Phil’s Liggett’s Quote of the Day

From the Versus Stage 1 telecast of the Tour de France:

“The beautiful scenery of Britanny now, remember we’re in Britanny now for three days, that’s what they’ve paid for and that’s what we’re gonna get and enjoy here on the Tour de France because these narrow roads constantly twist and turn, the undulations are very, very special here for all of the riders and 43 of them in their first Tour de France.”

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The Tour 2008

With an exception of one day, our TV service has been off for about eight months. The one day we broke down and turned it back on was Super Bowl Sunday, and that just served as confirmation that 200 channels or whatever it is of satellite television wasn’t anything we were missing. For the most part, anyway. I will admit that it’s a little weird to hear people talking about Colbert or “The Daily Show” and think, wow, we just don’t look at that anymore.

And the other thing I’ve realized is that, the vulgar excess of the Super Bowl aside, TV is very much the way I keep up with the sports I still follow. So: no baseball this year and very little sense of how the season is unfolding beyond sporadic reports that the Cubs are doing well and that that poor, poor pitiful team in Tampa Bay is really having a year.

Tonight, though, we are linked up again to the broadcast world. The reason is the Tour de France, broadcast again on Versus. The first stage was today, and we got reconnected just in time to see the tail end of the first rebroadcast of the day. A Spaniard named Alejandro Valverde won in an oddly configured finishing section–a sharp descent followed by a short sharp climb that kept the usual contingent of crazy sprinters out of the picture. Valverde took the stage with a shocking burst of uphill acceleration in the last 250 meters that blew away a rider who looked like he had the stage in the bag. And besides the wonderful action, I knew the Tour was back when I heard Phil Liggett, back for the umpteenth year of melodrama, mispronouncing the winner’s first name. At various times it seemed to come out not only as Alejandro, but also as Alefandro, Alessandro, and, most weirdly and regularly, Alethandro. Phil, I missed you. MIthed you, I mean.

Tomorrow’s stage broadcast starts at 5:30 a.m. here, and we’re having our traditional “first Sunday of the Tour” gathering with some neighbors.

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The Tour 2008

With an exception of one day, our TV service has been off for about eight months. The one day we broke down and turned it back on was Super Bowl Sunday, and that just served as confirmation that 200 channels or whatever it is of satellite television wasn’t anything we were missing. For the most part, anyway. I will admit that it’s a little weird to hear people talking about Colbert or “The Daily Show” and think, wow, we just don’t look at that anymore.

And the other thing I’ve realized is that, the vulgar excess of the Super Bowl aside, TV is very much the way I keep up with the sports I still follow. So: no baseball this year and very little sense of how the season is unfolding beyond sporadic reports that the Cubs are doing well and that that poor, poor pitiful team in Tampa Bay is really having a year.

Tonight, though, we are linked up again to the broadcast world. The reason is the Tour de France, broadcast again on Versus. The first stage was today, and we got reconnected just in time to see the tail end of the first rebroadcast of the day. A Spaniard named Alejandro Valverde won in an oddly configured finishing section–a sharp descent followed by a short sharp climb that kept the usual contingent of crazy sprinters out of the picture. Valverde took the stage with a shocking burst of uphill acceleration in the last 250 meters that blew away a rider who looked like he had the stage in the bag. And besides the wonderful action, I knew the Tour was back when I heard Phil Liggett, back for the umpteenth year of melodrama, mispronouncing the winner’s first name. At various times it seemed to come out not only as Alejandro, but also as Alefandro, Alessandro, and, most weirdly and regularly, Alethandro. Phil, I missed you. MIthed you, I mean.

Tomorrow’s stage broadcast starts at 5:30 a.m. here, and we’re having our traditional “first Sunday of the Tour” gathering with some neighbors.

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Tour Arborists

[Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett on Sunday morning as they narrated an aerial view of a French chateau southwest of Paris:]

Paul (informatively): You might not know this but in a very secluded part of the garden there’s a very old tree, a sequoia which was planted around about 1860.

Phil (surprised): The sequoia is not , not a tree of, indigenous to France, it’s Africa, isn’t it, the sequoia tree?

Paul (reassuringly): I believe it is.

Me: Sequoia. Sequoiadendron. Metasequoia.

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Tour Guide

The Tour still has its lighter moments. Phil Liggett during this morning’s stage:

“This is the most beautiful area of France here.

It’s the home of the lavendar and the scent.

And of course it’s very agricultural as well. ”

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Nose of a Champion

Key moment from today’s Tour de France stage, as described by Versus announcer Phil Liggett, MBE:

“A bit of a runny nose for the yellow jersey.

Or was it sweat?

But he hasn’t put a wheel wrong yet today.

And I’m sure that he’s going to try to hurt these boys on the climb.”

The yellow jersey, Michael “Cow’s Blood” Rasmussen, did hurt all but one of the boys on the climb. Discovery Channel’s Alberto Contador easily won a short sprint-ette to cross the line ahead of the Dane. But Rasmussen and Contador had long before left the rest of the contenders struggling up the mountain behind them, so Rasmussen’s second-place finish was a huge victory.

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Big Continent

Today’s Tour de France stage, the 11th, was a relatively flat, windy one with a sprint finish. The final kilometer included several sharp bends — especially considering the predictable fact the sprinters would be winding up for their charge to the line — and naturally there was a crash. One of those who fell after rounding a curve and veering into the left-hand crowd barrier was Freddie Rodriguez, an accomplished Colombian racer who lives right here in the East Bay rider. He might also be known as Falling Freddie, because he seems to have a penchant for hitting the pavement hard.

So there was a crash, and one of the riders swept out of contention for the stage win was Tom Boonen, the leader of the Tour’s sprint points competition. Among those still upright and rolling fast was Robbie Hunter, a South African and leader of the Team Barloworld, sponsored by a Johannesburg-based industrial conglomerate. Hunter, who just missed taking the fourth stage, launched early and captured a relatively easy win. The victory inspired Versus television’s Phil Liggett (MBE) to note the historic dimensions of the occasion:

“A South African becomes the first African from that big continent to win a stage of the Tour de France.”

Which, among other things, made me think about the continents that have not produced stage winners: Asia and Antarctica. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing an Asian rider in the race (if the Chinese get interested, watch out). And Antarctic natives such as krill and penguins have not yet been admitted to the pro cycling ranks.

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Like a Spider, Like an Angel

Oholycow

The found poetry — I didn’t say good poetry — in today’s Tour de France Stage 9 race call by Phil Liggett. Someone has actually put together a book of Liggett found poetry, but I think the genre was actually created with the publication of “O Holy Cow,” a book that captures some of the Homer-meets-James Joyce flights of Yankee Hall of Fame shortstop and former broadcaster Phil Rizzuto. But that’s baseball. Let’s get back to the bicycle race.

The recap: It was a tough mountain stage, the last day in the Alps for this year’s tour. A five-man breakaway, driven largely by Discovery’s Yaroslav Popovych, led over the early climbs and stayed a couple minutes ahead of the group including yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen heading onto the lower slopes of the Col du Galibier, a brutal 18-kilometer climb that tops out at about 8,000 feet above sea level. Between the leaders and the Rasmussen group was a single rider, Mauricio Soler, of Colombia. If you heard of him before today, you’re either his mother or father, his coach, or you’ve read the Tour de France guidebook cover to cover. Soler — Liggett lisps his first name, More-RITH-ee-oh — caught the breakaways on the 8 or 9 percent slope of the Galibier and blew by them. Only Popovych and his teammate, Alberto Contador, were able to respond, but Soler shot across the pass more than a minute ahead of them. He stayed away all the way to the end, a beautiful solo effort that concluded with a sharp climb on the race’s final kilometer.

Now, let’s turn it over to Phil:

As Soler caught the breakaway: “These guys must be saying, ‘Who is this man with the long, thin legs?’ ”

As Soler pulled away from Popovych: “Look at this boy now! He’s itching to get on with the race and he’s only 24 years of age.”

As Soler neared the top of the col: “He climbs like a spider, but he also climbs like an angel as he races up this climb.”

As Soler neared the final descent and climb in the finishing town: “These are desperate moments. We are into Briançon. It is dangerous now. These corners duck and dive and they switch back; they descend very steeply, and then it’s a horrible sight when they come ’round a corner and the road just goes up to the heavens to the finishing line.”

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The Sprint Finish

Today’s Liggett/Sherwen call of the final 1,000 meters of today’s fourth stage in the Tour de France:

Liggett: Here comes the run by [team] Lampre now! As they try to bring Napolitano through! This is the first big sprint at the Tour and it is a free-for-all!

Sherwen: Julian Dean is there in the black and white and you can be certain that right on his wheel will be Thor Hushovd, one thousand meters to go, there is the flamme rouge, Quick Step [team] have got control now, they’re on the front but where is Tom Boonen? He’s not on the wheel of his teammates, there’s a line of [team] Milram, they’re looking after Zabel, there’s a lot of pink jerseys in there for T-Mobile, there’s a little bit of a switch, they’re going to start lining up for the finish line, they’re looking now at about 550 meters to go, Gerolsteiner [team] pulls off, still Quick Step in control. …

Liggett: Well, watch out for this little switch at 250 meters, it might disrupt the move here now, and still Robbie McEwen has not got through. I can see Robbie Hunter trying to get through, but they’re still not going to make a big sprint. And Julian Dean’s on the front now! Dean has found his man Thor Hushovd! Dean the champion of New Zealand! Hunter coming on Dean’s wheel! Hushovd opens the sprint in the center now! Förster trying to get through on the right here as now Thor Hushovd hits the line at last.

Sherwen: Thor Hushovd was perfectly set up for the win by Julian Dean, I just saw the black and white jersey, the Kiwi national champion was right in the right place, he sacrificed himself completely. You need a sprinter to lead out a sprinter. Big Thor has not been superb over the last couple of days but at the end of the day when you’re set up like that by Julian Dean you have to say thanks very much, mate, and you have to finish it off.

Comment: My reaction to these guys’ work usually ranges from mild annoyance to outright disgust — yeah, I ought to just chill; this is just a bike race on TV — but I’ll say something nice here. The end of a sprint stage is beyond hectic. The racers accelerate from 35 to 45 mph, there’s a mass of bodies flying around, and everyone’s madly jockeying for position. What impressed me here is that Sherwen picked Julian Dean out of the crowd a kilometer before the finish line; he knows the players well enough that he correctly predicted that Thor Hushovd would be on Dean’s wheel. That turned out to be the crucial moment in the sprint. To exit slack-cutting mode, though: Both Sherwen and Liggett missed the real drama of the last 100 meters, when Hunter, the South African sprinter, jumped from Dean’s wheel to Hushovd’s in a desperate attempt for the stage win. He timed his finishing charge about a half-second too late and lost by half a wheel. Hunter crossed the line shaking his head and fist in frustration.

Anyway: The point is that the Versus Boys do this part of the race pretty well. Things are moving at light speed compared to the normal baseball, football, or soccer game, and somehow they manage to keep up with it.

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‘Suitcase of Courage’

A classic Paul Sherwenism in the closing miles of today’s Stage Four: “They’ll really have to dig into their suitcase of courage to pull this man back into the fold.” How do they carry the suitcase when they’re riding their bikes?



Phil Liggett: “… First of all the peloton still has to catch up with the leaders, and they’re still pulling it out, a minute five seconds now by the boys who simply refuse to say ‘never say die.’ ” So … they do say die?

And finally: A wonderful sprint finish to today’s stage. Thor Hushovd, a Norwegian sprinter, edged Robbie Hunter, a South African rider who managed to get onto his wheel over the last 100 meters or so. I’ll post the transcript of the Liggett-Sherwen race call for the final 1,000 meters a little later — it was actually something to hear.

(And in the meantime, I’m participating in a little guest-blogging week at CrabAppleLane. I did a little Tour commentary there yesterday.)

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