OLN and the Tour: The Little Things

It’s a small thing I want to complain about — a very small thing in a world where dozens of people are killed in terror attacks every week, where our nation is sending young people into an ill-defined and badly executed war, where so many of us struggle with personal challenges large and small just to get by from day to with our sanity intact. With that preamble spoken, the further piece I want to say is: It’s a damned shame, and very strange, that the race announcers on the Outdoor Life Networks Tour de France coverage are so bad at their jobs.

I’m hooked on the race, and I’ll watch every day, the daily cascade of meaningless froth from the two play-by-play guys (Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen) notwithstanding. Granted, they have a tough job. They’re sitting in a booth at the finish line every day and trying to cobble together some meaning from the live TV pictures they’re seeing and radio reports they’re hearing. But having conceded the task is difficult, it’s still sort of shocking how shallow, careless and sometimes flat-out wrong the duo is.

Just one case in point that won’t mean anything to anyone but a dedicated watcher/follower of the Tour: During Saturday’s stage, Lance Armstrong’s team collapsed. Everyone knows that now, because both Lance and smart commentators have been talking about it ever since the stage was over (Lance’s take in a post-race interview: “It was a bad day for the team.”).

But while the saga was unfolding — when the OLN guys had this amazing drama right in front of them — they apparently had no idea what was going on. What a viewer saw was Armstrong alone in a large group of riders from other teams who freely took turns attacking him (trying to get away from Armstrong by making sudden rapid accelerations ahead of his group); he was left to respond himself to every challenge, which involved “covering” the attack, or matching the quick accelerations of his rivals to make sure they didn’t get away. The disappearance of all of Armstrong’s teammates, who ordinarily would play a role in covering the moves from other teams, was stunning and recalled his very tough 2003 Tour, when he was repeatedly left by himself to deal with a rather large and very hostile group of competitors.

Sherwen and Liggett picked up on the attacks, because that’s what the pictures showed. But about the more important development that wasn’t on camera, they said nothing. The equivalent in baseball announcing terms would be if the announcer decided to tell you only what he saw happening at home plate. A lot of what’s important in a game happens right there. But you only see the game if you take in the rest of the field.

That’s all. That’s the end of this OLN complaint and this broadcasting day.

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