Rob Warner was the first British rider to win a round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup but 1996 seems like a long time ago for the three-times UK national champion turned commentator. He’s famous for his unscripted one-liners, but times have changed for the voice of downhill mountain biking. (He still loves a swear though).
Rob “Amie, I’m just waiting for my latte to be delivered through the window at the Starbucks drive through!”
Amie: “Don’t, there’s not a single coffee shop open in our valley right now! Listen, it’s been well documented that you fell out of love with mountain biking and you didn’t ride for six years after you stopped competing. Why was that?”
Rob: “I was basically sick of it at the end of my racing career, because I wasn’t doing very well and I was just hanging around to get the money really. It’s true. I was still getting decent contracts and it’s money you’re never going to get again, but it wasn’t exactly very fulfilling turning up at World Cups and coming down 50th after I’d done well earlier in my career. So I didn’t ride bikes at all after that, then I did a Commencal shoot six years later and the first thing I noticed was how much better they’d become; dropper posts, tubeless tires and enduro bikes had come along. It was exciting!
And then I thought, why haven’t I got a fucking bike deal? I’d turned my back on MTB as a rider, but then I got a deal again and it included an e-bike. Let me tell you, e-bikes are the greatest ever invention in cycling. E-bikes have brought me back in and I enjoy mountain biking now as much as I ever have, and that includes when I was 14 years old and discovering it for the first time. And I’m making a few quid out of it now hey! I can have Starbucks whenever I want! Hang on, I’m just trying to add brown sauce to my sausage sandwich as I’m driving my jag around.”
Amie: “How did you end up commentating then?”
Rob: “It’s a long story! In 2006, my last year of racing and I was completely over it, I turned up in Spain and didn’t qualify. The day before I’d had a tickly cough and drank a whole bottle of cough medicine (I didn’t mean too), then I had all my hair cut off. We’d been drinking too and so the next morning I didn’t qualify. At the time I’d been to Brazil to cover an event down a gold mine for Red Bull and they asked me if I’d do X Fighters (the motocross comp), and I was like bloody right. So I took all my money from mountain biking and went to be a TV presenter and it was great. I was a co-host on X Fighters (with Source favourite Ed Leigh) and learnt my trade. Then at a party a couple of years later, I met this bloke called Raymond and he said to me, “Ah, you’re a TV presenter. I have the rights to the mountain biking, you can commentate it for me,” and I was like “Yes I could! I’ve done a bit of mountain biking, actually!” We started on Freecaster then moved to Red Bull. I fell into commentating and I’m very grateful for it. I was in the right place at the right time and it was a fucking lucky break.”
“He’s angrier than a man with a fork on a world of soup”
Amie: “What have been the standout moments so far in career as commentator?”
Rob: “All the one-liners from back in the day. But I think the thing that I’m most proud of is learning my trade on air and I’ve come a decent commentator. I can do it as well as anyone ever will and I’m happy with that. That’s my achievement. I’ve become professional but I can absolutely still bring the noise with it. It’s not like watching the BBC on a Sunday afternoon, that’s for sure.”
Amie: “Actually, that’s my next question. Why isn’t there a mountain biking equivalent to Ski Sunday?”
Rob: “I’m amazed that it hasn’t happened already! Look at how many people ride mountain bikes! Seeing this amazing sport on national TV in the Uk would definitely make it more mainstream, I’d love to see that. Who do we need to speak to to make that happen?”
Amie: “I’ve no idea, but you’d be the presenter, obviously. Tell me about the highlights during your racing career.”
Rob: “The three national titles I won, they were the big things for me, and they meant loads when I was getting them too, this isn’t just in hindsight. Performing well at the nationals probably meant more to me back then than doing well in any World Cup. The late ‘90s, this was a golden era in mountain biking, with Peaty and those lot, and we used to battle for it and it was never easy to beat Peaty. I’d always lift my game for the nationals, I’d always give a fuck. To win three of them, I’m more proud than winning a World Cup just because it rained. In 1997 I was on four of seven podiums that year in the Worlds, but I got pissed the night before and fucked it and ended up sixth. I was good enough to win a World Cup, I’d proved that and I came so close on many other occasions.”
Amie: “If we compare your time in the saddle to the sport right now, how have things changed?”
Rob: “The equipment – bikes are fucking brilliant now and we rarely see a mechanical in a race. Be that a flat tire or a chain off, we barely ever see a failure – so that’s got better. In my days, if you had the right kit, the right bike, you could have a massive advantage, but that’s now been levelled and everyone has good kit. In my day there were some very shit bikes. Fitness is also now a big advantage, these athletes all train really hard so I think it’s harder to compete and find advantage in this way too. These days athletes have to deal with all this social media and shit, can you imagine how distracting that is on top of everything else they have to do? I’d rather have had my career in my era than this era, that’s for sure. But this era is much better to watch, it’s fucking phenomenal now, the speed they go, the bikes are brilliant, the athletes are strong and fit and downhill has become even more specialised and it’s never been better to watch. A World Cup downhill race is a pretty fucking special thing to watch. The sport has streamlined but it’s got better for it.”
“He’s going to wake up feeling like his neck too Viagra”
Amie: “Who will win the overall downhill comp this year? Who should we put on money on?”
Rob: “It’ll be a Frenchman. I’d probably say Amaury Pierron as he has raw speed like nobody else, so if he can keep it together and not hit the deck, then he’s almost unstoppable. If not him, then I’d say Loïc Bruni because he’s just so consistently good every time. But let’s be honest, it’s fucking impossible to say because there are so many riders who could win, get on a roll, be consistent… it’ll almost certainly be French. And for the women, Myriam Nicole.”
Amie: “Do you have a favourite track to commentate on?”
Rob: “This is gonna sound weird as it’s not the best race track, but it is the best TV track – Leogang. When the tracks are short and they look good and the racing is close, then for me as a commentator, it’s exciting and easy and fun. But Val di Sole and places like that, I really enjoy as a rider as they’re longer. The short tracks are better for commentating. Actually, Snowshoe, that’s my favourite, that’s the best TV track. I view it with a different set of eyes to a rider these days.”
Amie: “How much does the atmosphere on the track affect you while commentating?”
“You’re pretty closed off in the commentary box with headphones, etc and I can see more of the crowd reactions than I can hear, but at Fort William for example, everything comes through as the crowd is so loud. But it doesn’t affect me really, I get just as excited if there’s no one watching, just like during the COVID times, which were more difficult actually. The big days make me more nervous, sometimes I have to change my t-shirt multiple times because I’m sweating so much. I think because I was a racer I know the process, so I treat a World Cup commentary like a race – it’s the same feeling! When the expectation on a race is high, I feel there’s more expectation on me and I feel more nervous but I don’t think it changes my delivery. In the commentary box we’ve all raced World Cups, we know the risks and we know what’s at stake and we know how fucked the riders are when they get to the bottom and we can relay it to our audience. I think that’s why Red Bull commentary is so successful, because they have people in there who’ve actually fucking done it.”
“How can Danny Hart sit down with balls that big”
Amie: “Regarding those famous one-liners, do you think of them in advance? Or do they come in the moment?”
Rob: “Now, they come in the moment, but they’re pretty devoid these days, I don’t really do them any more! Moving from Freecaster to Red Bull was a new era in commentary. A lot of what I’d say back in the early days on a small platform with a core audience would not be acceptable to people around the globe watching TV on a Sunday afternoon these days. Most of my one liners were very politically incorrect so for me, those times have gone for now. If I see an opportunity to have some fun I will, but I feel like the sport is a lot more professional now and the commentary has to match that. It took me a long time to accept that and to move from my original way of commentating to how Red Bull wanted me to do it. And then all of a sudden the penny dropped after I’d been to a thousand fucking commentary lessons and I started to understand it and started to really get my teeth into it. The emphasis went from being loud and outrageous to professional and that was a real skill that I had to learn. I keep learning and I love it and want to get better and better at it.
The thing is, I never really had a job before, I was just mountain biking and dicking about, so commentating is a career for me and I enjoy it and I keep working at it. But commentary has to move with the sport and it fits it perfectly now. These riders go way above, they ride a bike faster than one should ever be ridden and as commentators we’ve got to respect what the fuck they’re doing. It’s high risk and that’s why it’s so exciting and I try to reflect that. But it’s far from a joking matter.”
Amie: “Tell me your thoughts on Les Gets, Morzine & Avoriaz”
“I fucking love them, Avoriaz is wild! I heard that everyone is working hard on the trails there and I hadn’t ridden Les Gets since I was competing back in the day. But last year I had two weeks in Les Gets bike park it was amazing, they have everything there and I can see why half the UK ends up there every year.
When Les Gets hosts the World Champs this year, fucking right I’ll be there, you try and stop me. I guess it costs a few quid to host a World Cup and the World Champs, and I think Les Gets is a destination that can get a return from that. It wasn’t that long ago that Les Gets was the only bike park in the alps, and now there’s Chatel, every ski resort can be a bike park. It’s great to see the village host these amazing events.