I bray every July about Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, our English-language TV announcers-for-life of the Tour de France. It’s not just the cliched, empty language they use–granted, it was charming once upon a time–it’s their tendency to miss big moments in the race and to make assertions that are simply wrong.
To really appreciate how terrible these guys are, though, it’s necessary to tune in to the Tour of California coverage that their network, Versus, is airing each night. The main problem I have is that Paul and Phil have no concept of the race geography or terrain. Thus on last night’s Stage Two show, Sherwen spouted off about “the long straight roads of the Napa Valley” as the leading racers were shown speeding down the long, straight roads of the Central Valley, on the outskirts of Sacramento. Cycling fans hear constantly about how the racers themselves ride the course to get to know it. You’d think that the guys broadcasting this stuff could at least drive the course so they might get a feel for what’s going on; but there’s no evidence they or the producers take such a rudimentary step. Instead, they just talk over the edited video of the race and spout off. In yesterday’s stage, much of which I’ve ridden many times myself, it was obvious they had no idea where the action was taking place or what was to come. It’s just lazy, lazy, lazy crap.
That’s not the only problem with the Versus coverage, though. The stages have been edited down to a point that it’s hard to get a sense of the action unfolding. Key moments, such as a crash that put local rider Dave Zabriskie out of the race, are missed or ignored (despite the fact the show hasn’t been airing until a good four hours after the finish). And Bob Roll, the one on-camera guy I’d assume (since he has lived here) has a sense of the region. is reserved to his usual role of clown savant.
The best alternative, if you’ve got a high-speed Net connection: the live video/audiocast on the Tour of California’s own site. The video is choppy, but the audio commentary is vastly superior to what the Versus boys deliver,.