Tour de France: Versus Theme Music, 2010

Update (7/25/2010): The tune Versus used on its closing credits for this year’s Tour de France was “Kings and Queens,” by the band 30 Seconds to Mars. You can play the song (and buy the MP3) through iLike and MySpace here: 30 Seconds to Mars/”Kings and Queens”. The lyrics are here.

2009 Versus TdF theme music.

2008 Versus TdF theme music.

Original 2010 post: The last couple of years, the Versus broadcasts of the Tour de France have featured interesting theme tunes (I refer not to the rather generic, orchestrated title intro music, but to the popular music the network has used as part of its overall theme. In 2008, it was Paul Weller’s “Brand New Start,” by Paul Weller. The song was supposed to carry a message: the Tour, and Versus, were done with the dark days of doping. In 2009, it was Explosion in the Sky’s ethereal, driving but ultimately message-less “First Breath After Coma.”

This year, the featured tune appears to be “Kings and Queens” by the band 30 Seconds to Mars. I say “seems to be” because it’s been used as the audio for quick montages of the day’s racing action during the first couple of stages. In fact, the montage is accompanied by an MTV-style video credit for the tune. You can play the song (and buy the MP3) through iLike and MySpace here: 30 Seconds to Mars/”Kings and Queens”. The lyrics are here.

The Tour on TV

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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: 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: 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.”)

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:

Team Time Trial: Rules, Please

Watching Stage 4, the team time trial, the Versus coverage focused mostly where it always does: on road mishaps, on any and all drama involving American riders, and on the clock. That’s fine as far as it goes. But the result of the stage–with race leader Fabian Cancellara and Lance Armstrong ending in a dead heat for their total time–begged an explanation of how the heck the officials would break the tie.

There was mention of a “countback,” but no one ever said what that was, who did it, or how it worked. And I have to say, still not having done any homework on it, that I still don’t understand how Cancellara and not Armstrong wound up wearing the yellow jersey after the stage.

I’m no statistician or nothin’, but the gap between Armstrong’s Astana team and Cancellara’s Saxo Bank squad was reported at 40.11seconds. Just to be clear, that means Astana’s team time, the time awarded to Armstrong, was 40.11 seconds faster than Saxo Bank’s. Going into the stage, Cancellara was 40 seconds ahead of Armstrong. Not 40.2 or 40.99–just 40. So if Armstrong was 40.11 seconds faster than Cancellara … isn’t his total time for the race so far .11 seconds better than Cancellara’s.

Well, no, if you believe what you saw during the post-stage podium presentation. No gripe from me–I think Cancellara is swell, and Ben Stiller looked cute playing the role of ugly podium girl (the actual podium girl was a knockout if I may say so). So all I’m asking from the genius broadcasters of the stage is to explain this to your public. That’s all. And if anyone understands the timing issue and how it was resolved, please tell us.

Another matter the Versus boys didn’t get around to explaining on the live broadcast this morning was how riders who get dropped during the team event are timed. Do they get the same time as the rest of the team? That was an especially important issue for Garmin-Slipstream, which had four riders go off the back during the TTT.

Luckily, the official Tour website has something to say on this:

“… The time recorded for a team will be the time of the fifth rider. For those riders who are left behind during the team time-trial stage, their own time (real time) will be applied and taken into account for the individual general standings. The organisers have decided to go for a relatively short stage (39 km) around Montpellier to limit the consequences of the cancellation of this ‚Äúcomprehensive insurance.”

Tour of Ireland on Versus: Why Bother?

Hey, the Tour of Ireland looks like an interesting race. Our current drive-by shooting has to do with the way Versus put the thing on the air. The network allotted an hour and a half to the race’s first three stages, all won in bunch sprints by Team Columbia’s Mark Cavendish.

Then came the decisive stages, last Saturday and Sunday. Versus allotted the same 90 minutes total to air both stages. Saturday’s ride included the picturesque and insanely narrow Conor Pass road and a loop out the Dingle Peninsula to Slea Head (hey: we walked most of this route in 1973, but that’s another story). Sunday’s finale began in Killarney and finished with a tough circuit in Cork.

The net result of jamming those two stages into one shortish broadcast was a horribly edited series of race glimpses. What was supposed to come across as a cohesive narrative of two race days came across as a chaotic and disjointed montage in which it was impossible to tell where the racers were, where groups and individuals were on the course or relative to each other. Of course, none of that stopped resident jabberers Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett from filling time with meaningless prattling about the beautiful Irish countryside and the Kingdom of Kerry.

But the broadcast was not without its charms. Charm One was a post-Stage Four interview with Cavendish. He had lost the leaders jersey after getting dropped on the Conor Pass climb. The interviewer asked him what happened. Cavendish paused, flashed a genuinely perplexed look, and said, “I got dropped.” He went on to explain that the pace set by Garmin-Chipotle’s David Millar was just too much. Charm Two was the colleens who served as podium girls. They were both taller and more robust-looking than the racers. But the truly transfixing them about them was the hideous dresses both had been given to wear. The lasses should find a solicitor and bring the designers to bar for a fashion crime of the first order.

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