The news that SBS will continue to screen the Tour de France live through to 2017 is a reward for decades of commitment, writes Michael Tomalaris.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

I must admit the news was more of a relief than a pleasant surprise.

At
a time when the "vultures were circling", network management has come
good on its pledge to expand the cycling portfolio at SBS.

It's
no secret commercial interest to cover the Tour de France has
sky-rocketed in recent years, particularly since the successful rise of
Australian riders and the domination of Lance Armstrong.

Personally,
it's a move I welcome - and not because it secures me another seven
visits to France (I hope) - but it's a just reward for 20 years of
loyalty and commitment to covering the world's best sporting event.

ASO's
relationship with SBS began in 1990 when Tour organisers made contact
with the network and basically handed their product over on a "platter"
for a fee worth next-to-nothing.

They offered SBS the broadcast
rights of a three-week bike race where 30 minute highlights would be
produced by British TV using the English-speaking commentary of Phil
Liggett and Paul Sherwen

Not surprisingly, the coverage was
slanted towards Chris Boardman who, at the time, was British cycling's
white knight.

Little was written or said about the new-wave
pioneers which included Phil Anderson, Michael Wilson, Stephen Hodge and
Neil Stephens.

Nonetheless, it was the start of a beautiful
friendship - one that we feel has developed the understanding of a sport
to what it is today and changed the viewing habits of Australian
television.

Believe me, it has taken a long time.

I can
remember when department heads baulked at the idea of continually
sending myself and small team ever year to cover the race.

In the
late 1990s sponsors showed no interest, viewer numbers were almost
non-existent and it seemed the Tour was destined to be banished from
Aussie television screens.

The thinking was that "it would have
been much cheaper to keep Tomo at home and take the British coverage
again."

But to SBS' credit, management stayed loyal and the
investment eventually brought the dividends to the network it currently
enjoys.

My how times have changed as the Tour de France is one
SBS' flagship events.

These days, the corporate world clamours
for a chance to grab a slice of the TdF's advertising market.

That
said, viewers have come to realise that world cycling offers more than
covering the Tour every July.

And that's the reason for the
renewed excitement as I feel expanded live coverage of many other major
events is not far away, beginning with the Paris-Roubaix on April 12
followed by the breakthrough live coverage of every stage of the Tour of
California in May.

The sky is the limit as, I'm sure, the
network's continued commitment to cycling will rival the many hours it
currently devotes to world football - our other passion at SBS Sport..

Keep
watching because this ride ain't over yet!