It’s been quite a week for Jonathan Edwards. The former Olympian hit the headlines after European Athletics proposed scrapping all world records set before 2005 following a series of doping scandals.
Edwards, who set the triple jump world record in 1995 with a distance of 18.29 metres, says “it doesn’t seem right or fair” that his astonishing feat should be erased from the record books.
Away from athletics, Edwards has been preparing for his next major career move, as he takes on hosting duties for Eurosport’s live cycling coverage, part of the broadcaster’s exclusive deal for him to be its lead presenter for flagship sports programming.
We meet in a central London cycling café the day before Edwards is due to fly to Sardinia to begin coverage of the Giro d’Italia, the first road cycling Grand Tour of the season.
“It’s daunting,” says Edwards of his new job. “It’s three and a half weeks on the road living out of a suitcase.”
Edwards will lead Eurosport’s enhanced coverage of the race, alongside an all-star team of commentators and contributors including 21-time Grand Tour stage winner Sean Kelly, former Team Sky rider Juan Antonio Flecha and three-time Olympic medallist Rob Hayles.
“I’m like a kid going into it wide-eyed,’ says Edwards, a long-time spectator of road cycling.
“Everybody says that the Giro is actually their favourite [Grand Tour] to be a part of. It’s a little bit more informal, the racing is a bit more spontaneous, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen, and the scenery is beautiful.”
The organisers of the Giro d’Italia had planned to mark its 100th edition with a new prize for Best Descender, which sparked controversy after fans and riders alike questioned whether it was right to encourage risk-taking behaviour.
In 2011, Dutch rider Wouter Weylandt was killed on a descent during the third stage of the Giro, and last month American cyclist Chad Young died following a crash during a mountain descent during the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico.
“Cycling is a dangerous sport, and I just don’t think you want to be encouraging any kind of reckless riding going downhill,” says Edwards. The competition organisers have since dropped plans for the Best Descender prize.
Eurosport’s investment in the coverage of cycling on its UK channels is reflective of the country’s growing interest in the sport. While the likes of Sirs Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins have gone down in cycling history, all eyes will be on Welshman Geraint Thomas as he leads Team Sky alongside Mikel Landa -the first time Thomas has led the team in a Grand Tour.
Trying to understand the team dynamics, where a team works together to help its lead riders get ahead, is one of the aspects that makes cycling such an engaging sport to watch. For some, it’s the sprint finishes that are the best bit. “What always captivated me was the mountain stages, and seeing three or four of the big rivals all going shoulder to shoulder,” says Edwards, whose enthusiasm for the sport is infectious.
Edwards is no stranger to road cycling, having taken up the sport after retiring from athletics. He is often out on his bike, either in the Lake District or further afield, having cycled the iconic Tour de France climb of Mont Ventoux, known as the ‘Beast of France’. The appeal, he says, is twofold. It enables him to travel long distances under his own steam, taking in some wonderful views along the way, and it also helps him stay fit.
“I’m getting old, and unless I look after myself, I’ll become very unfit and overweight very quickly.”
Although he retired from athletics in 2003, Edwards is still hugely ambitious. As well as presenting coverage of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, he’s already looking forward to covering the World Athletics Championships in London and the 2018 Winter Olympics. He’s particularly looking forward to watching the alpine skiing, having covered the Alpine World Ski Championships at St Moritz in February. Like the cyclists he’ll be watching in the mountains of Italy and France, Edwards has a huge respect for the skiers “because they put life and limb at risk.”
He reels off a whole list of British talent to look out for, including Dave Ryding in the slalom and Elise Christie in the short-track speed skating.
As a former athlete who has been subjected to countless press interviews over the years, he knows how important it is for a broadcaster to do their homework. With that in mind, he has one main aim when it comes to meeting competitors in the Eurosport studio:
“Try not to ask stupid questions, because I didn’t really enjoy being asked stupid questions when I was an athlete.”
The 2017 Giro d'Italia is live and exclusive on Eurosport from the 5th-28th May.
A free highlights show will be aired on Discovery's free-to-air channel Quest daily at 10pm during the competition.