The Tour on TV


I know plenty of people who have seen a stage or two of the Tour de France or, better, who have gone over and ridden Tour stages — some just hours before the race came up the road. Me–I’ve never gotten closer than what I can see on cable television. Not to complain: the view is pretty darned good most of the time. Of course, there are commercials. For whatever reason, Versus sported lots and lots and lots of ads for Extenze–a “natural” “male enhancement” substance *and* lots and lots of ads for guys who have an unconquerable urge to take a leak right now (those are the symptoms above). I find the juxtaposition a little odd. I mean, the sweet spot for Versus is the young guy demographic, 18 to 30-some year olds that a) don’t need much male enhancement and b) still have a pretty healthy urinary life. Maybe the network knows something we don’t: that the audience watching pro cycling on TV needs help in the bedroom and bathroom. Could be because of prolonged bike-seat use.

Tour de France Aftermath: Jens Voigt’s ‘Horror-Crash’

[Earlier post: Jens Voigt: ‘I Was Very Lucky‘]

Trying to find updates on the condition of Jens Voigt, the tough German rider who left the Tour after crashing in the Alps, all links seem to lead to German media coverage. And that’s led to the discovery of a German usage I’d never seen before (OK, maybe that’s not surprising: I don’t read German, really, and I don’t spend a lot of time poring over German media). I see Voigt’s crash referred to in Bild and other websites as a “Horror-Sturz” — horror-fall. And as it happens, there have been two gnarly crashes in Formula 1 auto racing lately, both described as “Horror-Crash.” The former example creates a compound by welding an English word onto a German one; the latter forms a compound by smushing two English words together in a way that wouldn’t quite work outside of headlinese. End of linguistic note.

So the latest on Voigt: He’s recovering after his Horror-Sturz. And actually, that’s not a bad term for it. He was descending an alpine road at about 50 mph when he hits a rut or hole in the pavement and instantaneously lost control of the bike. He plunged face first to the road and slid with his bike for a long way. The worst part, for me: when he stopped sliding, he simply lay there. The crash was, indeed, horrifying.

(Earlier, Bild had supplied this tidbit: That Voigt’s wife Stephanie saw the crash on TV while at a birthday party; it also published a brief interview with the wheel-star’s Frau about her initial reaction to the Horror-Sturz. The Google machine translations of those stories, entertaining in their own way, are here and here).

But back to Voigt himself: He continues to recuperate from his injuries, which included a concusssion, shattered cheekbone, and multiple abrasions and lacerations. As all the Bild photos show–the pictures are uniformly gruesome–he is much the worse for his head-on meeting with the pavement. According to a Bild story over the weekend (translation), he doesn’t have a clear memory of the crash and has no fear of returning to racing. He’s already declared his intention to ride in next year’s Tour. Here’s one quote:

Seinen Sturz sah er später im Krankenbett im Fernsehen: „Ich bin noch nicht ganz klar im Kopf. Es ist schon komisch. Ich sehe den Sturz, wie das Rad Funken sprüht, aber es berührt mich nicht, weil ich keine Erinnerung daran habe. Ich habe deshalb auch keine Angst, wieder aufs Rad zu steigen. Vielleicht mache ich das noch in diesem Jahr.”

(“He saw his fall later on television from his hospital bed. ‘I’m not entirely clear in my head. It’s funny. I see the fall, how the wheel sprayed sparks. But it doesn’t bother me because I have no memory of it. So I also have no fear about climbing back on the bike. Maybe I’ll do it later this year.’ “)

Journal of Self-Promotion

Contributing to my lack of rest this week was a small radio story I did on locals watching the Tour de France. Through Yelp!, someone at KQED steered me to a little place in Richmond called Catahoula Coffee Company. Originally part of the draw was the news that the cafe opened at 1 a.m. so that people could come watch the Tour. The truth was that it actually opens at 7 — with the Tour playing in mid-stage. Earlier this week I went up there and the owner gave me the run of the place for one morning and part of another. Three minutes of thrilling (and I hope entertaining) audio ensued and aired on KQED’s California Report Magazine this afternoon. Here’s the link to the story page (where the audio will eventually be posted, I think):

And for anyone who’s impatient, who doesn’t want to go to the beautiful California Report site and comment, you can play the story right here:

Tour de France: Rest Day Notebook

Your Phil Liggett Quote of the Day: Uttered during Sunday evening’s recap show in an otherwise entertaining mini-segment on the Italian TdF champ Gino Bartali. Phil needed to explain why Bartali’s two Tour championships occurred 10 years apart. This is what came out: “It was done either side of World War Two. And of course World War Two spoilt many, many millions of people’s lives.”

Memo to Versus sound mixers: Here’s a trend. Versus is using that newfangled “rock and roll” music as soundtrack for some of its rider profiles. Sweet. But it’s mixing the music so loud in some of the segments that you can barely hear what the “actuality”–the person talking–is saying. I don’t think this is strictly a matter of having fogey ears.

Versus ratings: After three years of doping scandals, Lance-less pelotons, and sagging ratings, Versus is seeing a big bump in viewership this year. During the first 10 stages of this year’s Tour, the live morning telecasts have jumped from 270,400 viewers to 479,800 viewers. As MediaPost notes, the ratings are also substantially higher than they were during Armstrong’s last Tour, in 2005.

Enraha! After his show of strength on the Verbier climb that ended Stage 15, Garmin’s Bradley Wiggins got lots of attention. He talked almost manically about his “day by day” focus. The rhythm of “day by day,” the accent, the vehemence: it was all very familiar. It came to me: Wiggins was channeling Scott, the crazed driving instructor in “Happy Go Lucky.” Scott has nicknamed the rear-view mirror “Enraha” as an arcane mnemonic device. His reminders to use–“Enraha! Enraha! Enraha!–are grating in the extreme. (And for the record, here’s part of what Wiggins said: “I never think too far ahead. Eveyone keeps talking to me about what’s ahead, what’s ahead. That doesn’t help my concentration. No, I go day by day. i’ve trained myself mentally as well as physically, and i go day by day, that’s what we do. How can you think three days ahead when you’ve got two days before that? That’s how you crack. That’s how you cock things up. So, day by day.”

Tour de France Stage 14: Idiot non Savant

The delightful aspect of today’s stage: George Hincapie, in his fourteenth Tour, coming within a whisker of taking the yellow jersey. If you weren’t keeping score at home: At the end, the peloton brought back Hincapie’s breakaway just enough to deny him the maillot jaune (or MJ, as I’m seeing it tweeted). A slightly less delightful aspect of the stage: the post-finish recriminations about what various teams should have done, or shouldn’t have, to allow Hincapie, one of the class acts in pro cycling, to keep the prize. Some accuse Astana and the Armstrong/Bruyneel brain trust of setting a pace at mid-stage designed to keep HIncapie within reach. Some accuse Garmin-Slipstream of chasing aggressively late in the stage, providing the peloton with the impetus that allowed Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2R) to keep the yellow jersey.

To which we say: Please. It’s a race. A wise man–or a man at any rate–once said, “No gifts.” If there’s one guy in the entire peloton who understands what that means, it’s Hincapie himself.

And, if there’s one man who doesn’t understand that, it’s Phil Liggett. When Versus joined the stage live, with a little more than 100 kilometers to go, The Bebington Blatherer first noted the surprise of the day: that Hincapie was close to being the race leader on the road. Then he noted with shock and clucking disapproval that Hincapie’s old friend, Lance Armstrong, had ordered Astana to bring back the breakaway. He said this not once, but twice. He ignored the fact the time gap was hardly changing. He ignored the absence of any sign that Astana was putting out an effort. He ignored the time gap as it began to grow, a sure sign that no chase was under way. He ignored the fact that Johan Bruyneel, not Armstrong, would be the one to order any move. And he ignored the fact that just about any apparent move in the peloton 100 kilometers from the finish was not likely to have much significance.

To give Phil his due, though: with a nudge from Paul Sherwen, he did change his tune when the gap grew to seven minutes, then eight. Soon, he started waxing poetic about what life would be like when Hincapie had the yellow jersey. Teammate Mark Cavendish would be appreciative, Phil predicted: “George Hincapie is usually Mark’s roommate in the hotels, and George looks after Mark, it’s like a dad looking after his son. And he’ll be only too happy if he’s looking at a yellow jersey at the end of the bed of his mate, George Hincapie, tonight. It will be a very successful and a very nice feeling.”

Oh, Phil. Goofy. Prolix. Tireless. Not often with it. How can we not love you? How can we not be exasperated?

Tour de France: Sherwen on the Bonk

Paul Sherwen, narrating video of Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel struggling on the last climb of Stage 13:

“Well, this is very much a situation, Phil, where you go, bridge to engine room–more power! But there is no power for Sylvain Chavanel this afternoon. This is the kind of thing that can happen on a nasty day through the mountains, especially when the bad weather comes down, you don’t feed properly, you don’t keep yourself topped up with energy, and it’s a question of boom-boom, and out go the lights.”

Tour de France: The Bad News, via Twitter


[7:30 a.m.: The update to Levi Leipheimer’s broken wrist: He’s having surgery. And he’s reporting on it–both tweeting and posting pictures: See @LeviLeipheimer at Twitter and levileipheimer’s images at Yfrog. The image above is captioned, “This is 22mm Titanium screw!” So the new model of an event-ending injury is get hurt, get diagnosis, get treatment, and show the whole world the process. Video with expert commentary can’t be far behind.]

Earlier post: A little after the sun comes up on the West Coast in about five hours, just about anyone who cares will know the bad news from the Tour de France: Levi Leipheimer is out of the race with a broken wrist. It’s a potentially race-changing injury: Leipheimer figured to be a key to the victory chances for his team’s co-non-leaders, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador. And if one of them faltered, he has developed into the kind of tough competitor who might have a shot at the overall Tour victory himself.

It’s interesting how the bad news broke. At 12:25 a.m. PDT, or 9:25 a.m. in France, Lance Armstrong sent out a Twitter message: “Woke up to bad news. Levi is out with a broken wrist. Damn..”

At 12:28 a.m. PDT, Astana team director Johan Bruyneel sent out his own message: “Starting the day with bad news… Levi has a fracture of the scaphoid (wrist). Not good!”

And at 12:33 a.m. came word from Leipheimer himself: “My wrist is broken. I can’t describe how disapointed I am.”

Anyone who’s following race news this way knows the basics of the story now. Meantime, a full half hour after Armstrong broke the story–and that sheds some light on what Twitter does to news–even the rapidly updated Google News is behind. They have a full palette of stories describing Leipheimer’s crash yesterday just before the finish, and a display quote in which he talks about escaping serious injury:  “My wrist hurts, but surprisingly it’s OK. It could have been a lot worse,” … “I was a bit surprised by a left corner …… my tire was sliding and I couldn’t quite save my bike from sliding out”

Tour de France: Chateau of a Doubt

We’re already more than halfway through the Tour, and we’ve refrained thus far from the familiar and pleasurable pastime of hurling brickbats at Phil Liggett. Yes, the Liggetisms are still filling the airwaves. But maybe from a temporary lapse in mean spiritedness, we’ve been cutting the Bebington Blatherer some slack (yes, he’s from a town called Bebington on the Wirral, near Liverpool).

And actually, the truce will remain in effect, because Phil and his somewhat less objectionable sidekick, Paul “The Widnes Whippet” Sherwen, aren’t really the targets of the whine we’re about to uncork. No, it’s their producers, the off-screen folks who shape the Tour telecasts, we want to address. So:

Dear To Whom It May Concern:

Enough with the chateaux already. Yes, we know France is an old and beautiful country with lots of eye-catching architecture. We remember that from last year’s Tour, and the one before that, and the one before that. Previous to the advent of Tour broadcasts in the States, we recall these history-text facts about France and the French: They helped us defeat the British. They had a revolution. They cut off heads, lots of heads. Wine. Statue of Liberty. Dreyfus. World War I. Maginot Line. De Gaulle. Indochina. Freedom fries.

Here’s the thing about having Phil and Paul reading their note cards about the Duc d’ Old Spice and the Comtesse Haagen-Dazs and the beautiful homes they built and maintained on the brute labor of their Renault-driving serfs: It ain’t informative, and it equally ain’t entertainment. So what’s it doing on your air? The droning of dates and names and who changed his socks and knickers where in 1576–that’s exactly the impoverished approach to history that repels 98 percent of those forced to endure it in classrooms.

Yes, Phil and Paul have to say something when the French whirlybird is circling Le Chateau de Fromage Grande and that’s the picture the folks at home are seeing. It would actually be refreshing to hear them just say what they’re actually thinking instead of the rote “facts” about the place: “Can you believe the size of that place?” “Says here it was built by the Vicomte le Ouizze in 1692. When do you think they got indoor plumbing?”

Very truly yours &c. &c.

That’s it. A modest plea to liberate us from the tyranny of the present’s dull grasp of the past. Besides that, after hearing Phil and Paul’s attempts to describe where they were in the Golden State during past Tours of California, I always wonder whether what they’re telling us bears any relation to what we’re seeing.

(A down-the-street informant tells us that the grand country houses and alleged cultural commentary are also a fixture on French TV. Our Informant (OI) says: “BTW, TV5Monde also does chateaux commentary, and they spend a lot more time on the chateaux, even do split screen with ongoing race action. So there’s a need to fill — a twitter feed with good sidelight details.” She also tells us we’re all wet on our distaste for the dry historical TV tidbittery: ” I like the extra pix and commentary of the chateaux, churches, and field art; it connects the event to a time and place. Sometimes it’s interesting, always good trivia. One of the things I missed during the Giro was any look at the countryside, and any informed commentary.”)

Preview of Coming Attractions


The Bicycle Film Festival, Friday, July 17, and Saturday, July 18, at the Victoria Theater, 2961 16th Street, at Capp (one short block east of Mission). On Saturday, the festival sponsors a street party at 16th and Capp, next to the theater, replete with track bikes, BMX bikes, fun times, and no brakes.

See the Bicycle Film Festival website for details on programs, to buy tickets, and such like.

Tour de France: Versus 2009 Theme Song

[Details on the Versus 2008 Tour de France theme song, Paul Weller’s “Brand New Start,” here. Details on 2010’s featured song, “Kings and Queens,” by 30 Seconds to Mars, here.]

Last year, Versus featured a song about “getting clean” for its Tour de France coverage. It was part of the network’s attempt, along with its embrace of clean-cycling missionaries Garmin-Chipotle, to position itself as a leader of the clean cycling movment (though perhaps ironically the ratings were better in the dirty-cycling years).

For 2009, Versus doesn’t have a Tour theme. But it does have a nice two-minute ad it’s playing that highlights some of the sports and events the network covers: pro cycling, bull riding, cage fighting, Formula 1 racing, killing large animals, and pro ice hockey among others. The ad features a voiceover by John Doman. If the name’s not familiar, think Rawls, the hard-bitten, cynical (and gay) deputy police chief in “The Wire.”

The music in the ad is an ethereal, ringing instrumental called “First Breath After Coma,” by a band Thom introduced me to a few years ago, Explosions in the Sky.

Here’s the YouTube version of the ad: