Remembering David Duffield

David Duffield was an unforgettable man, and those that knew him will already have recognized the influence he’s had on Striking the Sun. Henri Giroud is not David Duffield, of course, but his storyline reflects my own autobiographical experience of David.

As a teenager obsessed with cycling, the final years of David Duffield’s race commentary were baffling to me. He couldn’t always recognize the riders, and seemed to be more interested in telling us what he’d eaten for dinner the night before, which often made him the butt of our jokes when I began editing Derailed. Derailed was always about the media more than the sport, and it was hard to ignore the absurdity of trying to watch cycling on television in Britain, begging the tennis to end so you could hear a commentator who’d speak through the duration of the ad break and shout every time he saw an animal at the side of the road. It was never the intention of Derailed to diminish his contribution to the sport, though it’s sometimes a worry that we were too brash.

Aged 22, I moved to the cycling media, where I worked with David a few times and discovered how much the reality differed from my teenage perceptions. He was a tall, friendly man, and it was easy to see his commentary in the conversations you’d have with him. Somehow even the commentary changed to me when I reflected back; he was inspiringly enthusiastic and loved his sport.

In Striking the Sun, Henri Giroud starts as a joke, floundering in his role as a commentator and writer as he rambles about nonsense and his own personal interests at the very end of his career. The scene in Chapter 12 where Giroud commentates on a bike race in a dilapidated office is a true story. The race was the British Premier Calendar, edited to 24 minutes, and David missed all the narrative cues we’d discussed with him before he entered the commentary booth. Nobody was as unkind as in the story—that’s a narrative deviation. After we finished recording, I rode the Underground with him to an event in central London, where he compered and I reported. Another day, terribly hungover at a bike race far from home (as is the wont of the young journalist), I descended to my hotel’s dining room and sat willing a mug of coffee to appear in front of me. At the far side of the room, David was eating with Phil Liggett, dressed (as always) in a blazer. He looked across to me, rose out of his chair, and strode over to wish me a good morning.

Most of us have strong memories of David, and I’m glad mine had a chance to evolve away from the 14 year old boy wanting statistics instead of stories. Henri Giroud is not David Duffield, but he is the only sympathetic character in this story.