Robbie McEwen ‘axed’ from SBS commentary gig

McEwen's tweets about his departure sparked a flurry of confused and angry responses.

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On Sunday evening, as the dust settled on Luke Plapp’s barnstorming victory at the Australian Road Nationals, popular sprinter turned commentator Robbie McEwen took to Twitter with some surprising news.

“You’ll no longer hear me on comms on any SBS cycling broadcast,” McEwen wrote. “They have axed me from the team to ‘deliver their broadcast differently’. 🤷‍♂️”

“I didn’t get a valid explanation and I’m assuming someone is pushing their own agenda in axing me,” he continued in a second tweet. “I loved doing it & I’m really disappointed.”

McEwen’s tweets sparked a speedy and vociferous reaction. At the time of writing, McEwen’s two tweets have attracted roughly 500 replies, plus a swathe of likes and retweets. Among those to reply, showing their support for McEwen: former racers Allan Peiper and Robbie Hunter, current racers Daryl Impey and Brendan Johnston, and fellow cycling media types like Ned Boulting. The tone of most of the replies: a combination of shock and anger.

The reasons for McEwen’s departure from SBS are not yet entirely clear. In response to a request for comment, an SBS spokesperson told CyclingTips:

“Robbie has been a valued member of our cycling commentary line-up for a number of events over the last six years, but we’re exploring a different approach in 2022. While his contract has come to an end, we thank Robbie for all that he’s brought to the role during his time with us.

CyclingTips reached out to SBS’s executive producer of sport, Catherine Whelan, for further insight on the matter but she did not reply prior to publication. An email to McEwen himself, requesting an interview, also went unanswered.

McEwen turned to race commentary after retiring as a rider in 2012 and quickly became one of the most respected English-language commentators in the sport. His experience, insight, tactical nous, and entertaining delivery earned the three-time Tour de France green jersey winner a legion of fans both in Australia and around the world.

McEwen has done much of his race commentary work with SBS, Australia’s long-time home of the Tour de France, and much of that alongside play-by-play commentator Matt Keenan. The pair’s call of the 2016 Paris-Roubaix, won by Mat Hayman, is one of the most iconic moments in Australian cycling broadcasting.

In 2017, McEwen and Keenan became the voices of the ASO’s English-language world feed for the Tour de France, giving millions around the world the opportunity to enjoy McEwen’s expertise.

In recent times, McEwen has worked alongside both Keenan and fellow former pro racer Bridie O’Donnell in the commentary booth, with the trio calling events like the Tour de France and the Australian Road Nationals.

McEwen’s axing comes roughly three months after SBS stalwart cycling presenter Mike Tomalaris was also let go by the network in mysterious circumstances.

Thankfully for McEwen’s many fans, his days as a commentator seem far from over. He’ll be calling the upcoming Santos Festival of Cycling in Adelaide alongside Keenan and Anna Meares for the Seven Network.

As for what McEwen’s departure means for SBS and its commentary team, that remains to be seen. Will the network revert to a two-commentator arrangement, with Keenan and O’Donnell? Will McEwen be replaced? Could Simon Gerrans could be set for more work with SBS after commentating the 2021 Worlds for SBS? Could Gracie Elvin’s impressive commentary debut at the Bay Crits and Road Nationals in recent weeks lead to a bigger role?

We’re bound to find out in the months ahead, as racing begins in Europe and SBS builds towards its coverage of the Spring Classics.

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