Cycling in Sydney Australia
(Whaddya mean where are the earlier Ss? You need to read Part One first.)
You know another commentary cliché I am really fed up with hearing? “There's a long way to go in this race.” When will there not be? After the Champs-Elysées finish? I think I've heard it multiple times in every stage up to today though, mercifully, only once in S13.
And then there's “This is why the leaders, Phil, of the race … all want to sit near the front end of this pack. They know this is going to be a very, very nervous run into the finish line and dangerous, too.” It is, of course, just Paul being considerate – Phil may not have worked all this out over the last 40 years and may forget from day to day to day to day...
Today, Paul, through dint of almost constant scoring, established a near insurmountable lead in most Commentary Jersey competitions, although he and Phil are still neck and neck in the fight for Yellow. Paul also demonstrated again why geography is not his special subject, which is a good thing since he is supposedly a cycling commentator.
Keenan started the scoring, though, with: “On the rest day, Rémy di Gregorio was arrested but we're waiting to see more of that.” Eh? Who does he think should be arrested next? Wiggo, perhaps... it might be the only way Cadel can win.
Paul strayed into his shaky geographical area first with: “[The Hérault] is a fairly long river at 150 kilometres...” If that's “fairly long” (shorter than today's stage), how would he describe, say, the 7000km Nile? On previous form, maybe as “a nasty little river”. Then it was: “This is not a categorised climb, it's just a slight incline as we move away now from the Hérault...” (So, we've left it, Paul?) “...and start to drop down...” (...but we're on a climb) “...to the outskirts of the... er, Hérault département” (So, we're going back into it...?) “...and then, of course, we'll be right the way along the Mediterranean coast.” (...no, we're not, then.) A little later, Paul promoted the Mediterranean a notch: “That's where they will take that right-hand bend, have the Mediterranean Ocean on their left-hand shoulders...” Not finished with the Med, he described the area as “grippy”, one of his more Incomprehensible Commentary Clichés. I thought, if the riders were in the Med, it was more likely to be “slippy”. We will never know because they never actually got their wheels wet.
The next commentary crisis came because of the wind. It's direction was critical, to the nth degree, or fraction of a degree, apparently. Paul declared: “...the wind's in the wrong direction. You need it to be about 45 minutes to your front to take advantage of that...” So about three-quarters of a degree difference then?
Just to be sure that their listeners were clear about where the wind was coming from and where riders needed to be in the bunch, Phil succinctly explained: “He's got himself on the exact right side of the bunch, the right-hand side of the picture as we look at the yellow jersey but the left-hand side of the pack because the wind is now blowing from the left-hand side of our picture.” Paul clarified even further: “Yep and it will be, er, blowing, er, three-quarters on the shoulders of these riders. I make it theoretically it should be three-quarters front and that's why the peloton is so nervous.” I reckon they'd be even more nervous if they had to rely on Paul and Phil to tell them how and where to ride.
Next there was “a nasty little climb”. (Who'd have thought?) “The thing is, Phil, this climb, Mont St Clair, is going to hit him like a newspaper in the face... a rolled-up newspaper, that is.” “Let's hope so, anyway,” added Phil, somewhat unkindly, (but unintentionally, no doubt, since he is a nice guy, really). “...And once they start this climb in oar-nest, in orn, or, all honesty, Phil...” “In earnest,” Phil inserted helpfully, as Paul continued undaunted: “in earnest, they will find they get caught very quickly.”
Phil continued: “It's nine-percent, this climb, and it doesn't relinquish all the way to the summit.” Um, that would be “relent”, Phil, or perhaps “let up” would be good. The down part was also a problem: “This is a tricky old technical descent. The riders have got to look where they're going now.” That should be a novel challenge for them.
On the flat again, Paul identified “the narrow section we were talking about with the very strange medium [sic] restrip [eh?] down the middle.” Yes, it's always strange when there's a median strip down the middle. Both commentators went to the line locked together, barely a half-word between them until Phil finished the stage with the incomprehensible. “The wind is the problem but the riders are at the top of their speed today.” Two stage wins in two days for the old man. Who said he is past it?
I had to turn off when Tomo brought on Rupert Guinness to help him sum up. Even though today's Hawaiian shirt was a conservative blue, it was still too much for a sensitive soul like myself.
It was a taxing day in the commentary box, as it was for the riders on the road in the foothills of yet another mountain range, number four for this Tour.
Paul taxed himself particularly, with some more ill-advised attempted geographical allusions. These finished with predictable results given his previous forays in this field.
Geography Fail #1 for the day began with “We are now moving into the valley of the Ariège, a very, very long river at 170km.” Everything's relative, of course, so let's forget comparisons to the Nile. Yesterday's river was only “fairly long” being 20km shorter than today's “very, very long” one. Good thing we are not in the Loire valley then, given this, the longest of French rivers, is 1012km, which should be, in Paul's reckoning, “very, very, plus another 80-odd 'verys' long”.
Geography Fail #2 came shortly afterwards as we were “not very far from the underground caves here...” Really? The caves here are underground??
Geography Fail #3 was a combined effort which also included some arithmetic. The last climb today is very hard, we were told. But just how hard? Paul had bad news. “The final three kilometres of the Mur de Péguère, Phil, they're at 18 and 20 per cent.” Phil immediately responded with worse news. I think. “Yes, and it's steep as well. It's just under 13 percent, though apparently the road signs say it is 13 per cent. We'll all get to see it for the first time later...” so, I guess, we could judge for ourselves then.
The commentators then chatted about how unsavoury it is that hooligans with flares have turned up at the Tour, and have unfortunately scorched the skin of some riders. Phil opined that such hooligans should stay at soccer matches. Yes, that is a much better place for them. At least you expect them there.
Not content with failure at geography, Paul ventured into the meteorological field as the leaders climbed into the mountain mists. “Weather can change so quickly here. All of a sudden from a sunny ride along the valley roads of the Ariège, the next minute you're up in the wet rain at the top.” Indeed, Pyrenean rain is especially wet.
Phil agreed that “wet rain” would create a hazard on the “descent down”. “What they've got to watch on the way down now are the slippery road surfaces... er, it's just a smither of dampness... It could be treacherous if they're not careful.” I was glad he clarified that it was dangerous. I was thinking that “just a smither” might have been OK.
When one of the riders had a slight mechanical issue with a rear mechanism, Paul was keen to blow it out of proportion. “It made a terrible mess of his posh bike”, I thought I heard. Or maybe it was “of his pushbike”. But it was nothing a new derailleur would not have fixed.
Then it was on to the amazing Peter Sagan. How old is he now? Twenty-two, you both say. And you said it again. And again. And again. But, the other day, he was 23 for a little while. Perhaps that is the secret of his success – unlike us mere mortals, he is getting younger every day.
Paul spotted a spectator with a “little sign there beside the road” saying “ 'Paris 917km'. It's still a long way to go.” You don't say? Actually, you do. You say it every bl00dy day.
“Now this is the peloton. They've just made that right turn to the steep section of the road,” says Phil over a shot of the peloton making a left turn to the steep section of the road. That would be the “other right” then.
Sensing Phil scoring points and threatening his lead, Paul goes for the bleedin' obvious: “It's difficult to move up through the main field once you've been left behind.” Then, seeing Wiggo emoting: “He doesn't look very happy at all, Wiggins. He keeps nodding his head” as the pictures show Wiggo shaking his head in vehement disagreement.
Phil harked back to his Dave-Zabriskie-no-food-diet call early in the Tour by commenting that the stage winner, Luis León Sánchez, “was not involved in anything” today. Surely, Phil, he must have had some involvement or the officials wouldn't have given him the win.
It was left to Tomo to scoop up most of the remaining stage points in his outtro with a demonstration of unparallelled skills at incoherent interviewing. Scott Sunderland gets points for straight-facedly enduring the question about Cadel's punctures: “The fact that he broke down when he did, was that a good thing to do... or did he have a choice?” Not content with that, Tomo added a geography fail of his own, suggesting the Pyrenees were a fairy-tale figment of someone's imagination, with: “We're not very far from the Pyrenees, the summits of this great mountain range, the mythical mountain range...” You're a legend, Tomo, and a cert for the White Jersey with such consistent performances.
In what was a quiet, uneventful day, the favourites didn't appear to be trying too hard. They certainly weren't on the top of their game on the run into the second rest day, although Paul made sure he scooped up any points available to have a reasonable swag near the end of the day. Phil, sensing that he had missed a few opportunities, suggested Paul go and have a cup of tea while he, Phil, finished off the commentary in the gap between the breakaway finish and the main field coming home. Paul is too experienced a campaigner to fall for that ruse and stuck around to mark his cagey, older rival.
It was Matt Keenan who demonstrated that he should not be discounted as a contender for the White Commentary Jersey in this Tour and could even be a future Yellow Jersey contender. He put in some solid scoring moves early in the telecast, beginning with the Incomprehensible: “Orica GreenEdge desperately seeking a stage win. They've had just about everything inside the top ten. A first, second, third, fourth, fifth, a sixth and a seventh but yet to get number one.” So “a first” is not a “number one”? Where was that first then, anyway?
He tried a nice bit of Language-Mangulation with: “He had to get out of the saddle momentarily to exalarate into the slipstream of Arashiro” before stretching a metaphor just slightly ridiculously in: “Bales of hay off in the field oblivious to the action happening on the road.” Bales of hay, of course, are normally very aware of what is happening around them and really care.
When Phil and Paul arrived they scored mainly for their standard clichés, repetitions and mispronunciations. Paul again told us, in case we had forgotten, that France is divided into 95 départements, apparently again forgetting poor Mayotte. He would know about it if bananas grew there, I am sure, given his little lecture on behalf of banana growers, extolling the nutritional benefits the bent fruit bestows upon cyclists.
Things picked up briefly when Phil and Paul spotted the “King of the Mountains donkey” in the crowd. “Its ears erect in salute of the Tour de France, all dressed in his polka-dot gear,” intoned Phil. Forget les vaches du Tour. They're sooo last week.
Phil scored again with: “Yesterday the peloton were [sic] beaten by 18 minutes but there were extraneous circumstances.” I guess you can plead extenuating circumstances for that gaffe, Phil. It's been a long Tour but, don't forget, there is still a long way to go.
Paul commented that it had been a very fast start to the day “with 45 kilometres per hour being covered in the first hour of the race”, grabbing an Economy-of-Words-Fail point.
Finally, Phil crossed the line first with an overexcited description of the French favourite's arrival in Pau. “Thomas Voyk-ler on the right here taking on Nicki Sørensen. You see Voyk-ler can sprint when he wants to, just pipping Voyk-ler.” At least that gives me hope I could become a sprinter, too, and beat myself in a finishing sprint.
Another day in the mountains inspired our commentators to reach great heights of overblown rhetoric, exaggeration and inaccuracy, while failing in economy of words, but demonstrating great team work.
Phil and Paul combined to explain concisely (not) how the wind affects ascending riders. “ A tail-wind is blowing,” observed Phil, “but, you know, that often makes the climb harder because of the tempo they use with helping tail-winds.” “It's better for the climbers if there's a tail-wind,” countered Paul. “Where you have a head-wind climb, it really nulls the acceleration of the climbers once they get up to these stiff... er, sticky heights.” Much clearer now, thanks.
As the top of a climb approached, Paul noticed “the summit of the Col du Tourmalet, but it's going to take us quite a way to get there.” Phil saw it too. “You can see the mountain ahead as we'll zig-zag our way through the blue sky at the top.” The riders will be really flying then.
Phil noted that “He [Voeckler] could be heading for the Polka Dot Jersey today or tomorrow” but Paul identified another competition the Frenchman could win: “I've gotta say that, er, Thomas Voeckler probably wins the award for the Ministry of Funny Faces. He's pulled his face into so many contorted positions there, because of the pain that he's going through.”
The theme of poor Thomas's suffering was too good to drop, so they ran with it, noting that he was riding without a heart-rate monitor or power meter. “Well, he's just that kind of rider, Phil, … he rides with his guts, he rides with courage and he rides with instinct and that's why today … he's doin' it old-skool, if you like, this afternoon he's riding with his own sensation and his own feeling for the bike race.” I was glad he was using his own feelings and not someone else's. “Right,” added Phil, “he's reading his body messages without the use of machinery...” He could be human after all.
Phil was getting more excited as “Now Feillu has got back up to Voeckler as they now continue their descent to ground level... well, not quite...” Yes, it's true; they really are flying.
Phil reassured his audience that the next climb was not too hard: “The Col d'Aspin isn't as severe as the Aspin.” I was relieved to be reminded of that, I think. Having climbed it myself years ago, I found cows to be the biggest problem.
More team work followed as the pair explained how hard it was for Cadel to catch up. Phil began: “I'm surprised, Paul, but he doesn't seem to be closing the gap.” “Well, it's difficult to close the gap on this descent. This is the sweeping part of the descent, so the difference in speed between the group that he's chasing and himself will be almost, er, almost negligible.” Phil finished off with some impeccable summing up, exactly contradicting what Paul had just said: “Yeah, because of the sharp bends and the constant braking here...” Hang on, do these guys listen to what the other says?
Paul was by now really of the belief that the riders could fly. “Well, the top of the climb is, er, just about 20... 15 kilometres to go to the finish. Fifteen kilometres, 10 miles, and that 15 kilometres they will probably cover in around about 10 or 12 minutes.” A quick mental calculation makes that an average of up to 90km/h on a twisting, narrow road. Surely, just a slight exaggeration, Paul? Indeed, Paul's later estimate came down to a somewhat more realistic “around 60km/h” and it actually did take Voeckler just on 15 minutes from the top of the Peyresourde to the finish line.
Paul remained astonished by Voeckler's performance, though. “You never would have expected this in the first week of the Tour de France ... He was at the back of the pack on numberous occasions.”
Phil was in his own little world of over-the-top commentary, scoring points with the poetic: “...dragging him up through the debris of dropped riders”, forgetting where they were, again: “...brilliant attacking on the Col of Super Bagnères, the last climb of the day” (possibly it was on a previous Tour's stage but not on today's) and getting hot and bothered by the temperature: “The thermometer is beginning to boil now, Paul. It's gone up to 92 degrees Fahrenheit... That's making it a scorcher out there...” (Yeah, hellishly hot in England, Phil, but this is southern France. Still 120 degrees F to go before it does boil, so not even half-way, really.)
Four stages left in this Tour. Still a long way to go.
Today turned into a slug-fest between Phil and Paul in the misty mountains. No-one else really had a look-in when it came to point-scoring.
“Here he is, the King of the Mountains Elect,” announced Phil, making this particular monarchy sound remarkably democratic. Later it was Voeckler “laying down the foundations for a very good attack in the King of the Mountains contest.” Phil, he's already leading the competition and wearing the jersey...
As Levi Leipheimer took a bidon, Paul thought it important to detail the move with a breathless Economy-of-Words-Fail: “Leipheimer just, er, going back to the team car, taking on board a drink to keep himself topped up with his liquids here this afternoon...” It could have been a turning point in the race... or not.
Phil was sure of his next assertion, too. “...and if Wiggins leaves these mountains in yellow tomorrow you won't find anybody who doesn't believe he won't win this Tour de France.” Well, actually, I can think of two who don't believe he won't win – myself and Wiggo. Anyone else in my boat? Then: “That guy just doesn't know the word 'give up',” declared Phil. Perhaps that's because it's two words?
Paul had apparently discovered someone who did believe Wiggo wouldn't win. “...as we're getting the... er,... rough read of the Overall standings now...” [over graphic of Classement du Meilleur Grimpeur – or KOM positions] “...it really is Thomas Voeckler is stretching out a very long way in that competition.”
I am not sure what sort of bike Paul rides these days, if any, but it mustn't have a very big gear, at least compared to Alejandro Valverde's 53x11, “a much bigger gear than the normal bikes that you can pick up from the bikeshop.” Yes, hugely bigger than, say, a common-or-garden-variety 52x11, but not actually rare.
Paul had another of his geographic failures mid-stage: “Once they leave this small town though now, Phil, they start to get into the barren area of the summit of the Col de l'Aubisque...” Wasn't the Col d'Aubisque yesterday?
Neither Phil nor Paul had any comment at all about the bloke running “balls out” beside Valverde on the climb, probably because he was not actually causing any of the riders “a spot of bother” or even “a little bit of difficulty”, two of their favourite clichés for the rest of the climbs. Disappointing really, since one of Paul's clichés about “a little bit”, “a spot” or “a fraction” would have been appropriate.
The two did combine for a nice little metaphorical outing, though, Phil offering: “They've got the whole Tour de France lying on their backs.” Paul came back [see what I did there?] with: “Well, they have. They're putting the final knife into the back of the, er, opposition here this afternoon.” Surely it must be hard to get the knife in the oppositions' backs while they are lying on them?
Phil gave his new favourite cliché another outing here this afternoon: “They've completely imploded the peloton across the Pyrenees.” Despite hearing this almost every day in the mountains, I still have no idea what he is talking about.
Phil maintained that “the top two men in the Overall have got only one man they don't really care about in front of them and if they can catch him they'll beat him as well.” (But how many they do care about are in front?) Paul agreed, (I think): “Well, that's what they're looking for, Phil.” But didn't Phil say they didn't care about him? Duzzen matta, “He's going to win by the skin of his racing shorts,” Phil predicted presciently.
Is that the Eiffel Tower on the horizon? It still looks like a long way to go...
This was a day to savour a couple of real nuggets of gold from our favourites, despite most of the contenders simply recycling their remarks from previous stages and previous Tours.
Tomo started the trend in his intro, dredging up one of his most inappropriate metaphors for this most sublime of tournaments. “Three more days of racing before this beautiful event comes to a grinding halt on the Champs Elysées...” I guess that would be after the most exciting and climactic sprint of the Tour, which is surely what everyone is looking forward to...
Dogs have played a significant role in previous Tours de France, usually as mobile road hazards, but I had forgotten the year one actually won the race. Phil had me chuckling at the image he unintentionally conveyed with: “Let me tell you a little story, Mike. Take your mind back to 1996, Bjarne Riis, the Great Dane, he won...” Yep, Bjarne was the big dog that year.
Paul had a story of his own and, not unusually, he struggled to make it clear. “Team Sky had a plan, they had a strategy, they did not want to air from that plan.” Er, you mean 'err'? “And they've never faltered from that plan from day one,” offered Phil. Er, yeah, that's what he meant.
Paul, again, set himself up for Geographic Failure by telling another thrilling story, this time about the third-place-getter in the stage to Brive-la-Gaillarde in 1998, “Ján Svorada, who at that time was a Czechoslovakian but, after that, he took Slovakian... he took the Slovak, er, nationality and, I think he changed to Slovenian. He couldn't quite make his mind up, his family came from either side of the border.” Which border would that be, Paul? The one between Czechoslovenia and Slovakia or the one between Yugoslovenia and Czechorcash??
Undaunted by creating this confusion with irrelevant comments, he proceeded to repeat, for those who might have come in late, that France is divided into the wrong number of départements. Mayotte must by now be contemplating secession.
But things improved significantly as Paul felt compelled to move even further into irrelevancy to comment on the signature phrases of some well-known local rugby commentators. Phil concurred with this digression, noting “Oh, they make things famous, don't they? Paul's is 'Suitcase in the courage' innit?… What is it?” “Suitcase of courage,” Paul reminded him, sounding rather grumpy that Phil has not been paying attention for the last few decades.
That exchange prompted me to think: “Crikey. I should quit now. These guys don't need me to take the p!ss. They do it to themselves much better than I can.”
Paul returned to turning the mundane into the just-slightly-ridiculously bleedin' obvious. “Even at the end of the Tour de France it is important to eat,” he intoned. Except for Dave Zabriskie, no doubt, who, as a vegan, eats nothing at all, according to Phil.
Phil became concerned about legal issues: “...as they race up to the summit of the last climb of this day and really the last serious crime of the Tour de France...” I didn't think that putting hills in the way of the riders ranked with the drug taking and tacks being thrown on the road but, of course, Phil would know – he's been around the Tour for 40 years.
It was left to Tomo to finish off in his own inimitable style with another failed choice of words in a question to Rupert Guinness: “I wanna get your thoughts on Orica-GreenEdge, Rupert. Matt Goss and Orica have missed out again... they haven't returned any positive results...” (Well, that's a good thing surely, I thought – no doping.) “...and what I mean by that is 'victories'.” (Oh, right, well that's a bad thing, then.)
Rupert, sadly, has not featured strongly in this Tour. He seems to have bulked up for the sprints, though, and the shirt he chose tonight was guaranteed to frighten away all opposition. Extra points for that.
The race of truth beckons. What can our contenders pull out of their individual
suitcases er, cargo-containers er, panniers er, jersey-pockets-of-cliché for that?
There is nothing like an individual time-trial to give our favourites the opportunity to repeat themselves endlessly and annoyingly and to mispronounce rider names frequently and in various ways. And I lost count of the number of times Paul told us how the riders try to make themselves and their machines “as aerodynamic as possible”.
Tomo was at his language-mangling best, setting the scene with: “Behind me you might be able to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a very gothic city here in the town of 'Shartra'...”. At least Gabriel Gaté could pronounce the name of the city famous for its baguettes. Tomo may have enjoyed too much of the local bread because he soon became obsessive about the riders creating “a slice of history”.
Matt Keenan may have been indulging in some other famous French produce judging by his offering us “...a chance to look at this 'stand-sown' church.”
Paul was unstoppable today. Of Cavendish's stage win yesterday, “I don't think I've ever seen a sprint like that for the last 10 years that was so dominant and from all the wrong reasons...” How wrong could Cav have been to blitz the field like that?
Paul decided to get all technical on the subject of time-trial bikes; a dangerous move, as it turned out: “...but probably the most important thing is the rider's position which can make you that better... that much better when it comes to your co-efficient of cutting-through-the-air.” He'll have to be careful in use of such complex terminology in case he confuses his audience.
OK, so what else is important on a TT bike? The controls, perhaps. “The brakes for these bikes are actually on the outside of the handlebars, uh, on the extensions, because you nearly... you nearly always need to use the brakes when you are manoeuvering the bike a lot better, but the gears are actually on the end of those long little extensions in the front of the handlebars.” Oh, really??
And, as well as that in-depth analysis, “...if you look there, [Where?] you can actually not see the front brake. It's actually hidden inside of the back of the front fork.” Oh, yes, I don't see.
Some insight into Thomas Voeckler's physique followed. “He might not win the individual time-trial here but he has certainly won the hearts of the French people because of the way that he races. He races with courage, he races with his heart and he races with his gut.” But surely a gut would slow him down? Perhaps it would endear him to the more “traditionally built” French people but I still couldn't see any sign of little-old Tommy V carrying such excess weight.
Phil must have been having trouble getting any point-scoring salvos through Paul's constant barrage but he had a winner after Paul commented on Cavendish's TT time (1:11:11) having “all the ones”. It reminded him of another Brit's one-time record ride: “...well, it was one-minute-11.144, I think, was the 4000-metre world record set by Chris Boardman… I think it was, before it finally fell to Jack Bobridge to a one-ten.” Paul's only comment was “Wow”. Yes, impressive performances but Phil didn't mention that they must have been on rocket-powered bikes since that time equates to over 200 km/h. (For the record, Boardman rode 4 km in 4:11.114 at Manchester, on 29/8/96; Aussie, Jack Bobridge, rode 4:10.534 at Sydney on 2/2/2011, each just slightly under 60 km/h.).
Phil commented favourably on Cadel “still riding in sixth place overall”. Despite this being a coveted top-ten position, rarely achieved in the past by any other Aussie and only ever by the elite-of-the-elite in world cycling, Paul just wasn't impressed: “Yes, he's a long way down in the Overall standings, Phil, more than nine minutes behind Bradley Wiggins.” OK, Paul, no need to rub it in that a Pom is winning.
There was more vital information that Paul had to impart. I pricked up my ears. What is it we have to understand now, Paul? “What you have to understand is this is not a fifty-three-and-a-half-kilometre race this afternoon, this is the... this is the result of riding two-and-a-half-thousand miles or three-and-a-half-thousand kilometres around France and now he has to put it all on the line over fifty-three-and-a-half kilometres but this is a domain he is used to...” Sorry, I only half-understand that – it isn't a fifty-three-and-a-half-kilometre race but it is?
Then we had a shot of the alarming John Lelangue in the driver's seat of the BMC team car. Paul noted “John Lelangue, he's got the notes... He's almost like a rally driver here...” Yeah, except that the only thing rally drivers do is drive – they don't read and write the notes as they drive, it's too frickin' dangerous! Not for JL, apparently.
Whew! After that stage I was exhausted. Thank heavens tomorrow is a procession but I bet the clichés will again be trotted out by the container-load...
It is a great honour for a commentator to take victory on the Champs-Elysées and ours were queuing up for battle. It was the end of a perfect Tour for Great Britain's commentators. The day's result was not quite what I expected but it was certainly no disappointment.
In the intro we were treated to all three of the heads-of-state of commentary as Paul and Phil joined Tomo to reminisce about this Tour. Apparently SBS's budget only stretches to two radio mikes as Phil had to share one with Tomo but each took this in his stride.
Phil let us know he and Paul “have waited 99 Tours de France to see a British rider come home first” but I think it only feels like that to him.
Tomo began a penetrating line of questioning: “Paul, how do you make of it all?” After Paul had worked out how to respond to that, Tomo tried: “What happens today will be... possibly the most significant moment in British sporting history.” Let's hope not, I thought, or it could be just like it was for Australia last year where the home state of the first-ever Aussie winner was so impressed it failed to budget any money at all for cycling infrastructure projects this year.
So, Phil and Paul, you have 74 combined years of experience at the Tour, summarised Tomo. “How do you do it?” My ears pricked up, hoping to hear Paul spill their secrets. “I don't know how we do it; we just enjoy it. We try to bring the country and the sport the way we feel it and I think people... a lot of people who watch the Tour de France, they like it more for the views and the chateaus that we go around and it's just a great sporting event.” Oh, is that how they do it?
On then to the defending champion, and Tomo had the inside goss (something which came back to haunt him later): “Well, Cadel Evans, he won't be crowned the champion in 2012 but his reign as a Tour de France rider... well, it continues...” Such insight! This is what we stay up all night for!!
Then it was on to the road with Phil and Paul for the last time in this Tour. I suppressed a sob at the thought of not hearing them again... for, perhaps, another week.
Paul was showing good form after these three long weeks of exertion, coming straight out with a mangled cliché. Wiggo looks “...very, very relaxed now. Er, I think yesterday when he won that, uh, final time-trial was the first time that he showed any emotion at all. It was as if... as if a mantle had been lifted from his shoulders.” So, a mantle was lifted off and the weight of the Tour replaced it?
Then he dabbled in the incomprehensible. “I had a bit of a giggle last night coming up on the motorway when I saw one of those green hands in the back of a 'pleece' car and he was pointing at me and I thought he wanted me to stop for excess driving.” How would a green-handed policeman know Paul drove too much?
Paul took an opportunity to apologise for a grievous commentary error in earlier mis-identifying a Parisien street. Phil was gracious. “[Apology] accepted. After three-and-a-half weeks, Paul, you are allowed that mistake.” Hmmm, I wondered, but is he allowed all the others? Paul, again, launched into his French département story with, again, the wrong numbers. That ringing in the background was the président of Mayotte phoning up to register his disgust.
It was Phil's turn with a cliché of his own. “They will open up the tanks because it's the last stage of the Tour de France.” “Tanks” as in, say, “panzers”? Not “septic tanks”, I hope. Then Phil confused himself with that damned metric system again: “This is downhill... they'll get up to speeds here of 50 to 55 kilometres per hour at least, which is 31 to 34 kilometres per hour.” That must be why “The chase now is going into new speed limits” because they are slowing down.
Paul and geography are never a good mix. Forgetting his previous Parisien commentary error (absolution from Phil apparently permits this), he proceeded to point out on the helicopter shot: “That's the Belle Île down there, and over to the right-hand side, of course, the very famous chur... Cathedral of Notre Dame.” Actually, Notre Dame is on the Île de la Cité; Belle Île is out in the Atlantic.
“Oh, there's been a crash” is one of the most commonly used clichés in the Tour and it appeared again today. Paul explained as two riders picked themselves up off the pavé: “... it just goes to exaggerate how dangerous the Tour de France can be on any kilometre of this 4000 km journey around France,” mangling the language while managing to exaggerate the race distance significantly.
The pair unleashed a veritable cornucopia of cliché and mangled metaphor in the closing moments of the race at a rate unprecedented in this edition of the Tour. We heard many favourites and memorable turns of phrase such as:
“It's desperate moments now.”
“A charging beast – it's called the peloton.”
“They all want to win in Paris.”
“They're all together but they're very, very stressed indeed.”
“It'll be all action when they come out.”
“He's still locked onto the wheel.”
“The Skytrain is all set to roll.”
Suddenly though, and following his strong performance in the intro, Tomo took the stage in a canter on the back of some really cringeworthy interviewing of Australian cyclists after the finish.
In a classic demonstration of how to get the interviewee off-side immediately, he ordered Matt Goss to take off his sunglasses and said “Gossy... commiserations, bad luck, you've given it a right royal shot over the last, er, three weeks without success – ” “Without success??” choked Gossy, looking mightily peeved. Tomo must be a lot braver than I am because, instead of running a mile, he tried to soldier on with his remarks while the big man in front of him, who had just succeeded in riding three-and-a-half-thousand of the hardest kilometres possible around France and who'd been in the running for the Sprinter's Jersey until penalised out of contention, displayed extreme irritation.
Desperately trying to dig himself out of this hole, but only making it deeper, Tomo stammered: “I... well, er, I shouldn't, er, well, I uh, uh, I mean, you haven't won a stage and I don't say that without any disrespect to you.” Gossy fidgeted, looked around, adjusted his jersey, took out his ear-piece, and
launched a punch at Tomo gave Tomo a death stare while trying to figure out what he had just said and what it might mean.
But Tomo hadn't finished: “You've tried very, very hard and all of Australia is praising you for what you've done.” Finally, after a deep breath, Gossy replied, “Thanks..., I guess... Yeah, look uh, it's not easy to win a stage here at the Tour and we've given everything we had...” For dog's sake, Tomo, let him go have a rest, I willed him through my TV, to no avail.
Next Tomo victim was a sweaty Adam Hansen. I could hardly watch but I needn't have worried. After his brush with hospitalisation, Tomo was playing it safe. Two particularly non-penetrating 'questions' followed after Hanso had given his feelings about this Tour. “Adam, you're from Cairns in north Queensland,” Tomo stated. “Yes,” said Adam, correctly. “Are they all up watching you tonight?” Instead of giving the obviously tempting answer of “HTF would I know?”, Adam politely responded with hardly even a raised eyebrow, “I hope so”. Gosh, I thought, we are learning a lot, aren't we?
Finished with talking to the riders, Tomo turned back to Spiderman-T-shirted Scotty Sunderland, saying, “It's always good to talk to the Aussies.” Sundo, gobsmacked by what he had just witnessed, forgot to raise his microphone as he said, unconvincingly, “Yes, it is” and felt compelled to repeat himself with it practically stuck in his gaping mouth this time.
The coup de grâce came with the arrival of Rupert Guinness who had obviously deliberately saved his most nauseating, chunder-green-coloured Hawaiian shirt for this, the grand finale. I can't remember a word he had to say. Sundo was probably miffed that his shirt had been upstaged.
Which now only leaves us to contemplate the jersey winners.
For the commentator using the most words to convey the least information.
Point-scoring categories include:
Labouring the Point
Extended Metaphor Stretched to Breaking-Point
Paul Sherwen 20
Phil Liggett 13
Mike Tomalaris 11
Matt Keenan 4
Scott Sunderland 2
Dave McKenzie 1
An unusually low-scoring competition for the Green this year but Sherwen prevails with a fast-finishing Tomo only just kept in his place by the 40-year veteran, Phil.
Polka Dot Jersey:
This is for the Tour's King of Language-Mangulation.
Point-scoring categories include:
Mashed-up Metaphor and Cliché
Skilful and Comprehensive Use of Cliché
Paul Sherwen 119
Phil Liggett 113
Mike Tomalaris 46
Matt Keenan 28
Scott Sunderland 3
Dave McKenzie 2
In the rarefied atmosphere at the summit of language-mangulation skills, it was a close contest but, again, Sherwen takes Polka Dot by a small margin. His domination of air-time makes it difficult for Phil to best him but, with his wealth of experience, the quality of Phil's contributions is consistently high.
The Best-of-the-Rest competition for classic commentary by a commentator with under 25 years experience.
Points may be scored by eligible contestants in any category.
Mike Tomalaris 87
Matt Keenan 52
Scott Sunderland 23
Dave McKenzie 11
Tomo's win in the White Jersey competition was never really in doubt but Keenan's performance has been a real eye-opener and Scotty could be a reliable contributor with a big future if he stays the course and takes his opportunities.
Red Card Award for Most Combative Commentator:
For outstanding performance in excessively loud and overtly physical commentary by a non-rider.
Marc Madiot is a clear winner for his solo, illegal effort in getting a Frenchman over the line largely by voice-power alone.
Rupert Guinness gets Special Mention for wearing shirts which viciously assault the viewers' eyes, causing widespread nausea and delirium among the television audience.
And now for The Big One (Drum roll, please.)
Overall consistent and excellent performance in classic commentary over three weeks
Points-scoring categories include:
Constant, Continuous, Interminable, Incessant, Never-Ending Repetition
Irrelevancy, Incorrectness and Inaccuracy
Consistently and Persistently Annoying Commentary
Paul Sherwen 77
Phil Liggett 51
Mike Tomalaris 22
Dave McKenzie 5
Matt Keenan 17
Scott Sunderland 3
For most of the race for the Yellow Jersey, it seemed to be destined to go down to the wire between Phil and Paul, but Paul's greater output saw him surge at the end to complete the expected Sherwen-wash. So, it's Paul in Yellow, Green and Pink Polka-Dot for this year. (He must be getting fashion tips from Rupert Guinness.)
GmiC © Copyright NeilA 2012