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)

    • July 1st 2013 @ 11:22pm
      Dianne Andrews said | July 1st 2013 @ 11:22pm | ! Report

      Substandard commentary is not confined to cycling, although they are right up there and Sky Sports UK absolutely are the worst. The Giro should have been re-named the “Wiggo-Cavendish” tour because up until Wiggins retirement you would have been excused for thinking they were the only participants. However, the worst commentary I have heard for a long time was during this years London marathon. They did not know the names of many of the competitors, and they spent most of the womens race talking about Paula Radcliffe who won years ago. Also, they could not tell us who won the mens wheelchair, but “their” man came in 3rd. Not good enough! These people are elite athletes and deserve some respect.

    • Roar Guru

      July 2nd 2013 @ 2:15am
      Tom Fish said | July 2nd 2013 @ 2:15am | ! Report

      Thanks for the comments, definitely interesting to hear the different points of view. I echo the views expressed in some comments about Sean Kelly, me and a friend were watching the Tour coverage he was commentating on one day, and we reckoned that he had not stopped talking for a whole kilometre, in the same tone of voice, enough to send anyone to sleep. 200 kilometres of the same cliched phrases from Phil and Paul, as Tim stated, can be very exhausting.

    • July 2nd 2013 @ 10:03am
      Abdu said | July 2nd 2013 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      Matt, Phil and Paul are commentating from a screen smaller than the one you are watching at home, sitting in a cramped caravan for 3-4 hours (don’t even want to think about the toilet situation).

      They get the feed and race information from ASO, and the ASO information stated it was Irizar, so you could put 95% of the media pack, bloggers, etc. all making the same ‘mistake’ (some bloggers were no doubt already writing how great it was for the young Irizar to have won).

      Keeno is contracted by the race owners ASO so he’s locked in there, and Phil apparently told Keeno not long ago that he would only lave the commentary position in a pine box, so he’ll be there a while yet too. Paul might go back to his diamond mine (true story, he owns one in Uganda) though.

      With all due respect though, you try sitting there for 4+ hours a day over 21 days and get every single moment and all 180 riders correct, then have a crack.

      Will W might have been mildly interesting for his 35 seconds of total air time on The Bike Lane, but he sits listening the rest of the hour. He’d need to contribute 4,000% more to even be a Special comments guy. He’s funny because he had a crack at a couple of guys, but you can’t sustain that for long. Next.

      Compared to the James Brayshaw and Brian Taylor style of AFL commentary where a boring old game instead becomes “it’s all happening here!” and the matey matey misogyneist rubbish, Phil and Paul are gems.

      I hate to say it, but watch the sport for longer than a year then feel free to make a comment. Until then it just looks like trolling.

    • Roar Guru

      July 2nd 2013 @ 11:59am
      HardcorePrawn said | July 2nd 2013 @ 11:59am | ! Report

      I discovered only today that ITV in the UK are using Phil and Paul’s commentary too, which explains the dual focus on British and Australian riders (and why Cav gets so many mentions during a stage filled with climbs). Given that they’re having to broadcast to two entirely separate audiences I think they’re doing a marvellous job.

      Also, someone who’s only followed the sport since 2011 would not have experienced SBS’ coverage of the Giro a few years back that had commentary (supplied by Giro organisers themselves it later transpired) from an Irishman with no knowledge of the sport at all.
      Commentary was limited to stuff like “There he is! The big man!”; “All the big men will be up for this”; and “THAT, if I am not very much mistaken, is a pink tractor!”.

      Phil and Paul: you’ll miss them when they’re not there.

      • July 2nd 2013 @ 8:13pm
        Colin N said | July 2nd 2013 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

        I just assume that they’re contracted to ITV and the Australian channel just picks up their feed. That’s what usually happens – could be wrong though.

    • Roar Guru

      July 3rd 2013 @ 2:43am
      Mat Coch said | July 3rd 2013 @ 2:43am | ! Report

      As one who has done live commentary it’s not as easy as it looks. They will have a small monitor to look at, a noisy press gantry upon which they’re perched, a producer in one ear and race radio in the other. All the while they’re commentating on a race of 190-odd different riders and expected to make sense of it.

      Phil and Paul simulcast across a host of different channels, and provide audio for a number of post-event wraps, hence the stop-start style they use – it’s all about getting a usable bit of audio for whatever the situation is. It’s an incredibly hard thing to do.

      Given all that I’m willing to forgive them for not inflecting correctly. Plus, it could be worse, it could be Matt Keenan who simply reads out riders palmares and back-story from the media guide. He might get the name right, but it’s about as entertaining and insightful as cabbage.

    • Roar Guru

      July 3rd 2013 @ 7:20am
      SuperEel22 said | July 3rd 2013 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      You think SBS is bad, I’d kill to hear Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen commentate. I’m in Europe so I get Eurosport coverage with the dynamic duo of Carlton Kirby and Sean Kelly. Kelly I can barely understand and Kirby I swear is about to explode whenever Chris Froome is in the picture. They don’t even get Cadel’s name right, pronouncing it Cadlle. I think I can easily forgive the odd mis-pronunciation with Liggett and given he has 198 riders to try and figure out I’d say they both do a fair job. Also Kirby’s call of a sprint is horrendous. It sounds like an auction and is near impossible to decipher. Eurosport take note. Your moronic commentary duo bore me to death and I have been doing everything to find a stream with Phil Liggett commentating.

      • Roar Guru

        July 3rd 2013 @ 11:20am
        HardcorePrawn said | July 3rd 2013 @ 11:20am | ! Report

        SuperEel, have you tried First Row Sports?

        Apologies if I’m not supposed to mention that website here…

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