The unexpected exit of Mike Tomalaris, TV’s face of Australian cycling

After 34 years with SBS, "Tommo" was gone in a flash.

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Australian cycling fans were left shocked last week when news broke that Mike Tomalaris, the long-time face of SBS TV’s Tour de France coverage, was leaving the network.

After 34 years with the publicly funded broadcaster, covering sports including cycling and soccer, and as a newsreader, Tomalaris’s departure happened swiftly, and with almost zero fanfare. SBS provided a brief statement at the time, telling staff and media that “Mike Tomalaris is moving on from SBS after more than 30 years with the network. We wish him well for his next chapter.”

That bare-bones statement, and the speed of Tomalaris’s exit, left many questions unanswered. Various rumours circulated within the cycling fraternity about the reasons for Tomalaris’s departure. But SBS wouldn’t be drawn on the details, replying to CyclingTips’s request for comment with the same brief statement it offered days earlier: “Mike Tomalaris is moving on from SBS after more than 30 years with the network. We wish him well for his next chapter.”

Tomalaris, too, has remained tight-lipped, but speaking to CyclingTips on Tuesday, he said that he’d resigned from SBS and that he was saddened to be leaving.

“SBS just ran through my veins,” he said. “I loved the place, I cherished my role there, and I really believed in what SBS was all about.

“At a time when there’s so much ordinary television on the commercial networks with their lifestyle programmes, I still believe that SBS delivers quality programming, whether it be cycling or sport in general, or documentaries, or news and current affairs, or food and culture, or lifestyle.

“So I’m saddened to walk away from that, but I’m happy to be part of the history and the journey with the development of cycling.”

Tomalaris started with SBS back in 1987 as a sports reporter before joining the network full time in 1992. Since 1996 he has spearheaded SBS’s Tour de France coverage and pushed the network to increase its coverage of the world’s biggest annual sporting event, and of cycling more broadly.

“I’m walking away from that building and that organisation with 34 years of wonderful employment, having turned around a product that was literally unheard of in 1991 to a product everybody knows,” Tomalaris said. “Whether you follow cycling or not, everybody knows that the Tour de France is this long, three-week bike race on the other side of the world that SBS has nurtured and developed over time to the point where we get up to a million dollars in revenue and advertising every year as a result of our dedication to the event.”

Tomalaris told CyclingTips he has been overwhelmed by the public response to his departure from SBS, saying that he’d received more than 1,000 messages of support.

“I’m walking away from that place with my head held high given the overwhelming feedback and reaction from the general public, the viewers, colleagues past and present,” he said. “I’ve just been humbled by the reaction from people who have followed my journey and followed the SBS journey.

“From what I can gather from the reaction, [we’ve changed] people’s viewing habits and people’s lifestyle habits. There are so many people who have taken to the bicycle as a result of SBS and its commitment to cycling. I’m very, very proud of that.”

Tomalaris hasn’t had long to think about what might come next for him, but he does have some ideas.

“I hope to remain in television, in broadcasting, in some shape or form,” he said. “I still believe that I still have a lot to offer with news presenting.

“In terms of the sport of cycling, I don’t know. I still want to be involved with my charity work. I do a lot of work for the Mental Wheels Foundation and also the Black Dog Institute through multi-day charity rides. So I want to do that through my profile because mental health is a major problem that I believe in.”

It will be interesting to see what Tomalaris’s exit means for SBS’s coverage of the world’s biggest bike race, and of cycling more generally. It’s not yet clear who will take on hosting duties in Tomalaris’s absence.

Either way, and regardless of the hows and whys of his exit from SBS, Tomalaris’s decades-long contribution to Australian cycling shouldn’t be underestimated. And if reactions to his departure are anything to go by, he will certainly be missed by a great many.

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