TdF 2012: Great Moments in Commentary – The Box Set (Part One)

For the reader who loved the series (surely there was one?), here's the full 21 days of commentary gold in two places without all the annoying interruptions. Now also (mostly) typo-free and with deleted scenes scenes deleted plus some previously unpublished jokes!

Prologue

It didn't take 'em long to start making their bids for classic commentary greatness this year, did it?

Dave McKenzie started even before the race had set off, suggesting that the passage through one roundabout would be tricky because “they do a full 360 and head back on themselves.” Er, Dave, if they turn 360 degrees they are heading in the same direction as they started. A good try, but a winner? Not tonight.

Then Matt Keenan tried his hand tongue with “Lee-ayj hosting the start of the Tour de France for the second time and, of the cities outside of Belgium, it has hosted stages more often than any other city.” Um, that would be outside of France, Matt, unless Liège, (pron 'lee-ezzh') has moved overnight.

Sherwen wasn't really in the running tonight, his best being only a garbled double-negatived effort, but no-one was going to be able to outdo Phil, the old pro, in his language-mangling 40th outing at the Tour.

Over shots of a flying Dave Zabriskie, he intoned: “Just a week ago he became the Time Trial Champion of the US for seven times and, er, by the way he's a vegan, he doesn't eat any meat at all, or anything else for that matter, and now let's see what sort of a performance he can pull out.” I, for one, am not expecting Zabriskie to finish tomorrow's stage on a diet of nothing. (Of course, it could have been worse for Dave. If he was on the Orica team, he'd be on the “Dr Seuss Diet” – GreenEdge and Ham.)

Can Phil ever top that line...? You betcha. Keep watching. I will.


Stage 1

Well, after yesterday's flurry there was no great movement on the leaderboard today in the commentary stakes. The favourites settled in for the long haul to the chequered flag with only a few Category 4 feints, clearly keeping their powder dry for the precariously damp pavé ahead.

Sherwen's “he broke his collarbone into four places” conjured a disturbing image of a demented break-and-enter artiste but, even allowing for the context, I am still unsure whether that poor, shattered clavicle ended up in four or five pieces.

Liggett hit back, suggesting that “the local language for chips” is “Frites”. Did he mean the Belgians speak “Frites” or the local chips talk back? We may never know because he immediately moved on to something vaguely related to cycling.

Sherwen's next move took the few points on offer for this first stage but was probably worth more. His attempt to put the Tour in context with the other major battles which have raged across the Ardennes was inspired by spotting, in the roadside crush, “one of the soldiers left behind after Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar.” To his credit, he immediately tried to correct himself by leaping out of the frying pan right in front of the firing squad with “... um, ... er, er, ... the Battle of ... er, er, ... I've forgotten where it is now ... anyway, ... just near ... Waterloo, of course!”

During all this squirming, Phil just sat quietly behind, ignoring his companion's urgently flicking elbow inviting him to come to the front and take a turn. It seems there may be some tension in the team this year so this contest will be one to watch down to the wire.

My money is still on Liggett to take language-mangling honours in this his 40th trip around France. After all, didn't I hear him refer to the riders as traversing “pockled shade”? WTF??

Yes, I love the Tour. There is France. There is scenery. There is drama in the commentary box. There is even some cycling.


S2

“It's a routine day”, said Phil early on, and for a while it looked like there would be no movement on the leaderboard. Phil began by recounting an anecdote from his first ever cycletour outside the UK when he left the train station in Belgium and was nearly killed immediately because he forgot they drove on the right here. Thank heavens he survived or we would have been deprived of his trademark commentary for all these years. Paul piped up, saying that he makes sure he now does all the driving for them to “keep them nice and safe”, no doubt staying in the first 20 cars in the traffic peloton to avoid crashes.

Mark Renshaw made a pre-emptive strike in a pre-race interview challenging for the lead in the Mixed-Metaphor points. Someone should have told him that, as a rider, he is not eligible to compete. “I think I'm in the best shape I've ever been so... you know, whether or not I can put the runs on the board, it's going to be tough, you know, flying solo in the sprints here at Rabobank, but I'll do my best.”

One commentary innovation they probably shouldn't repeat was the mobile phone interview with Directeur Sportif Jonathon Vaughters driving a team car. With a persistent echo, then an overlay of race radio communications, just about all I could make out Vaughters saying was: “You know, I dunno, who knows.”

Paul made a late bid for Labouring-the-Point points with “... it's the lull before the storm and the storm will be a massive big storm cloud once we charge into Tournai this afternoon...” Not content with this he tried: “It's another day to get themselves towards the goal of possibly going ahead to try and get themselves an Olympic gold medal.” Gee, I hope they have some energy left after all that procrastination!

Sherwen's geographical confusion continued today but, unlike yesterday, this time Phil rushed to his aid. “That's the amazing thing about this young man from Slovakia. He was born in Czech-Slovakia [a country somewhere near Czechoslovakia, I believe] before it split up into the two separate nations of Slovakia and Slovenia, but at twenty-” “Slovakia and the Czech Republic” interposed Phil instantly, but Paul continued with barely even a stumble “...twenty-two years of age, Phil...”

Ahh, the boys are back in town; the team is working together again.

À demain.


S3

It was a day of consolidation. The main contenders are settling in for the long haul, no doubt saving their best material for the days and weeks ahead on this tortuous course over the hills, dales and mountain passes of the hexagon of la belle France. Liggett and Sherwen spent their time today establishing their claims in various categories of commentary conflict.

Phil began with a lunge for the day's Exaggeration points with: “All of the wind that blows is going to hit them sooner or later.” Paul countered, after a crash, with “They're all on the limit of their expectations today” then, perhaps realising that no-one had a clue what category he was really competing in, moved onto safer ground in the Mashed-up Metaphor and Cliché stakes, opining “I still think they're going to turn the hammer down.” This nicely countered Phil's description of the two riders with bandaged hands riding at the arrière de la course as “bookends at the back of the race”, ignoring the crying need for a balancing pair of bookends at the front of the race.

In a bid for the lead in the Bad Timing points chase, Paul announced: “There are the four leaders. They are all pedalling as urgently as they can” as the helicopter shot showed them all freewheeling as urgently as it is possible not to pedal.

Phil improved his points tally in Exaggeration competition with a second foray late in the day, as a rider appeared to have a problem with his electronic gears. “The batteries last 2000 hours but that goes very quickly.” Yeah, but Phil, we're only on Stage 3 and not even 20 hours race time has elapsed...

Sherwen was still in the lead in this category, emphasising that the peloton was nervous. To Phil the “Peloton is now getting a little bit more commonsensible, I think” but Paul, not able to get his head around “commonsensibility”, immediately insisted, not for the first, nor second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth, nor even final time today “Everybody is extremely nervous”. Perhaps Paul was hoping for a bonus in Labouring-the-Point points in addition to those in the Exaggeration category.

With the first shots fired in anger in the Rider-name Mispronunciation competition, honours were even by the end. Having made the point that Michael Mørkøv had told them exactly how to pronounce his name, Phil and Paul still managed to pronounce it in about six different ways by the end of the day. Tyler Farair, Fuhrah, Far-er Farrar eat your heart out.

Sherwen saved his best work for the exciting final few kilometres, breathlessly describing a French cyclist's breakaway in the finish town. “Eight seconds is the gap for this man, Sylvain Chavanel. He really is a fighter, he really has really thrown the cat among the pigeons.” Perhaps really it was really these obstructions which really caused the crash in the final straight? At least no metaphorical creature was harmed in the peloton's headlong charge towards the day's ultimate cliché prize.


S4

Today was a day when the main contenders for commentary honours hardly raised their helmets above the parapet of the peloton, or “pouleton” as Paul calls it.

As a Ugandan citizen, Paul's main highlight for the day was spotting a roadside (model of a) giraffe. He wondered aloud whether it was a “reticulated” or a “Rothschild's” giraffe. Phil was sure it was reticulated. The rest of us still have no idea.

Paul returned to the nervousness theme from yesterday, coining a new phrase while mangling another as well. “They're all going to get very, very nervous now, Phil, because, er, the fact that this little rain cloud storm has come down and has wettened the roads...” Later, expressing sympathy for Cavendish after his near-finish crash, he regretfully, but poetically, described what might have been: “He was in an ideal position for some serious argy-bargy.”

Another pretty routine day for both our favourites, then. But some of the lesser-lights decided to dip their oars in the mill pond that was the English Channel today and try to ruffle the waters which are eroding the Alabaster Coast cliffs by up to a metre per year, (or was that per decade?).

Tomalaris started even before Kilometre Zero in his intro to the stage telecast. “Riders in a world of pain, picking up the pieces of lost opportunity” was a creditable entry in the Mashed-up Metaphor and Cliché category and he had a terrific follow-up later with “Talent and power brings [sic] out the best of those who have no fear” which gives him points in the Overblown Rhetoric stakes. If Tomo writes his own stuff, he's seriously in with a chance at the finish.

Meanwhile Dave McKenzie pocketed a motza in the Fawning Reverence points competition, unchallenged, during his tour of the GreenEdge team bus, speaking in the hushed tones of one in the holiest of places, at the very altar of the cathedral of world cycling. Don't get me wrong, though. It was a really, really koo-el bus and I am keen to borrow it as support vehicle on my next cycle tour in France.


S5

Only Paul Sherwen seemed to be really on his game, at least in the Extended-Metaphor-Stretched-to-Breaking-Point category, in which he made startling progress. I think the other jersey contenders may have decided to keep their powder dry until at least the mountain stages but also for the races of truth cliché to come in the next weeks.

Sherwen made an early, and at the time incomprehensible, foray into metaphor in the first 10 minutes of the telecast, referring in the introduction to the way the riders have to behave in the wild sprints. “These reactions have to be almost automotive; you've gotta do them without even thinking.” Much like the commentary, one might think.

It wasn't until later on, as Phil pondered aloud the likelihood of a bunch sprint at the finish line, that Paul showed just how consistently clever his commentary really is while stretching the elastic on his metaphor so the LycraTM became almost transparent. Clearly the use of “automotive” had been careful and deliberate.

With the economy of words which has become his trademark, Paul told us: “... yeah but, Phil, I think this is pretty much, er, once again like I like to say is the lull before the storm, they're [the breakaways] just stealing a few more seconds before the main field really starts to kick in full power and have those big V8 engines with their turbos whistling to high speed.” Or maybe he's been spending too much time at Silverstone or Le Mans before the Tour. Yep; a little later he came out with “It looks like a drag-strip race here.”

Not content with this level of classic commentary dominance throughout his afternoon's work, Paul had one more memorable observation, this time on the breakaways' social standing. “These guys are hanging on for their grim lives”, he reckoned. Well, it's not the life I would choose, but they are elite athletes being paid at least well enough to keep the wolf from the door, I'd hope.

Let's see if the begging bowls come out tomorrow.

S6

Phil started the day in a contemplative mood: “... and they're all getting to ... to, er, I would think, start thinking about what they're gonna do if this storm breaks over the race. These are the four leaders; they're going to catch it earlier, I think, as they continue on at the moment...” while Paul returned to some of his tried and true clichés, first describing the weather as “precarious”, then the peloton as “very precarious”. Even Jens Voigt became “precarious” today as he was getting drinks from the team car. Later, for the first time in this race, he had a rider having to “dig deep into his suitcase of courage”. I've always thought that surely a “pannier of courage” would be more appropriate on a bicycle or, at least, since none of the riders is carrying a pannier on his bike (let alone a suitcase), maybe a “jersey pocket of courage” is more apt. Though just one may not be large enough to contain the quantity of courage Paul knows is required of a TdF rider.

Phil was keeping his hand in for Language-Mangulation honours. “The peloton under the control of the sprinters' teams are taking charge of the front, the others all huddling together and staying extremely vigilant because as we have seen, day-in, day-out today, if you don't concentrate you touch a wheel and you take others down with you.” Amazingly Paul didn't immediately chime in with his mantra of how important it is to stay in the front 20 places, as he does day-in, day-out but not today. At least he didn't until after the next massive crash.

And speaking of crashes, has any crash ever been anything but “nasty” even though usually only “little” except when it is “massive”? I am waiting for a “nasty little massive crash” to happen in a stage when the peloton is huddled together but not being extremely vigilant.

In the stage outtro, Tomo entered the hotly-contested fray that is the Economy-of-Words competition. “We don't really know why, how or... or... or the reasons as to... as to how this unfolded.” Yes, why did this happen, Mike T'?

Today's stage victory was snatched on the line by Scott Sunderland with an outstanding contribution in the Down-to-Earth-Expression category. “ A lot of riders, a lot of team managers will be scratchin' their heads, going, 'Oh bugger, what are we going to do now?' … I mean a lot of tactics have just been thrown in the air now and gone down the toilet.” Good one, Scotty. That will flush out your competitors and we look forward to hearing about what else is coming down the pipes tomorrow.

S7

The main contenders seemed to have made a gentlemen's agreement to only contest the Language-Mangulation competition today, given the number of occasions when both French and English were thoroughly put to the sword. In a separate highlight, Paul also demonstrated why he is a cycle race commentator and not a teacher when he gave us a lesson in arithmetic, (or was it English?) during the stage. “It's all about the addition of time in a race like the Tour. It's the addition of the time of the rider every day which is added together and the rider with the lowest time on aggregate is the leader...” We would never have guessed.

Tomo was keen to show that despite ten (Or is it 15, or more? In fact, it's 22 he told us one day.) trips around the Hexagon, he is yet to be able to get his tongue around word-one of the lingo. “Lar plonch del bell feels” he told us was the finish town. Hell, he could have done better than that if he could just read the official program. Meanwhile, Phil and Paul were making a complete hash of (unnecessarily and repeatedly) naming the département, Haute-Saône, in which Tomo's garbled town lay. First it was Oat-Sen, then Oat-Sane, Oat-Sarn, Oat-Say-on, Oat-Say-own, and finally, in a reasonable approximation, Oat-Sone.

Some of their other best efforts for the day included Phil's incomprehensible “Sadly there's no Canadian rider with the loss of Ryder Hesjedal who didn't small this morning...” followed by “Now the chips are on the table...” Mmmm, chips, droool...

Sherwen's first foray in the category today was a reference to “the summit of the top of the Ballon d'Alsace.” I also enjoyed his take on Spartacus as a Frankenstein's monster: “If he has his head on properly, he can probably climb himself over this mountain today.”

Later, he was telling us a rider (who I don't know, because I was laughing too much) “is the cat in the box for Team Sky.”

Not to be outdone, Phil finished up with a one line summary of the result. “The peloton has imploded today.” Apparently imploding is worse than exploding. Instead of riders being scattered all over the countryside (if you thought that was what had happened, you are probably hallucinating due to lack of sleep over the last week), they had apparently been fused together, like in a collapsing supernova, to become just the three riders fighting out the finish sprint.

I'm looking forward to more mountains tomorrow which the riders will be able to climb themselves over.


S8

On the race's second day out in the mountains, Phil and Paul seemed distracted by their sponsorship from the French and Swiss railways which they were obliged to mention at every available opportunity. By 68km-to-go they had told us at least three times that you can now get a TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or high-speed train) from Paris to Porrentruy in two hours 40 minutes. They also lauded the Swiss railways for their punctuality and rhapsodised over how much easier it is to move around Europe by train than by plane. They didn't mention whether it is easy to take your bike with you which might have been interesting and useful information for their vast cycling audience. Well, I'd like to know, anyway.

There was a fourth TGV ad before 30km to go and a fifth mention by Phil at the sight of a model tri-coloured Tour Eiffel by the side of a Swiss road. In the cash-for-comment stakes, Phil and Paul could be rivalling Alan Jones.

Phil took time out from his commercial duties for a couple of forays into Commentary Jersey competitions. In Economy-of-Words-Fail he made a small attack with “Here comes the coming-together of the four leaders now … as they come up towards the group here.” This was quickly followed by a lunge for points in the Incomprehensible Commentary category with “It's very steep at 14% and increasing to 11 in places.” (As Nigel Tufnel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ll7rWiY5obI would say: “This climb goes to eleven!”)

Shortly afterwards Phil became slightly over-excited as the elite leading group crested the final climb, including the “Canadian defending Tour-champion”, after earlier repeatedly pointing out what a shame it was that the only Canadian in the Tour, Ryder Hesjedal, had abandoned yesterday. “Cadel” and “Canadian” are, of course, two words so easily confused.

In a move which must have surprised all contenders, stage honours were taken by guest commentator, the aptly named Marc Madiot, who, after slipping from his strait-jacket, blitzed the Most Combatitive Commentator category with an exuberant solo breakaway in the FdJ team car. His deafening commentary in the ear of his terrified protégé, one T. Pinot, scores double points because the numerous slow-mo replays showed it was done with neither microphone nor megaphone.

I confidently predict Madiot will be better restrained for the rest of the race and our commentary favourites will be “free to fly” in the coming stages.


S9

I'd have to say it was a slightly disappointing day. Our favourite was not at his best, being overshadowed by a younger man who dominated with his volume of output if nothing else. Still Phil put in a few efforts to reduce the extent of his opponent's overall threat.

Paul began the day with a big effort in the category he has made all his own over the years, Consistently-and-Persistently-Annoying Commentary. Phil noted that Sylvain Chavanel was riding with the “French tricouleur on his back” as time-trial champion of France, which prompted Paul again to ramble on about, apparently, some random American “ in the red, white and blue”. But no, he was referring to S. Chavanel. Given his demonstrated knowledge of France, and his language skills, I'd have thought that after this many years on the Tour he'd have picked up that France's colours are bleu, blanc, rouge (blue, white, red). Anyone who thinks that is being overly pedantic probably thinks Australia's colours are the “gold and green”. It just don't work.

Paul's next foray was in a new field of commentary endeavour, at least for this year's Tour, the Unintentional-Non-Use-of-Metaphor Category. As Cadel took a drink, he intoned: “I think he's going to take a lot more attention there of his bottle because, in the Criterium Dauphiné, he lost his bottle.” (Maybe so, but he still came third, Paul, even though Wiggo won.)

Phil thought the time appropriate to re-enter the fray with a point-scoring foray into the Just-Slightly Ridiculous. His comment on Froome's outstanding performance: “This guy is gonna be very close to producing one terrific surprise.” Erm... is it a surprise if you are predicting a surprise? I dunno, but he didn't anyway, in the end.

Not to be outdone, Sherwen went for big points in the Incomprehensible Commentary category describing Wiggo's time-trial position: “The top part of his body is flat and longeline (?)” was what I thought I heard, but the dictionary has that as two words in reference to horses. Yeah, Wiggo does have a slightly long, horsey face, I guess...

Phil's next best effort was a late entry in the Overblown Rhetoric competition: “The man with the best time of 51 minutes 24 seconds is Bradley Wiggins for his first ever stage win and what a time to get it. He goes bigger and bigger and further and further into the lead.” Bigger and bigger? Not bad for a guy his team-mates call “Sticks” because he is so thin.

Thankfully our favourites have a rest day tomorrow. This will give Phil a chance to review his strategy for the rest of the race. I think he should clamp down on Sherwen's air-time and attack relentlessly to keep himself in the contest.


S10

This was a stage I could barely stand to watch after they showed the video from the dashboard camera in the BMC Team car. I was terrified from that moment on. How alarming was it to watch Directeur Sportif John Lelangue in the driver's seat at speed (OK, probably maximum 60km/h, so not high-speed, but who wants to get hit by any out-of-control vehicle going only that fast?), grabbing a microphone with his right hand and yelling in it while holding, in his left hand, a steering wheel, a pen and a map, from which he reads while threading his way between massive crowds bunched millimetres either side of the car?? He even wrote some notes, apparently having both hands off the wheel and his eyes off the road. Meanwhile, the guy in the passenger seat was doing nothing! NOTHING!! If that had been me, I would have been begging for JL to stop and let me out. But realistically, if that is what is going on in every team car during a time-trial or a road stage, how have there been so few crashes and spectator deaths? Surely the passenger could do all the stuff the DS shouldn't be doing while driving. Or they could swap seats!!

Matt Keenan scored early points in the stage for Consistently-and-Persistently-Annoying Commentary with continual reference to riders in the “lime-green colours” and the “white colours”. Aside from the fact that lime-green is one colour, not several, and white is, by definition, not a colour at all, it is surely unnecessary to add the word “colours” except to score double by Labouring-the-Point as well. If he does it again, he will score triple with points also for Constant, Continuous, Interminable, Incessant, Never-Ending Repetition, as well too.

On a day when the veterans starred on the road, Phil had obviously decided to attack, as I surmised yesterday should be his move. Today he reduced his gap to Paul in most Jersey Competitions. An early memorable line was “There's Jens Voigt. He'll chase anything I think, even a fly up the window.” “Anything with a number on it,” Paul clarified, closing down the break immediately in case we hadn't realised Phil wasn't serious.

Phil had a couple of Back-to-the-Future moments, first as the camera picked up the breakaways: “So back to the front – it always sounds strange when we go back to the front, doesn't it?” Not as strange as much of the commentary, Phil. Later, as he spotted rider number 13, “Here's Fabian Cancellara...” Oh, no – he was #13 last year with one number pinned on upside down for luck. This year's number-13 had both numbers the right way up which should have been a giveaway. Phil's reflexes are slowing but he recovered by discovering Fabian hovering nearby with number 12 on his back. Later still, Phil managed to confuse the German BMC rider Marcus Burghardt with Sweden's Magnus Bäckstedt, who hasn't ridden the Tour since 2008, but he quickly remembered the latter would be watching on TV from his home in Wales and said hi. Well, the names are similar. Confusion is easy, like “Cadel” and “Canadian”.

Phil also took a lunge for Incomprehensible Commentary points with: “This is a long and thoughtless mountain now... dead straight.” I think you meant “Damn straight”, Phil.

As Thomas Voeckler began the “tricky descent” from the much-mispronounced Col du Grand Colombier, Phil said: “Now he's a good descender.” I seem to recall that last year he went off the road more than once on descents, one time nearly ending up in the back door of someone's house. Perhaps Phil has inside information that Thomas has been practising this skill since he left out a comma after the “Now” part.

Phil's breakaway for stage honours came in tandem with Jensie's chase-down of the leaders: “If Jens Voigt, the oldest man in the race, catches these four, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he doesn't win the stage.” I thought it probably wouldn't surprise anyone if an “old man” didn't win but lines like these will drag Phil back into the lead in the commentary competition if he can keep them coming. In the end, Phil was not surprised, as he had predicted.

Paul tried to peg back Phil's break with his description of Jens: “His mouth there almost as wide as the Mersey tunnel” scores in both the Overblown Rhetoric and Incomprehensible Commentary categories, at least for anyone who hasn't been to Liverpool, I suspect.

After the stage finish, Scotty Sunderland offered another of his Down-to-Earth commentaries with his summation of the Voeckler/Voigt et al battle. “It was unbelievable. The guys, they were just goin' for it. He [Voeckler] is just like the French version of Jensie. I mean the last kilometre, it was like a sluggin' match in the tenth round of a four-man boxin' [match].”

We can expect more metaphorical sluggin' in the mountains tomorrow.

S11

Today we need to come to terms with the fact that our favourite may not win out against his younger opponent. Sherwen was scoring heavily for all Commentary Jerseys and it was nice to see him at the top of the show taking the p!ss out of himself. Apparently there was only time, though, to feature four of his cargo-container-full of clichés – “suitcase of courage”, “throw down the gauntlet”, “cat among the pigeons” and, Tomo gleefully chucked in, “heads-of-state [of the TdF]”, which last we are yet to hear in this Tour.

Yet it was a super day of attacking commentary, the fight going right down to the wire with cliché following repetition chasing economy-of-words-fail, and really hotting up as the cream rose to the top on the final climb up to the summit at the top of the mountain on the peak of which was the stage finish line.

Phil was still struggling today to separate BMC's Marcus Burghardt and the non-riding, retired Swede, Magnus Bäckstedt, but Paul sympathised, acknowledging the difficulty of two names with the same initials. It's probably a good thing that Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans are so hard to confuse, though Phil managed that, too, late in a looong day.

Paul scored multiple mispronunciation points with “Some riders have been dropped from that group – Malcarne [Malacarne], Maxime Bouet, Johnny Hooligand … Hula … Hoogerland!” Phil showed some disrespect to his opponent and just laughed at him.

But the strain is showing on Phil. He seems to have caught Paul's geographical confusion – if it is Thursday, we must be in... “Remember we started from St Jean de Maurienne as, ...er, we were very close to the finishing climb today – La Toussuire – which climbs directly out of the start town today – St Jean de Maurienne – no!... we started at Albertville, I beg your pardon.” This time Phil laughed at himself.

While his team mate's short-term memory may be shaky, Paul demonstrated there is nothing wrong with his long-term memory, no matter how irrelevant the memories are. “I always like to remember that, in 218 BC, Hannibal, the leader of the Carthaginians, passed through this valley, Phil, with 90,000 infantry soldiers, 12,000 calvary [sic] and 37 elephants.” Paul looks very well for his age, don't you think?

And there's no time to worry about the damage done for The Greens,” Phil responded with an uncharacteristically political opinion or, at least, an entry in the Incomprehensible category.

After an ad break, “Get your motor running” music featured and I expected Paul to trot out his V8 turbo cliché but instead he dipped deeper into his Cargo-Container-of-Cliché for an extended metaphorical outing I don't recall hearing before, despite the initial assertion: “Well, it's what I've always said to you, Phil, about the Tour de France. It's like having a bank account of energy. You can only use so much of it because if you go into overdraft facility then you are going to go off the back of the group, and he used a lot of his bank of energy yesterday...”

I was expecting David Bowie as Paul then intoned: “Evans has just been sitting there with a number of team mates around him; he's still got Tejay van Garderen, the young American, and George Hincapie, the older American.”

Phil became overexcited as Cadel attacked “the yellow jersey of Bwadley Wiggins”, managing to mangle an Anglo name. He then had the Island State up in arms with “Italian flags on the right, an Australian on the front, followed by a Tasmanian..” We mainlanders know you really meant an “Australian Capital Territorian on the front” as you were referring to the tireless Mick Rogers, but you wisely chose actual economy of words.

Paul came out with another new metaphorical cliché combined with language-mangulation. “There's some big names in this group. We've decanted the real cream to the top of the peloton this afternoon.”

Phil had some intelligence to share about the last descent: “It was very, very badly unpaved on the way down” he told us. Hang on, couldn't that be good, if “badly unpaved” equates to “well paved”? It certainly didn't look unpaved, as Pierre Rolland confirmed after closely inspecting the surface on one sharp bend.

A controversy over the Tour judge's “precarious” decision at a KOM point had both Paul and Phil going off at an irrelevant tangent to battle in currency conversion. The prize the rider had won equalled 11,000 Ugandan Shillings, advised Paul. Phil countered with a conversion to “African” Rand. South-Pacific-Peso holders were none the wiser.

Phil launched his final attack of the day, attempting to surprise Paul with: “This guy's yo-yo was bought in a cheap shop”. Paul was unworried, reeling Phil's break back in steadily with “You know, when the lights go out and you've been doing all that pace-making, they really go out and you have to just turn them off with a switch and that's exactly what Michael Rogers has done...” But Phil was not quite finished, counter-attacking with “You know, he who suffers the longest, wins the day.” Er, yes, that would be the winner of last place.

Paul would not be denied the stage win and reached into his auxiliary Cupboard of Carpentry Clichés: “ Chris Froome is slowly screwing up the… screw there.”

Phew, I wonder if they can repeat today's performance over even more mountains tomorrow.

S12

Perhaps I am becoming old and grumpy but after this many stages of the Tour each year I find myself just being irritated by the commentary. “Turn the sound off,” you say? Then how would I glean the gold from the repetitive dross??

It's the day-in, day-out build-up of the commentators' signature turns-of-phrase which starts to grate on my nerves. Phil contributes but Paul is the bigger offender. For him everything seems to be “little”. (If it isn't little, it's “a fraction”.) Today, pain came in “little bits” and so did “argy-bargy”. Crashes are usually “nasty” and “little” except when they are “massive”. Even a weekend can be “nasty”, especially if is coming up to the quatorze juillet when everyone hops in their car to go en vacances and clogs up the roads. Tommy Voeckler's knee has “nasty recurring tendinitis” – but that story was aborted when Phil spotted “a nuclear train!”, apparently transporting waste to the south. Greenpeace was nowhere to be seen and, to me, it looked like any ordinary freight train carrying ordinary shipping containers. Maybe they were actually Paul's cargo-containers of clichés.

Fortunately Paul's all-purpose-irritant adjective “precarious” only had one outing today but Phil's bizarre pronunciations of name of the Dane, the wonderful, wonderful “Boy-son Hagen”, and of French favourite “Voy-kler” rolled often from his tongue.

And why do the leaders always “set the pace-making”? Riders can be said to “set the pace” or “make the pace”. Anything more is verbose, an Economy-of-Words Fail. Then there's everything which is “left-hand” or “right-hand”. We often hear Paul talk about riders looking over their “right-hand shoulder”. Today it was “Look at the scars down the left-hand leg there.” But I haven't heard of anyone's sore or broken “left-hand hand”, yet.

Again today we were told how the madison race was named and why the French call it L'Americain. Twice today Paul mentioned how good the Ardèche is for canoe-kayaking – more cash for comment? Also twice we heard that Bernard Vallet was Paul's team-mate in 1982. I guess it had some relevance the first time as we passed through Bernie's home town which hasn't ever forgotten his KOM title in that year's TdF, aided and abetted by Paul.

All right, I must try to stop being irritated and try to be amused and amusing with the gems I am given.

Tomo hit the heights of Overblown Rhetoric at the top of the show with “The marathon three-week torture test otherwise known as the Tour de France continues on its merry journey.” Yes, he seriously said “merry”. How apt a word to describe the pain and suffering and/or injury all the riders experience.

 

David Moncoutié, who abandoned today, probably should tell the commentary team that rumours of his death after crashing on a col descent are greatly exaggerated, after Phil came out with: “He's finished all previous ten [Tours]... Sadly, Paul, no longer with us...”

Paul apparently needed to keep his word count up with some Commentary-for-Commentary's-Sake: “Just listen to the sound... of the... wheels ticking over there... as the riders freewheel [over group shot with everyone pedalling] and, er, that bunch now all of a sudden has stretched up into a very, very big line” [over helicopter shot of a normally bunched peloton traversing a T-junction].

Phil was concerned about the temperature. “It is quite warm, as you can see by the shadows as well,” he reckoned, apparently unaware that there are also shadows in Antarctica in summer.

Phil wanted Paul to say who was going to win, but Paul wouldn't. Or would he? No, but yes.

“Very soon Paul Sherwen will come off the fence and tell me if they [the breakaways] are going to win.” “I am not going to do it just yet although I think this breakaway is going to survive...” Paul said without a hint of irony.

Later Paul became distracted by Phil's irrelevant story about silkworms and their product, commenting that silk is “very similar to gold; a very malleable, er... metal.” Yeah, right.

Then they saw some spectators who had “sprayed their car yellow” in support of Wiggo. “Money was no expense there,” said Phil. Actually the job didn't look all that bad.

Then, Phil said, over pictures of a field of wheat: “So, as we continue through the ripening corn...” That was pretty corny, if it was a joke. Soon, though, Phil was fretting that the peloton may not fit over a narrow suspension bridge ahead. “The biggest problem for the peloton now is to keep safe on these narrow roads. They are very narrow and they still have to squeeze over that big bridge.” So the bridge is big now??

And where would we be without Paul's “factoids”, with several of which he irrelevantly regaled us during the afternoon. At one point, no doubt suffering 'word association football', he asked if Phil knew that “Britain's Henry Cavendish was the person who first invented hydrogen.” He didn't say who had been second nor did he comment on the progress Cavendish's “invention” had made in the race to develop its oxide, water.

But Phil stole the stage on the line with a couple of beauties: “...as David Millar steps on the gasworks...” and “It's the last 1000 metres of the longest day in the Tour de France which was 23,000 metres...” Well, the metric system is just so confusing to English people, isn't it?

Thanks, Phil. That made my day. All is forgiven.

 

Continued on Disc 2 in Part 2

GmiC © Copyright NeilA 2012

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