Stage 5: Your Phil Liggett Quotes of the Day

Play-by-play moment: Phil’s crowning moment in the finish of Stage 5 was to correctly call the winner as the sprinters crossed the line–Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia–then to immediately change his mind: “Cavendish is there! And he’s done it! It’s Ciolek! It’s Ciolek on the line! It wasn’t Cavendish! Gerald Ciolek has taken it.” And there matters stayed for the next minute or so as Phil and Paul Sherwen watched replays: “Well, that was a tremendous finish. Gerald Ciolek is also here to win for himself, as he has now proved. He is also a lead-out man for Mark Cavendish. That was a superb … Look at the man at the back there, the champion of France, desperately, desperately close [after 220 kilometers or so in a breakaway] … and … that looks like Mark Cavendish to me, Paul. Well, I thought he was Cavendish first of all, I reversed to Ciolek, and I’m coming back. Mark Cavendish has won the stage for Great Britain. Absolutely superb, he delivered.”

That wasn’t quite as bad as mistaking which team just scored the deciding touchdown in a football game, but it was close.

Remove the carrots from the fruit basket: [As the peloton closed to within 30 seconds of a three-man break about nine kilometers from the finish of Stage 5] “Any second now the referee will ask for the removal of all vehicles behind those three riders to give them one last chance to hold off the peloton, remove all the carrots from the fruit basket up there, and leave the race to try and chase them down. The riders at the back of course just want to get to Châteauroux and enjoy the shower today.”

Some call them gams:
“Somewhere, the champion of France has found some power in those pistons we call legs.”

Tour wedgie: “Nineteen seconds lead, just inside 4 kilometers from the finish, and Team Columbia have got hold of the Tour de France by the scruff of the racing shorts.”

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Phil Lisps; We Investigate

So, the greater re:Cycling community is closing in on the sources of Phil Liggett’s seemingly strange pronunciation of Alejandro Valverde’s first name. When Phil says it, it comes out “Alethandro.” As commenters to the earlier post on this crucial matter remarked, Castilian Spanish does in fact turn some “s” and “z” sounds into “th.” A leading theory, therefore, is that Phil thinks Alejandro is really Alessandro–he does sometimes say “Alessandro Valverde”–and converts the (erroneous) “ss” into “th.”

That habit would account for his turning the middle name of Juan Mauricio Soler into “Mauritheeo,” too.

Maybe. We will stipulate that the matter of pronouncing “cross-language” proper names for broadcast is one fraught with confusion, difficulty, and the clash of inalterably correct opinions. re:Cycling has personal knowledge of a Bay Area radio outlet where editors have decided that the San Joaquin Valley town of Los Banos–LOSS BANN-ose in the local American argot–ought to be pronounced LOHSS BAHN-yohz, a perhaps “authentic” Spanish pronunciation. The only problem comes when you call the city hall or the newspaper in town–both English-speaking institutions–and are universally greeted with the American version of the name. And never mind the fact that the station in question broadcasts not in Spanish but in English. As I said, the subject vibrates with the potential for debate.

So who can say Phil is wrong with his Alethandros and Maurithios?

We can.

First, note that Phil is probably misapplying his ounce of knowledge about native pronunciation in the former case and perhaps in the latter one, too.

Second, note that it’s commonplace to adopt a modified form of foreign names when they’re spoken in another language. So even if Alejandro were pronounced Alethandro in a major dialect of Spanish, it would be more appropriate for an English-language broadcaster to adopt a version that conforms to a standard translation. In English, Alejandro — the j sounding like an h — conforms to such a standard. (Here’s another example, French to English: Say the name of the capital of France. If you’re a native English speaker, we’ll bet you a shrinking U.S. dollar you did not unconsciously say “Pa-ree.”)

Third, note that no one else on the air with him shares his lisping habit with these names. His fellow broadcasters are conforming to the standard.

And fourth, consider one piece of evidence from Spain. We had the idea that maybe the website of the Spanish paper El Pais would have video clips from the Tour in which the names of Valverde and Soler might be pronounced by a real live Spanish person. We were not disappointed. The video clip from Stage 1 features Valverde, and there’s no question about how it’s pronounced: in the non-lisping, non-Phil way. The video clip from Stage 2 mention’s Soler’s crash. The evidence is less clear, but give it a listen. To our impaired American ears, it sounds like the voiceover says Maurishio or Mauricio, but definitely not Mauritheeo.

With that, we certainly hope the matter can be put to rest. Alas, we know Phil won’t let it be.

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Stage 4: Your Phil Liggett Quote of the Day

Phil on watching the Stage 4 time trial: This is the one day you don’t want to be out on the road, you want to be behind your television screen because we can explain everything.

–Versus also explained that the length of today’s stage, 29 kilometers, is equivalent to the distance from Mesquite, Texas, to Dallas. Oh, yeah–that helps!

–Versus’s chirpy Robbie Ventura rode along with Garmin-Chipotle team director Jonathan Vaughters to watch the ride of David Millar. After Millar went through the second time check 14 seconds behind the leader. Ventura asked, “Jonathan, how’s this going for ya?” Vaughters let out a long breath and replied, “Fuck, man.” As Vaughters urged Millar on, Ventura reported, “You can feel the excitement in this car.”

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Who Will Save the Tour?

One remarkable five-minute stretch of Monday’s Stage 3 Tour telecast on Versus was a package on all the steps that the two U.S.-sponsored teams in the race–Garmin-Chipotle and Team Columbia–have taken to make sure their riders are clean of drugs. In fact, the piece was so fervently adulatory and uncritiical in its portrayal of the teams’ anti-doping methods, that re: Cycling wonders whether the teams are paying for the coverage they are getting. Beyond the heavily produced segment, featuriing Garmin-Chipotle chief Jonathan Vaughters in his high-fashion eyewear and retro turtleneck, Versus’s presentation of Stage 3 featured a live interview with Vaughters and taped interviews with Columbia’s Bob Stapleton, and at least two of the teams’ riders.

Maybe all of this is just pure editorial, reflecting the Versus decision to use the Tour’s doping problems as a launch pad for a marketing campaign that focuses on redeeming the professional cycling (on June 9, the Wall Street Journal quoted Gavin Harvey, the Versus CEO, as saying, “There is a shadow on [cycling]. It’s a sport that is battling for its soul, and what people respond to about cycling is the intensity of that battle.”)

However, the casual watcher of Versus’s first three days of coverage can’t help but wonder whether there’s a single European team that’s doing anything–prohibiting public crack smoking among riders, limiting illegal injections to half a dozen a day–to try to clean things up. If there is anyone trying to save the Tour but the ultraclean Yanks, they are not getting any air time on Versus.

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Your Phil Liggett Tour Quotes of the Day

From today’s Stage Three:

Phil on geography: “The River Loire is the big river here in France. It runs from the west, from the east rather, into the west. It’s 700 miles across. It’s the biggest river they possess.”

Phil’s rider profiles of the day: “Aleksandr Kuschynski here [half a dozen riders in the frame]. I think he’s rock bottom on the classification, isn’t he, overall? But that doesn’t matter, he’s a workhorse, too, for Liquigas, puffing and blowing in the middle of the peloton there at the head. [Camera has panned down to riders’ legs.] These look like the legs of Marcus Burghardt of Team Columbia.”

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2008 Tour Theme Song

[Details on the Versus 2009 Tour de France theme song, “First Breath After Coma” by Explosions in the Sky, here. Details on 2010’s featured song, “Kings and Queens,” by 30 Seconds to Mars, here.]

The Versus cable network is marketing the Tour part as brutal manly spectacle (along with bull riding and cage fighting) and partly as redemption story. For the latter theme, the network’s Tour promo montage uses part of a song with the lyrics,

“I’m gonna clear out my head,
I’m gonna get myself straight,
I know it’s never too late
To make a brand-new start.”

The song is “Brand New Start,” released in 1998 by Paul Weller. The full lyrics to the tune, which has a down-to-earth, environmentalist/activist edge to it, are here, and a YouTube video is here.

Amazon MP3s of “Brand New Start”: studio cut and live version (both sound very close to what Versus is using). Cost: 99 cents.

Greg Lemond on the New Tour

Versus, the jock cable TV network that promotes its Tour de France coverage as part of its “Red, White, Black and Blue Summer” (the network also presents bull riding and some form of fighting in which heavily muscled males punch and kick the crap out of each other), has another mission. With the consensus view now apparently settling on the belief that professional cycling before now was unspeakably shabby and riddled with drug cheaters, Versus is bending over backward to emphasize cycling’s New Really Clean Era.

OK, great. The Tour blew itself apart the last two years by stripping the 2006 champion, Floyd Landis, of his title, and then seeing its 2007 champion in the making, Michael Rasmussen, fired by his team a few days before the end of the race. Unspeakably dirty or not, the Tour was reduced to a shambles and came to represent not only the greatest feats in athletics but the worst of the doping believed to afflict cycling and elite sports in general. However, it’s more than a little disingenuous for Versus, which made built a good audience and raked in good money promoting the legend of Lance Armstrong, to turn around and strike the pose that those days were the bad old days.

As part of its New Clean Era coverage, Versus produced Greg Lemond for an interview on Sunday. Lemond, a great champion in his own right who has made a second career out of trying to undermine Armstrong’s accomplishments, is a spokesman for the Righteous Really Clean New Cycling. Lemond was odd in the interview, a little disjointed and tongue-tied and inarticulate. One of the Versus personalities, Bob Roll, tried to set him up with a question on the new age in the sport: “You have a huge legacy in this race. How do you see the evolution of the sport as it is right now?”

Lemond’s answer:

“I’m more excited about the cycling than I have been in years, and I think there’s a big change, there’s good people in it. Bob Stapleton and Jonathan Vaughters [the men behind the newly sponsored Garmin-Chipotle and Columbia teams] are really making a big effort. I think there’s a desire I’ve never seen before. It’s good. I’m positive.”

Translation: Now that Armstrong and the disgraced Landis have departed the scene, Lemond can get into the sport again. And there are classy people involved, not the scumbags who helped Armstrong eclipse Lemond as America’s greatest racer.

Roll’s cohost, Craig Hummer, asked an interminable question about the meaning of two big name U.S.companies signing on as team sponsors in the last month or so. Lemond seemed to come unhooked from any thread the interview might have had.

“Yeah — you know — cycling is — I’m actually very bullish on just the sport in general. When you look about — look at congestion, you look at the diabetes problem in America, um, it’s probably the best sport to do in terms of low impact but high cardiovascular output. And so I’m really bullish on the sport in general as a leisure activity in America. It is a sport of people past 40, but we need to get those kids in high school, and I’m very optimistic, and the Tour de France, you can’t duplicate this, this is magic, and, uh, I saw it last year, and, I mean, when Rasmussen and Vinokourov, it was quite depressing to my sons, but they still watch cycling, they watched the Tour of Flanders this year. It’s a great sport.”

(Congestion? My co-watcher theorizes he meant asthma.)

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Phil on the Tour de Franth

OK, these are small things. But: Yesterday we noted Phil’s insistence on pronouncing Alejandro (ah-lay-HAHN-droh to most English speakers trying to respect the name’s Spanish origin) as “Alethandro.” At first, you think, no, he can’t really be saying that. But he is, most of the time, and he persists no matter how many times his broadcast partner, Paul Sherwen, gives the correct (or at least less ridiculous) pronunciation.

But there’s a method to Phil’s lisping. When he says the name of Juan Mauricio Soler, the climber who won last year’s Tour King of the Mountains competition, he usually makes it “Mau-REE-thee-oh.” When I heard him saying this last year, I wondered whether he was on to some unique personal pronunciation of the guy’s name. Sometimes, though, he would make it “Mau-REE-tsee-oh” (as Sherwen does). I can’t figure any reason it would be anything other than “Mau-REE-see-oh.”

One can only guess that somewhere in the dim past, Phil decided or told that Spanish “j” and “c” are pronounced “th” except when you want to throw in some random consonant sound. What’s amazing to me is that for as long as the guy has been working bicycle racing, no one’s been able to correct him.

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No Words Needed

By way of Marie: an arresting image, “birds and bike,” from Toronto photographer Sam Javanrouh. Gross. Beautiful, too.

And that reminds me of a favorite wordless bicycle narrative, the classic (well, it’s at least two and a half years old, anyway), “Det Var Gång en Cykel” (“There Once Was a Bicycle”). It’s the poignant story of a bike left out in the elements on the mean streets of … Stockholm?