that were very personal and had nothing to do with bikes or bike racing.
Not long after experiencing the Ushi interview, INRNG wrote about how larger than life professional cycling personalities seem fewer than in the days of Bernard Hinault and Mario Cipollini. The second hint from the universe appeared in this comment on the INRNG story:
RiderCouncil: “Riders are not allowed anymore to freely express their mind, how do you suppose we will see some personality? Man, the interviews have been getting more boring over the past few years, there is really no excitement to them anymore.”
The universe dropped the third hint via another tweep, @cycletard, who shared a link to an opinion piece on ESPN.com by Tim Keown called, “Death of the Interview.” The article focuses on the plethora of safe, trite athlete comments that the press conference interview format generates. But he also relates this outcome to a lack of insight into the athletes as human beings. Keown wrote: “…there’s really no time for subtlety, or expecially an athlete’s personality – to intrude.”
I started to wonder: are the number of characters in pro-cycling really dwindling, or are formulaic questions and writing failing to uncover the quirky sides of our favorite cyclists, which might only emerge off the bike?
That’s how the series “Off the Beaten Road” emerged.
Creating questions that coalesce in the intersection of not asked before, fulfilling for fans, and topics the athletes would be willing to explore becomes the challenge. I proposed one to my husband: “Yes or no: I can count on one hand or less the number of times I have danced and sung in my underwear.” I was sure this one would be great.
“You can’t ask that,” my husband said, “that’s too personal, embarrassing.”
“But what’s-his-name did it in a movie. That means other humans do it too.”
“That’s the movies,” he said.
To see what questions made the cut, check back for the first “Off the Beaten Road” interview, with Timmy Duggan of Team Liquigas-Cannondale.
Fourth, TourChats. Every Sunday night at 7pm mountain time Neil Browne and Dan Wuori host video interviews of people in the cycling industry, including athletes. They pepper the interview with a lot of what that prospective client might call quirky questions. “What do your pants look like?” “Tell us about that haircut.” I didn’t mention TourChats because I began to experience it long before the phone call with the prospective client, but it definitely belongs in the hints from the universe bucket.