Tour de France commentary simply isn’t good enough

Tom Fish Roar Guru

By Tom Fish, Tom Fish is a Roar Guru

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    Matthew Goss causes interference in the 2012 Tour de France, much to Peter Sagan's displeasure (Image: ASO)

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    Since I first began watching cycling from the 2011 Tour de France, there is one particular thing I have noticed about the coverage.

    No, it isn’t the picture break-up, I think we can forgive the broadcasters that, seeing as they are streaming from a motorbike, into the truck at the finish, and back to their headquarters.

    No, the real bugbear of cycling coverage for me is the bad state of the commentary.

    Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are particularly guilty of this.

    Now I can’t imagine a Tour de France without Liggett’s voice in the background, but every year I have listened to them commentate I find myself wondering how they manage to keep their job.

    The occasional misnomer I think we can all forgive, but with the commentators of cycling today it is a constant stream of mispronounced names, wrong names, wrong facts and wrong teams.

    I have lost count of the number of times I have heard Edvald Boasson Hagen be referred to as ‘Edward’ Boasson Hagen, or Geraint Thomas’ first name being pronounced as if the commentator has a back-load of phlegm in their throat.

    Mispronunciation is commonplace in cycling coverage, and with the technology available today, it would not be difficult for a team to put a video on each rider’s profile with them saying hello, and then their name.

    This I feel would solve a lot of pronunciation dilemmas for commentators, and would end the debate on how to pronounce names such as Voeckler, Hesjedal and Fuglsang.

    Today was a particularly embarrassing day for cycling commentators everywhere, as when Jan Bakelants crossed the line to win Stage 2 of the 2013 Tour de France, most of the men commentating announced it as Markel Irizar taking the win.

    Admittedly, this is not completely the commentator’s fault, the Tour had already put a graphic up saying it was Irizar ahead, not Bakelants, but it has shown that a better way of identifying riders from the front is needed.

    How that may be is not up to me to decide as regrettably, I am not one of the candidates for UCI Presidency this year.

    But it is something that the UCI needs to look into.

    The last point about the state of commentary in cycling is simple doing your homework.

    Quite often I will hear rider’s achievements being listed, and will hear things that are just not right.

    Today I heard that Tony Martin had finished second in last year’s time trial world championship, even the most casual cycling follower would know that he is in fact the current world champion in the discipline.

    Commentators are being paid for their efforts, they also get to travel to places in the cycling world that most of us can only dream of going to, in my opinion it is time they started justifying their place in the cycling world.

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    The Crowd Says (67)

    • Columnist

      July 1st 2013 @ 10:36am
      Kate Smart said | July 1st 2013 @ 10:36am | ! Report

      Yeah, Tom, spare a thought for us poor bloggers, blogging Irizar for the win to only have to quickly correct ourselves!

      I guess it is part of the spectacle in some ways. Perhaps some punters have developed interesting drinking games to accompany the commentary?

      I wonder if this is becoming part of their schtick, too?

      To be honest, I don’t always find other broadcasters much better, though.

      Vive le tour!

      • Editor

        July 1st 2013 @ 10:57am
        Chad Bennett said | July 1st 2013 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        Tough one Kate – for me Phil Liggett and TDF go together like Richie and the Australian summer of cricket, but agree with Tom that some of the mistakes aren’t probably up to scratch. Perhaps a Mark Nicolas type (maybe not the best suggestion, but a younger, more professional commentator) is needed to cover the finer points?

        • July 1st 2013 @ 4:21pm
          gavinmorten said | July 1st 2013 @ 4:21pm | ! Report

          I’m glad you wrote maybe not the best suggestion there Chad I nearly died when I read the bit about Mark Nicolas.. SBS has someone who fits that mould, Matt Keenan, he normally does the lead in commentary on the coverage while, I assume, Phil and Paul are off getting their tea ready and Paul is making sure Phil’s lap blanket is in place for the afternoons commentary. Matt Keenan (@mwkeenan) is very good value, but I’m just not sure how having an extra man in the booth would effect the dynamic.

          I think Phil and Paul are part of what makes the tour coverage so special, I’d hate to think there are people out there who look at them as similar to the past their prime channel 9 cricket commentators (as an example).

          • July 2nd 2013 @ 9:23am
            Abdu said | July 2nd 2013 @ 9:23am | ! Report

            Hands down to Keeno and McGrory, the straight man and the funny man (although Keeno has a good sense of humour and more relaxed off mike). Not that it matters, but a couple of really decent blokes too.

            I want to like Tomo, but he’s just a klutz and makes some many mistakes, maybe I’m just jealous he’s living my dream?

            Phil Liggett calling the win for Sagan instead of Gerro was a joke, and earlier Sherwen called Juergen Roelandts “Guido” (?!).

            The “Mediterranean Shag” comment from Paul was funny on stage 2 though. First time I’ve heard Phil snigger and go quiet.

          • May 14th 2015 @ 4:16pm
            Cliver said | May 14th 2015 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

            You’ve got to be joking. Matt Keenan’s a pain – constantly refers to the ‘main peloton’ (what’s the other one?)and has a voice that’s hard to listen to. On SBS’s Giro commentary he is not as irritating as he has a former Giro rider David McKenzie as co-commentator who knows what he’s talking about and also tells you interesting facts about the towns and countryside the route passes through. Phil and Paul are to my mind without peer as a Tour commentary team. And Sherwen did a good job covering some of the Spring Classics solo.

          • May 14th 2017 @ 9:30pm
            Peter said | May 14th 2017 @ 9:30pm | ! Report

            Are you kidding? – listening to M Keenan is like eating white marshmallows and mashed potatoes with milk and tofu. I think his voice is so unbelievably bland and boring, and so is his commentary. Surely there are others out there who could do a better job at it, SBS???? Keenan just gives facts and statistics all night. I can read a records book too… and parrot off the facts. Too patronising for me.

            Phil and Paul do a fine job for SBS cycling. No need for total experts to satisfy the elite professional viewers, is there? They do a fine job for all levels of viewers, I reckon. They do a pretty good job of describing the race and some history and some interesting rider info. Top blokes!

            • July 5th 2017 @ 10:58pm
              Graham said | July 5th 2017 @ 10:58pm | ! Report

              Couldn’t agree more. Listening to the SBS commentators this year is painful. Apart from the pictures I wouldn’t even know they’re in France. Aussie this Aussie that who cares? If there are Aussie riders in contention and riding well then by all means great but who cares about Aussie riders who’ve never even competed in Le Tour? Robbie is a great expert and plays his expert comments role well as he did with Phil and Paul but he can’t carry the main role. He’s just not interesting enough sitting next to someone who’s not interesting at all.There’s just no passion coming through the mike for me. Matt Keenan is just plain dull as dishwater. As said by other poster’s here he just reels off stats. That’s it. He has nothing else to offer. SBS’s nonsense claim that they liken their decision to ‘Richie Benaud taking a backseat in his twilight years’ is just sanctimonious garbage. By the tone of the SBS press releases on the matter the decision was made by Mike Tomalaris.

        • July 15th 2013 @ 11:34pm
          Ria said | July 15th 2013 @ 11:34pm | ! Report

          I don’t care about commentary mistakes or pronunciation errors. Phil and Paul are backdrops to the stage. They keep us company in the hours of boredom. They do better than I would. They are as much a part of the race as the weather, elevation or crowd.

          I watch the teams, individuals racing, Am smiling at mistakes,comments I learn from Bob Roll, used to laugh too, now he’s more serious.

          This year I purchased the Tour Live App. I got weather, crowds, live coverage plus Phil, Paul and Bob–not bad for $15. Eh? Plus I get cycling for 3 weeks–It’s grand!

      • July 17th 2013 @ 5:50am
        Steve Arnold said | July 17th 2013 @ 5:50am | ! Report

        My pals and I have been using a drinking game to add some interest to the TDF.
        Every time Phil utters a malaprop, misdirection (left when he means right, etc.), misnomer (wrong name for a team, rider or location) or simply misspeaks by mispronunciation or transposition we down a shot. If he says “I beg your pardon” admitting his own failing – 2 shots are required. If Paul chimes in to cover for Phil – 2 shots!
        So far, I have been drunk by the end of every stage. Thankfully, they have rest days!


    • July 1st 2013 @ 10:38am
      liquor box said | July 1st 2013 @ 10:38am | ! Report

      Unfortunatley Eurosport is not showing the TDF this year. Its commentry is far superior to SBS commentry feed.

      I dislike a lot of things about the broadcast, rather than be told how long a particular building has been in existence, why not tell us how many teeth are being used on each chain ring, what about some info on the bikes and how they are being ridden.

      Eurosport covers cycling with cycling as its number one priority, not being a tourist advert.

      I love the TDF, but the commentry is abismal.

      • Columnist

        July 1st 2013 @ 10:46am
        Kate Smart said | July 1st 2013 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        liquor box, you don’t sometimes want to strangle Declan on Eurosport?

        I do agree they offer far more technical information and less tourist info but I suspect the TdF is angled to a different audience and I Phil and Paul are really just reading the script.

        I’m a big fan of Magnus Backstedt on Eurosport though.

      • July 1st 2013 @ 11:11am
        jameswm said | July 1st 2013 @ 11:11am | ! Report

        Meh, I’d rather hear abiout how old a building is than know how many teeth are on the chain. I bet you don’t like the Regional food segments either?

        Le Tour is about more than just cycling.

        • Columnist

          July 1st 2013 @ 12:02pm
          Kate Smart said | July 1st 2013 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

          I love the food segments. I live in the hope that my hubby will get inspired and recreate some of Gabriel’s delicious snacks!

          You are also quite correct in saying that the TdF is about more than cycling.It’s an institution that appeals to different people for different reasons and that is part of its charm.

          Perhaps balance is what’s needed?

      • July 1st 2013 @ 11:32am
        mattocks said | July 1st 2013 @ 11:32am | ! Report

        thats abysmal

    • July 1st 2013 @ 10:59am
      nickoldschool said | July 1st 2013 @ 10:59am | ! Report

      Well I must be one of the few Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen fans then. Maybe it’s because I have been listening to their commentaries for as long as I have been living in Oz but I have to admit they are more than ok IMO. Sure pronunciation isn’t always perfect but you can’t expect people to say Norwegian names with a Norwegian accent, French names the French way etc.

      In previous years I remember sometimes watching the Eurosport guys and felt they were ok too but wouldnt say outright better than SBS. Sean Kelly’s tone is sometimes monotonous.

      Something I really like this year too is the contribution of the (former?) female cyclist on SBS 1 or 2, I have forgotten her name, apologies! She is really knowledgeable and passionate plus I found her very charming (ok, beautiful). I like the bloke too, although much less charming ;)!! Anyway, only saw the highlights of stage 2 this morning and we already have had more action than during last year’s tour! Loving it.

      • Columnist

        July 1st 2013 @ 11:10am
        Kate Smart said | July 1st 2013 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        I agree nickoldschool, trying to concentrate for writing an analysis piece on the Giro when you’ve only had 4 hours sleep for a month and listening to Sean Kelly – shoot me now! He could cure insomnia!!!

        I actually like Phil and Paul too and in fact I’m quite happy to be spending the next three weeks with them. I also like the tourist commentary, but I think Tom makes a good point that perhaps they could offer some more technical information, however, I’m quite sure they’re only delivering a product that is suitable to a TdF audience.

        • July 1st 2013 @ 11:43am
          nickoldschool said | July 1st 2013 @ 11:43am | ! Report

          Spot on re your last point Kate. I think SBS are offering commentaries suitable for a majority of viewers. I have to admit that I am not a cyclist myself and don’t really care about too technical stuff (bike brands, gears, teeth on the chain etc) but like the sport as a competition and just because I consider it to be the toughest sport of all.

          I think we all watch the Tour for different reasons. But hey, would have no problem if they were giving more technical info. In France, we always had a recently retired consultant (Fignon, Bernard and Jalabert come to mind) who i feel gave a very good ‘inside’ opinion, using cycling slang and talking about team strategies etc and I have to admit I miss that. Good luck for your live commentary sessions!

          • Columnist

            July 1st 2013 @ 12:04pm
            Kate Smart said | July 1st 2013 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

            Thanks nickoldschool, am in the fortunate position of getting more than 4 hours sleep for the TdF!

      • July 1st 2013 @ 11:11am
        nickoldschool said | July 1st 2013 @ 11:11am | ! Report

        Edit: was talking about cycling central hosts Kate Bates, Matt Keenan and Mike Tomalaris.

    • Columnist

      July 1st 2013 @ 11:16am
      Tim Renowden said | July 1st 2013 @ 11:16am | ! Report

      I agree with you, Tom. The “Phil Sherwin and Paul Liggett” double act has gone downhill over the last few years (or maybe I’m just better at spotting their mistakes).

      The other thing I’ve realised is how often they repeat themselves. It’s constant repetition of the same canned phrases, at the same high-strung level, for hour after hour. I imagine this is an artifact of their expectation that most of their viewers will be watching an edited highlights package, and they need to maintain the excitement. But when you’re watching several hours of the live telecast, it’s bloody exhausting!

      Eurosport tends to be more accurate, informative, and less frantic, but what can you do when SBS has the exclusive access (don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that SBS covers the race so comprehensively, I just wish they’d get some new voices).

      • July 1st 2013 @ 12:38pm
        psych_ling said | July 1st 2013 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

        A couple of points. The first is that Phil is clearly on a downward spiral. Like him or loathe him, he is getting on in years. After the LA fiasco he said in interview he wanted to retire but was contracted for the next couple of years. This fact is telling on his commentary. I think he would prefer to be bird-watching (yes, it is his hobby) & as someone tweeted Paul is dominating the show and I would imagine Phil would have no problems with that. Perhaps Phil would be better to ditch his contract! Second point, SBS has enlisted Scott McGrory for the Tour as a new voice, instead of that sourpuss last year, Scott Sunderland. Thank god for that. I think Scott is actually better that Matt Keenan in commentary. He has a voice cadence that works so well, whereas Keenan’s voice is extremely hard to listen to. He has this ‘up and down’ cadence which I personally find annoying. Would like to see Scott Macca commentating more

        • Columnist

          July 1st 2013 @ 2:23pm
          Tim Renowden said | July 1st 2013 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

          I would really like it if SBS used their own commentary team.

      • July 1st 2013 @ 12:42pm
        psych_ling said | July 1st 2013 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

        A couple of points. The first is that Phil is clearly on a downward spiral. Like him or loathe him, he is getting on in years. After the LA fiasco he said in interview he wanted to retire but was contracted for the next couple of years. This fact is telling on his commentary. I think he would prefer to be bird-watching (yes, it is his hobby) & as someone tweeted Paul is dominating the show and I would imagine Phil would have no problems with that. Perhaps Phil would be better to ditch his contract! Second point, SBS has enlisted Scott McGrory for the Tour as a new voice, instead of that sourpuss last year, Scott Sunderland. Thank god for that. I think Scott Mc has the potential to be better that Matt Keenan in commentary. He has a voice cadence that works so well, like Phil,whereas Keenan’s voice is extremely hard to listen to. He has this ‘up and down’ cadence which I personally find annoying. Would like to see Scott Mc heat up the ranks in commentary. Btw, understand it was Phil who suggested Matt Keenan for the job, not so sure he is better than Scott.

    • July 1st 2013 @ 1:02pm
      ed said | July 1st 2013 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

      Don’t agree with this article. Have been listening to Ligget since SBS started their coverage. He knows his stuff. He promptly corrected himself after he said Tony Martin was second at last year’s UCI TT world champs. 10 years ago helmets were made compulsory, it is now a lot harder to pick out some of the lesser known riders compared to the days of sans helmet.

      Sherwan speaksfive languages so I am pretty sure his pronunciation is right most of the time.

      Cycling for 3-4hrs on a race will result in a lot of retelling the same story about a particular rider, chateaux, piece of history, etc until the key moments of the stage.

      These guys have no favourites and enjoy commentating on great racing rather than only focusing on a handful of riders. Be glad they are chatting away rather than selling sports memorabilia or running through the betting odds.

      • July 1st 2013 @ 2:27pm
        Poonani said | July 1st 2013 @ 2:27pm | ! Report


      • July 2nd 2013 @ 9:52am
        Tricky Dicky said | July 2nd 2013 @ 9:52am | ! Report

        @ed – “these guys have no favourites….” LOL mate. Both were on the Lance payroll for years, you clearly have worse short-term memory loss than old Phil.

        I like the “tone” of Phil’s voice but their combined research is lazy. They just read out of the ASO-issued handbook and don’t keep up to date with riders, teams and tactics. The Eurosport team do have some hits and misses – Backstedt is good, Kelly is great for his insights but needs Harmon as a counter-point for his dry style. I personally don’t like Declan or Kirby. Hatch is very good. Daniel Lloyd is superb too.

        The shame is that SBS have ample talent in their ranks for an Australian commentary team. As people have said above, Macka, McGrory and Bates all provide light relief and great insights when combined with “statto” Keenan, who is a bit dull on his own. Nick Gates on Fox Sports would be a good draft pick as well as Bridie O’Donnell if she could resist the temptation to keep interrupting people.

        In summary – time to put Phil & Paul out to pasture and for SBS to have confidence in their homegrown talent (although, sorry Mike T, you are lovable buffoon).

    • July 1st 2013 @ 2:05pm
      Scuba said | July 1st 2013 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

      Phil is past it – can still call track cycling, still good in a sprint finish but terrible the rest of the time. Paul is, and always has been, eminently replaceable. Yes, it’s not easy to call a race for hours when at times there is nothing much going on, but the increasing numbers of errors that Phil and Paul make are massively irritating.

      Anyone who has watched a couple of tours could sit there and spout the cliché-ridden drivel that SBS viewers have been subjected to over the past few years, for example:

      “As the roads tilt to the skies the riders will need to reach into their suitcases of courage in the style of a certain Mr Lance Armstrong…”

      Time for a change – Keenan has the knowledge but is terribly boring as a commentator. McGrory has been good so far.

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