Interview | Rob Warner: ‘Look At The Time!’

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Chipps quizzes Rob Warner, on lucky breaks, World Cup racing and how commentating saved him from himself.

Words & Photography Chipps


Rob Warner is a dick. He’s rude, crude, breaks stuff for fun, has no respect for women, authority or, well anybody really and he acts like he owns the place, wherever it is. 

I’ve known Rob for 30 years now and this has been my overarching opinion of him, reinforced by plenty of personal experience. However, after spending an entertaining few hours at his house in the Chilterns, catching up and hearing just some of the tales behind his career and his later move into commentary, I may have changed my mind. 

He’s still rude, crude and swears like a sailor. He still lives like a teenager, and apart from a few months putting wiring harnesses in Rover 800s, has never had a ‘proper’ job. However, the intervening years have seen a certain amount of maturity and a lot of hard work go into his reinvention as ‘the voice of mountain biking’.

CC: Do you think you would have been successful at racing had you been a 17-year-old these days? Was it enthusiasm and a bit of talent that got you through back then, racing these Europeans who lived in proper mountains? I mean, how can you be a downhiller living near Reading?

That’s a really good point. A lot of the reason I did badly in everything [apart from cycling] that I ever did in the early days was because I absolutely lived for motorcycle trials, which is what I did every Sunday with Dad, since I was five or six years old. I wasn’t going to set the world alight, but I was a good schoolboy/national rider and then I remember mountain biking came along… I was fucking 14, in about 1984. I got a Raleigh Maverick mountain bike. You imagine… I remember it had a special cage that protected the derailleur – that fucking wire thing that used to bend? Fifteen gears, cantilever brakes – I’d never seen anything like it. To me, that was the start of it.

Back then, I wasn’t racing. For the first five or six years, my mate would come up in the summer holidays and we’d just fuck off on these mountain bikes on adventures as kids, you know? Nowadays you’d laugh as we were never more than four or five miles from the house, but back then it was like ‘fucking hell, we’re in the wilderness!’

I went to the Wendover Bash and I won the downhill there, and the trials. Then I went to Beddgelert and rode the nationals in ’90 or ’91. Didn’t do very well, but I met [Crud Catcher’s] Pete Tomkins. 

He said: “Do you want to come out to the world champs [in ’93]? You need to race the Nationals at the Malverns and if you do all right there you’ll go to the world champs in Métabief.”

It was different then. You just had to sort of show you could ride a bike. So I went to Nationals at Malvern in ’93 and the track was just flat, across a field, so I fucking clipped in, like under peer pressure I raced in SPDs and couldn’t even ride the three turns that there were and I ended up seventh. Which I was alright with because it was literally pedalling. I went to the worlds with Pete Tomkins on a bike I owned and had bought and got 19th with no chain and beat John Tomac. MBUK picked me up for ’94. And kind of the rest is history really. 

We didn’t give a fuck then. It was different then. You could do alright like that.

CC: I do know you did put some effort in behind the scenes on your fitness and skills, but there was still a perception back then that Rob Warner just turned up, had a fag and got to the start line.

Well, there’s some truth in that… I would literally start training eight weeks before the first World Cup. I would probably not get on a bike before the end of February – it was too cold and I couldn’t be bothered and I was riding my motorbike. But one year – the year I was sixth in the world, which was ’97, I really tried. 

That was after ’96 where I won that World Cup. It rained and everyone fucking slagged me off because everyone said ‘he only won ’cos it rained…’, which was probably true, but not entirely; it was a good run. And still everyone slagged me off.

That winter I trained right through for the only time in my career. And I was on a mission to show everybody that I wasn’t just a lucky bastard. I was on five of the six World Cup podiums that year. Me and Peaty were on podiums all year together and I went into the finals in Kaprun with the number two plate…

…and then I got absolutely arseholed the night before the race and ended up 47th and ended up dropping to 6th overall in the World Cup. I actually couldn’t have given a shit ’cos I had a right laugh in the pub the night before. 

It was a good time racing bikes – for a bit. And I loved it until about ’97–98 and then just… I dunno, I’d won a World Cup, I’d gone into the series final second overall, I’d done well the year after and… I sort of felt like ‘That’s done’ and it did feel a bit done to me. And then I hung around because of the money. Course I did, because I didn’t have anything else to fall back on.

What happened next, with Red Bull and Freecaster and those things all came off the back of being a mountain bike racer, so… sat here right now, I feel… pretty fucking fortunate in that I’ve been in the right place at the right time, a few times in my life. 

CC: So how did you get from there into commentating? Blind luck?

I worked for MBUK a little bit; I used to write a column for them and they sent me to cover an event as a journalist – a gold mine race in Brazil. And Channel 4 were there and they asked me about the race – and the bloke said afterwards to Red Bull – ‘Rob is really good on telly… you know, la la la la. I’d fucking use him…’

And at the start of 2006, when I still had a contract with Giant, I got a phone call from Red Bull UK saying ‘Would you go to Mexico City next week and host this X-Fighters motocross show with James Cracknell the Olympic rower?’ I was like, Yep! So I spent all 2006 being paid to race bikes, but actually doing the world tour of X-Fighters as well. So, after the World Cup at Vigo in Spain, which was the only one I’ve never qualified at… in my defence, I did drink an entire bottle of cough medicine the day before because I had such a tickly cough. I was off my tits in a restaurant, talking to the fish in the fish tank. Honestly mate, it crept up on me. Not on purpose either, I just drank a whole bottle of it…

CC: Does that show up in tests these days? 

Well, it doesn’t matter, because I also drank quite a lot that night and, at the start, I was on my hands and knees and I puked and didn’t qualify and I never went back to a World Cup. That was the end of that. 

X-Fighters and Freecaster

And then X-Fighters started. I was doing that for Red Bull and at one of those X-Fighters I met the bloke who ran Freecaster … there just watching because he had an interest in broadcasting mountain biking. He’d just got the rights and he didn’t know I was a mountain bike racer. He thought I was just a TV presenter working for Red Bull. ‘Ahh, you’re a TV host.’

‘Well I am here mate, I’m having a go’, and he was like ‘Good! I have mountain biking! You do World Cup for me!’ So, the year after, I ended up in Maribor in Slovenia, and I did my first ever commentary…

…and I was so fucking nervous. As I’ve said to you, I’m not really a big drinker – and Peaty will confirm that – but I definitely put down three whole pints before I started and had a lot more in there. I was absolutely annihilated – because I was so nervous.

I think I did Freecaster for four years. It’s a good job it stopped, or I wouldn’t have a liver. We used to drink all day and night. Broadcast or not. The broadcast was just an inconvenience. But that was it and I got into the commentary and it was as wild and loose as it was on Freecaster and I got away with murder because it was webcasted and it was awesome. In a way. 

Now I’ve commentated for so long it absolutely feels second nature to me. You put me in a chair, put me some headphones on and a screen and I’ll commentate. I love it – and I know exactly what I’m doing – and it doesn’t feel like it’s difficult. But what I went through to transition from Freecaster to Red Bull… Red Bull flew me to Salzburg [its world HQ], sat me down in front of the big boss and he asked me: ‘So.You have been trained as a commentator?’ and I fucking laughed in his face. 

‘What mate?’ ‘Cos remember, everyone was kissing my arse [at the time] and everyone thought I was the greatest commentator in the world. All the fucking mountain bike fans who loved this raucous no-fucks-given commentary, rinsing everyone left right and centre, like it was the greatest thing anyone had ever heard.

And I went to Red Bull, full of it. ‘Yeah, I’m fucking good’ – ‘You know who I am?’ ‘Fucking… I’m the best commentator there is!’ And honestly, if I listened to those commentaries now, I’d hide under a table. Fucking miles off! I’d say that Red Bull only took me on because they didn’t want to lose the [Freecaster] core audience. I was all they had! 

Starting from…

…wait for it…


Red Bull spent time and money on me and sent me to a commentary coach – a guy called Gary Bloom, who was a world-famous football commentator and it was by far the most awkward experience of my life. I used to come home and get mad and kick doors. ‘He doesn’t know what he’s fucking talking about! How can he tell me how to commentate?’ And we got nowhere. Then Red Bull flew him to Lourdes [World Cup] and he sat in the fucking room. So, I had all my producers in my ears as normal, but I had him in my ear – and this is god’s honest truth – they say that commentary needs pauses… but I couldn’t stop talking – I’d be going ‘Bruni’s on a run! Coming up towards split one, what’s it going to say?’ and I’d hear in my ear… 

‘…stop Rob, stop…’ 

and I’d be ‘eh… a… e…’ 

and he’d be like ‘…wait… and… wait…’ 

and I’d be pent up and Bruni’s coming down the track

and Bloom’d be ‘…Hold it…!’ and  then he’d go ‘On the picture change. Come in. Gently…’ 

and I’d wait and be ‘Bruni’s now towards the bottom and he’s ABSOLUTELY ATTACKING IT! And…

‘Stop, Rob.’ And I’d stop.

I nearly left that commentary box in tears. It was insane! He was literally telling me to stop and start talking. And then I got home and I was livid. I was still very much of the mindset that ‘Red Bull don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. This guy doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing, he’s a football commentator. This is fucking downhill mountain biking. It’s supposed to be wild and raucous…’

And I got home and goes to my mate ‘Did you fucking see that race? What did you fucking think of the commentary? Fucking miles off, right?’

And he goes ‘What?’

‘Did you not notice the commentary being weird? What about all the pauses? And he goes ‘What pauses?’

So I went and listened to it. And the pauses that feel like they’re an hour when you’re doing them – they’re like five seconds or three seconds. They’re nothing. And they fit. 

That day, only because Red Bull fucking flew a dude out and sat him in the commentary box next to me, and gave him full control… whether they’d seen I had a talent or not, I never really knew, but that’s how it went down. After that, I took on board what I’d been learning with him. Shortly after that, I was like ‘This is better – and this is now how I want to do it.’

Red Bull, honestly, once they’d got over the initial shock of having me on board and having me as I was and calmed me down and made me a bit better. One day, I think it was [Stevie] Smith’s run in ‘13, I went fucking nuts, when he won at Mont-St-Anne. It was one of the greatest runs. I went fucking mad – but fuck it. And afterwards, I thought ‘I’m in the shit here’ and the boss-man was like ‘This was perfect. If it’s one of those runs… if it’s that exciting… fucking do what you want.’

CC: How was it learning to commentate on cross-country racing? Not your thing, surely?

It didn’t take me very long to [get up to speed with cross-country racing] – and you’ve got to remember that I was like the antichrist of cross-countries in the ’90s – stood on the side of the cross-country races, drinking beer, shouting ‘Go on, you fucking losers!’ It’s on video! All this ‘out of control’ stuff.

The first XCO I did, I was calling everyone by the wrong fucking names. I was looking at their start numbers and not their rider numbers! I was fucking ‘Here comes fucking Nino Schurter’ and it was Maxime Marotte. I didn’t know who these people were.

But I ride cross-country around where I live. I do. Even before e-bikes. Cross-country riding to me IS fucking mountain biking! I don’t downhill in the Chilterns! I go riding. And I always have done – since I was 14 years old, just to have some time on my own perhaps. I love nature and all that shit. That’s all why I mountain bike. It was never to be a World Cup downhiller. I got into it for the beauty of riding fucking mountain bikes. And that is still the same to this day. I can’t wait to finish this interview and go and get on my bike for an hour with you today. You know what I mean? We’re going to be out in the woods. It’s fucking great. 

Cross-country animals

I very quickly learned to respect cross-country racing and not take the piss out of it. That was the old me. And then I started working with Bart [Brentjens, 1996 Olympic cross-country champion] and he fucking opened my eyes to cross-country racing.

How can you not fucking respect what they’re doing? They’re fucking absolute animals! And I made this decision… One of my things with commentary is – you can’t have a bad day. You can’t fail to prepare – you’ve got to prepare properly. To me… commentating a race is like doing a race. It sounds weird, but it always has been. So, well before race day, I start prepping. For a World Cup, I’ll start work on the Tuesday before, maybe the Monday with some replays of the year before. Tuesday I get the notes out. I arrive on site with everything done that I can do. I’ve researched the venue, all the riders’ notes – everything needs to be done. Historical notes at that venue, all that shit. Done. My fucking commentary has to be as all-fucking-in as what they’re doing on the bikes.

You’ve got to live it, mate, to do it right. And people say my commentaries are emotional, don’t they? It’s just real. No more. That’s the thing. I never fake it. 

Learning the craft

Honestly it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to learn how to be a commentator after Freecaster. ’Cos I thought I was the fucking bollocks. 

But, to learn the craft of commentary, live on air, I dunno how else you could do it, I was lucky. But it wasn’t long, once I’d kicked that old me out a little bit and stopped drinking and had a lot of money spent on me by Red Bull… I knew, but it was so fucking hard to accept, that I couldn’t do it as I had [previously] wanted to do it.

CC: And now you’re no longer going to be commentating on the World Cup this year. How does that feel?

It’s left a fucking big hole not doing the World Cup this year. I’ve got loads of work, more than I’ve ever had, and better money, contracts and that… but I really want to commentate on something of that level again. World Cup championship level. That’s my only gripe with it.

I love commentating. It’s more exciting than actually racing it – without that sick feeling of horrible nerves. It’s just more fun. 

CC: And what shall we say about the end of the Red Bull era of World Cup? That the contract was up?

I can tell you what last year (2022) was like. It was like the fucking worst year of my fucking life. It was like nine months of fucking misery. I fucking hated it. From the minute we lost it. It was like a big dark cloud.

CC: And that was because the UCI…

…sold it to Discovery. Simple as that. Red Bull and Discovery both put in pitches for it and Discovery won. That’s the long and short of it. And probably as much as we need to talk about it. 

I was in such a state. The only time I actually felt normal was when I got into a commentary box. It was weird. I could pull it all together until I’d walk out again. ‘Fucking hell, three left, two left now… oh, this is the last one.’ 

And what do you do? Should I have got so attached to it? It’s been my fucking sport since I started racing it in ’93. I’ve raced it and commentated on it, so of course I’ve got an emotional attachment to it. How could I not? How can I commentate on it without loving it?

I love working for Red Bull and it’s the only place in my fucking life I’ve ever actually succeeded.

I’d done badly in all walks of life until then really. It’s been a success story for me at Red Bull because they do things to the very highest standards and that’s what I enjoy trying to achieve and I really didn’t want to go anywhere else. We made the World Cup as it is now – it wasn’t like that when we started. That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and me and Red Bull made the very most of it. Everything came together with the right people putting everything into it over the last 12 years to get the World Cup where it is now. 

Red Bull took a massive chance giving me that job after Freecaster – I was just drunk and I won’t forget it. I belong there and I’m theirs as long as they want me.

CC: So what are you doing for Red Bull now? 

I’ve said before that Red Bull are best when they start from scratch, so that’s what we’re doing. We’ve got these street races and we’ve just done the first one from Columbia and they’re fucking rad (and Crankworx actually, I’ll be doing that). The street racing to me is exciting: it’s Red Bull’s, it’s different, it’s fucking high risk, it’s super-fast – it’s got everything that Downhill World Cup’s got. 

CC: And looking back on the World Cups?

Just yesterday I made a fucking change in my head about how I think about it. Will I miss it? No, because we’re not doing it any more. It’s not going to be the same as when I did it and it won’t be as good. It won’t be something that I’m going to want to be proud of. I’m through it and it’s time to get stuck into something new. 

The commentary’s been the best thing for me. It did make me realise that I have got some intelligence. When I was a mountain bike racer, I just bowled around fucking planet earth, literally being what I thought a downhill mountain biker should be. Which was just ‘riding his bike as fast as he could’ or getting drunk and smashing the town up and being obnoxious. All departments, all the time. We didn’t give a fuck. We were like ‘we’re the world’s best mountain bikers’.

It was funny, and it was cool, but I wouldn’t say I look back on it [with pride]… it is what it is. But I’m much, much, much prouder of being a fucking good commentator than a half-decent mountain bike racer. ’Cos I actually put some fucking work into this and like it. 

It’s been good. And it’s gonna be good. And it ain’t over yet. And I’ve also fucking got potentially, really fucking bigger and better things coming my way if things work out for me. Like I said at that last broadcast, this really is the beginning of my career. 

And I’m still learning. Fun innit? 

Chipps Chippendale

Singletrackworld's Editor At Large

With 23 years as Editor of Singletrack World Magazine, Chipps is the longest-running mountain bike magazine editor in the world. He started in the bike trade in 1990 and became a full time mountain bike journalist at the start of 1994. Over the last 30 years as a bike writer and photographer, he has seen mountain bike culture flourish, strengthen and diversify and bike technology go from rigid steel frames to fully suspended carbon fibre (and sometimes back to rigid steel as well.)

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Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Interview | Rob Warner: ‘Look At The Time!’
  • Gritstone
    Full Member

    The pdf magazine seems to have cut that interview off, missing page ?

    Full Member

    Sounds like he’s on a mission in life and loving it. Does he need a co-host?

    Full Member

    Dare I say, one of the best STW articles I’ve read, pure and honest passion from Warner. Used to love watching him race and only latterly got into watching WC DH, which he was a huge part of.

    Full Member

    @gritstone – That had been spotted. Can you tell me if it’s working properly now. @jimmy – thanks for the props 🙂

    Free Member

    Really good article. I knew almost nothing about him before reading it, so great to learn what his background was and his thinking on commentating etc..

    Likewise the Ratboy interview months back was excellent for pretty much the same reasons. ( not commentating, obvs)

    Full Member

    All good now thanks

    Full Member

    I’d heard there was swearing in this article, but I didn’t expect this…

    Caution Cont

    Full Member

    tee hee.  thought exactly the same

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)

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