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 3rd 2013 @ 9:36am
      Grant said | July 3rd 2013 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      How easy it is to criticize without having any knowledge oneself. Having watched the TDF in different countries over the last 17 years with different networks, Phil and Paul are overall way ahead of any other commentators. Calling a winner across the finish line in a sprint when you are seeing the race from a small monitor is not a crime. In fact to those who criticize, without the repeat in slow motion it was not possible to be sure who won the stage.

      I have yet to meet an Australian commentator that can pronounce foreign names correctly in cricket, soccer and rugby. There are many people I have spoken to in different countries of the world who watch the TDF not only for the cycling but because it shows other points of interest. Not every viewer is an ardent cycling fan, or Sunday morning lycra road warrior who believes they are the next aspiring TDF champion on an overpriced bicycle. The TDF appeals to a greater audience than that group of roadies who are well known for having the belief that they are self important and only accept you if you conform to their elitist standards, who understand the issue regarding the number of teeth on a cog.

      Has it not become a national pastime in Australia to criticize everyone else, without looking at ourselves that may not be so perfect.

    • July 3rd 2013 @ 10:09pm
      JJ said | July 3rd 2013 @ 10:09pm | ! Report

      Lucky you don’t follow Rugby League or Union. Those commentators are hopeless with pronouciation!

    • July 4th 2013 @ 2:34am
      Eric said | July 4th 2013 @ 2:34am | ! Report

      The people who are slamming Sean Kelly couldn’t be more mistaken. Kelly is by far the best cycling commentator going around. Yes he speaks in a monotone but his technical knowledge is unparalleled and personally I enjoy his Irish accent. The only part of this year’s Tour I’ve watched on SBS’ coverage was when Garmin were riding the TTT, and predictably, Phil and Paul were shocking. I don’t remember what they said verbatim but it was something like “Garmin-Sharp haven’t brought their big guns for the time trial like Thor Hushovd and Dave Zabriskie and instead have brought a team of climbers”- of course they haven’t, Hushovd left Garmin for BMC more than a year ago and Zabriskie broke his collarbone at the Tour of California in May and wasn’t fit for the start of the Tour; while Phil and Paul made it out as though they pair of them were deliberately cut from the Tour team by Garmin.

      Beyond their incompetence, there’s also their cloying bias towards Anglophone riders. The worst example of which was the 2010 Tour Down Under, in which, according to Phil, only three teams participated in: “The World Champion Cadel Evans’ BMC, Lance Armstrong’s new Radioshack team, the new British team Sky” were the only teams he talked about pretty much through the race.

      Phil and Paul are two extremely average commentators that are fantastically overrated by the majority of Tour viewers (note that I refrain from saying cycling fans) because Paul shows off his knowledge of French/Italian/whatever every chance he gets and Phil is ‘the voice of cycling’. By comparing them to the likes of Richie Benaud, you’re doing Richie an insult.

    • July 4th 2013 @ 4:54pm
      Maria Szczerba said | July 4th 2013 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

      I have been watching cycling since it first started and when I was at school till now! I find Phil and Paul’s commentary absolutely superb! All of the sbs team work very hard to bring this race to all of us around the world, so to all of out there! Swap places and do what they do, take the long hours they work, work in every country they have travelled and learn to appreciate that to bring the best race you have to have the best!!!! And in my books Phil, Paul, Phil A., Mike, Scott, Kate, Sam, David, and team know their work and have been doing it for a long time!!!!
      Give them a break with pronunciation, no one is a perfect person out there and you all out there should appreciate this race and all that are bringing their experience and knowledge to this race and the scenery that goes along with the knowledge of the riders!!!
      Vive Le Tour!!! and VIve Le Team SBS!!!!

    • Roar Guru

      July 5th 2013 @ 9:03am
      HardcorePrawn said | July 5th 2013 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      I think it’s worth bearing in mind that commentating on cycling is probably unlike commentating on any other sport.
      With 198 riders in a Tour it must be like providing a running commentary on most of a weekend’s NRL or AFL fixtures at the same time. With the added difficulty of having to remember the exact pronunciation of each rider’s name, whether they be from Uzbekistan or Australia.

      • July 5th 2013 @ 12:53pm
        Ted Mulder said | July 5th 2013 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

        Same riders, year after year after year. And they can’t be bothered to put in that extra effort to be professional? Something they’re being paid big bickies to do?

      • July 5th 2013 @ 12:57pm
        Ted Mulder said | July 5th 2013 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

        Apropos. I watched the Giro on Eurosport. And it was delightful to hear David Harmon instantly translate the interview of the day’s stage winner as it happened, whether it was in French or Italian. And never mispronounce one name, be it French, Italian, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish or any other nationality. Now, THAT’s professionalism.

    • July 5th 2013 @ 11:42am
      Ted Mulder said | July 5th 2013 @ 11:42am | ! Report

      I have been a prof cycling fan for more years than I care to remember and that includes listening to the likes of Liggett and Sherwen since they started commentating on the TdF. Now, I make no secret of the fact that, even though I have lived in Australia for some 50 years now, I still carry a torch for those athletes in sport who come from my native Holland. As would every other person with a patriotic observance of the nationality of their birth country. People who have lived in Australia for many years, consider themselves Australian but not to the point of denying their roots. Liggett and Sherwen are supposed to be PROFESSIONAL commentators. That should include them taking their PROFESSIONAL time to find out the facts and how to pronounce foreign names. Year after year have I sat in front of my tv set shaking my head at the obstinate ignorance of these so-called professional commentators murdering the names of riders who come from Holland and Belgium. Year after year have I emailed (before Twitter), then twittered to Sherwen how certain names should be pronounced. Not that it has made any difference. The man sits there, monotonously repeating himself with “facts” ad nauseam and ususally a few minutes after those same “facts” have already been sprouted by his offsider, while trying to sound informed and multi-lingual. And year after year riders, who have ridden in the TdF for many years already, are getting their names murdered by these “professional” commentators. I am sorry the TdF is not on Eurosport this year because I find their commentators some levels above the Sherwens of this world, even if Sean Kelly’s Irish accent is sometimes hard to follow. But offset that against the intelligent chat by the likes of Backsted or David Harmon and you’re on a winner. There are many 1000s Australians of different birth nationalities watching these tv reports and Sherwen does his best to insult/disrespect each and everyone of them, intentionally or not. Take the
      bloody time, Sherwen, to use your integrity and intelligence to find out how names are pronounced, take some speech lessons to get rid of that boringly monotonous voice to include some intonation and you might get taken seriously. Until then afaic you may well know a bit about the sport of professional cycling but you’re still an amateur in my eyes.

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