TdF 2013: Great Moments in Commentary. A Prologue, plus Stages 1 to 7

Prologue

For three weeks in July (usually), I love the Tour: There is France. There is scenery. There is drama. There's often some cows, and maybe a few dogs. There is also some cycling. And some cyclists. But mostly, for me, there is the commentary team.

The voices of cycling are where it's at. The stars, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, going head-to-head, mano a mano, cliche upon mangled metaphor, stage after torturous, gruelling, punishing, precarious, overhyped, exaggerated stage, to determine who will be Tour champion. 

Each year for the last 20 or so, a growing cast of SBS pretenders have tried to match them, thus far without upsetting the podium. But who knows who will stand on that top step after this year's lap of the French hexagon?  Will Phil be bested by his younger rival, Paul? Will lead-out man Matt Keenan up-stage them both or can SBS team-leader Mike "Tommo" Tomalaris steal a few stage wins? In the supporting categories, who will outdo guest commentator and veteran Hawaiian-shirt-wearer, Rupert Guinness, in the garish-garment-distracting-from-message stakes? I can pretty much call that one now: NO-ONE. Sorry, Scott Sunderland. I know you tried last year but your Spiderman T-shirt was totally eclipsed by Rupert's chunder-green tropical number.

Will anyone better the quality of Phil's commentary from last year: “...as David Millar steps on the gasworks ... it's the last 1000 metres of the longest day in the Tour de France which was 23,000 metres...” and “They've completely imploded the peloton across the Pyrenees.” Or Paul's erudite: “ Chris Froome is slowly screwing up the, uh,… screw there” and his concise, crystal-clear characterisation of the intricacies of a time-trial bike's controls:  “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 ... If you look there, you can actually not see the front brake. It's actually hidden inside of the back of the front fork.” 

What, then, can we expect this year? More of the same, is my confident prediction. 

I will be listening for commentary excursions into the following categories, and more:

*Incomprehensibility

*Language Mangulation

*Irrelevancy and Inaccuracy

*Mashed-up Metaphor and Cliché

*Consistently and Persistently Annoying

*Ever-So-Slightly or Completely Ridiculous

*Rider/Town-Name/Word Mispronunciation

*Skilful and Comprehensive Use of Exaggeration

*Constant, Continuous, Interminable, Incessant, Never-Ending Repetition

You'll probably be able to add your own categories and beat me to the best efforts by hearing them yourself but, in case you are distracted by the cycling, I hope to allow you to enjoy them all here, again and again and again... 

Stage 1

Phew! Off and racing at last. At least that will give the commentators something else to say besides repeating time and again that this is the 100th edition of the TdF and the first time it has ever visited Corsica, the Ile de Beauté. "This really is a beautiful place," isn't it? Yes, Tommo. Yes, Phil. Yes, Paul.

Paul pretty quickly diverged into irrelevancy and language mangulation with his little aside about Corsican pigs. You know, the ones that wallow in mud, not the gendarm...Sorry, I digress ... which, because of their diet of "paintballs and chestnuts", it sounded like to me, (my wife thought he said "people and chestnuts"), "gives the ham an incredibly innit... er, unmistakably, unimitable flavour."
 

Things were pretty flat for the next 20 minutes or so, both race- and commentary-wise, until the team spotted two cyclists apparently suspended from a wire stretched across a wide river next to a lovely stone-arch bridge carrying the racers. "I thought they were on the water but, in fact, they're on the shopping line down there," observed Phil, making me wonder where he shops, while Paul returned to the theme about how beautiful Corsica is and that this is the first...

Fortunately a field full of Corsican vaches distracted both commentators and they waxed lyrical about how interested all the cows are in the passage of the Tour de France. No-one had cued the cows, however, which stubbornly reclined, chewing the cud and looking bored with their backs to the riders.

Was it just me or did everyone squirm when Dave McKenzie popped into the coverage to interview three Aussie bogans looking like Hamish and Andy plus-one at the stage finish? I was relieved when Phil and Paul came back to muse over the birdlife to be found in the "natural reserve" around Corsica's largest freshwater lake. "One of the most beautiful birds that you might find here is the Mediterranean shag." Nothing from Phil on this except silence pierced by a somewhat schoolboy-like sotto-voce snigger off-mike-but-not-quite.

It was not until almost 70km to go that I noted the first appearance of Paul's all-purpose adjective. (It was not the last.) "It's a very precarious approach to the finishing line in Bastia." Paul! Get a thesaurus!! If you mean "tricky" here are some other synonyms: chancy, dangerous, dicey, dubious, hairy, hazardous, iffy, perilous, problematic, risky, ticklish... One for almost every time you use that annoying word. There are more but I am distracted by Paul's reference to "intermediary sprints" that the riders take "very seriously". Yeah? Who are they getting to do the sprints for them?

And who writes the script about the sights along the way? Must be French. "As we go past a very beautiful cathedral of Santa-Maria-Assunta..." Paul gushed, while the peloton curved around what looked like a big, non-descript, stone barn blocking the way, before returning to his irritating "precarious finish" theme. It might have been a good thing if the finish line had been changed due to the Aussie team bus getting stuck under the finish banner.

It was a long stage, it will be a long Tour... and, yes, there is a long, long way to go.

Stage 2

When is someone going to tell Tommo (after how many years?) that Gabriel "Gateau" Gaté's segment is called "Taste le Tour", not "Ler Taste of ler Tour" or some other garbled variation? Still, it was interesting to note tonight Gabriel trying to introduce "les brébis du Tour" to compete with les vaches, at least in the cheese-making stakes. Blessed are the cheese makers.

Les vaches du Tour: Blessed are the cheesemakers, but some are more blessed than others...

 
I am glad Phil could enlighten me as to what happened to Andre Greipel at the finish yesterday as I had been wondering. "He lost his gears", Phil explained, without adding any detail about where they went.
 

Then, Paul, despite steadfastly positioning himself at the head of the commentary peloton, crashed over an unseen obstacle in the day's ride, the name of the that first mountain pass, "the third category climb of the Col de  Bellagranhaffel ... Grenna ... Gren ... sorry... (chuckle) .. Bella...glan...atchoo" he finally sneezed out. One to avoid on a bicycle tour, it sounds like.

After a lesson on Corsican history from Paul, Phil added his own insight. "We should see the statue of Pasquale Paoli because he was the man whose name is everywhere in Corte because he was the man who was largely charged being the great Cortish ... Cortiscan ... er ... parra ... patrian ... patriot that really has a lot of people saying 'Thanks for that'. So his statue is really all over the place here in Corte." Er, yes, Phil, thanks for that.

Oh, is the "descent down into Corte" Paul and Phil? I guess it will be easier for the riders than the descent up. That would probably be "the grippy part of the stage" added Paul, incomprehensibly, as he digressed into a French lesson, pointing out the "arrière du poule-eton. A bunch of French chooks by the roadside, eh? I must have missed the motorbike-camera shot of them.

With 77km to go, it was time for Paul to throw in the all-purpose adjective for the first time today to inform us that "these roads aren't as precarious as we expected". You may have expected precariosity, Paul; we hoped there wouldn't be any. Too much to hope for, apparently. Phil countered with a cliche of his own, "this corridor of noise" as riders were suddenly besieged by crowds on a climb, followed by some language-mangling redundancy emphasising the "downhill descent" on which the struggling sprinters could recover. Paul resorted to his popular (with him at least) "bank account of energy" analogy as a rider munched on a snack "to keep his energy levels topped up to the maximum".

Apparently rain, forecast for the Tour in Corsica had failed to eventuate, but "nervousness is what is reigning over the front end of the main field currently," punned  Paul, unintentionally, as the bunch charged into Ajaccio.

Except for a fluffy puppy crisis in the last few kilometres which "could have been a serious incident, there" -- yeah, nearly 200 riders squashing a toilet-brush-with-legs and crashing over the top of its negligent owner who was chasing it into their path could be considered kind-of serious, I suppose, or perhaps a complete, unmitigated catastrophe injuring or killing many riders -- not much else happened in the stage. Oh, there was the guy who won it, "a rider who ... recovered from testicular cancer. What a story!" said Paul without so much as a hint of irony. But, apparently, it wasn't him, or even that other guy, after all. I'm confused. 

So, it was a pretty routine day in the commentary box of the Tour albeit in a non-routine location. (Did you know that this is the first time in 100 Tours that the riders have visited Corsica? Yes, really!)

Stage 3
I confess I would have been disappointed if our team hadn't reminded us, repeatedly, today that Corsica is a beautiful island and that this is the first... oh, you know. Phil was getting all nostalgic about their visit before they have even left.: "We'll always remember the Tour's first-ever visit to the island of Corsica", while Tommo could "see why Napoleon Bonaparte didn't wanna leave." Phil had more intimate information about the great man: "I can see why he was born here" which set both laughing uproariously, almost, well mostly Phil. Tommo had other, apparently nauseating things on his mind: "Let's have a look and see what The Taste of the Tour [still can't get that segment-name right]  throws up today." Really, Corsican food may be rich but most people can probably keep it down.
 
Soon they were getting down to business. Dave "Macka" McKenzie wanted us to be under no illusions. This would be a tough stage because "the road disappears around that corner there". That certainly could add difficulty. Thanks, Macka.
 
Tommo ventured a final digression into history before throwing up, er, over, to the race commentators: "...a spectacular island, well Napoleon Bonaparte knew exactly what he was doing when he came here all those years ago." Eh? I thought we had just established that he was born here. He had no say in it, no say in it at all, as they say.
 
There was a bit of a disagreement early on between the commentators and the French TV captions over whether they were on a 3rd or the harder 2nd category climb but Paul cleared up the confusion: "The second category climb is the one down towards the end of the day..." Doesn't sound that hard to me. Maybe I should give this racing caper a go myself, then.
 
I love it when Paul explains the technical aspects of road cycling. After a long-winded explanation of how one rider had briefly locked up his back wheel by applying "too much pressure" in a bend, he gave us chapter-and-verse on descending unfamiliar roads. "These are very, very narrow roads that these guys are going down. ... So when you go down a descent like this, you've sometimes gotta go down the descent almost blind if you like..." [Stuff that! No, I don't like and I am never giving this racing caper a go myself!!]  "...you've got to have complete trust in the gry [I heard] in front of you ..  you've always got to really try to back off a fraction ... in case the guy in front of you decks it..." So, trust the guy but don't trust the guy. I see. This descent was "tricky" and "precarious" as well, according to Paul.
 
Later the road was "narrow and precarious" (Phil is just not scoring anywhere near as freely as Paul today) and, sure enough, soon, Paul told us "a crash has gone down there" apparently involving the commentators themselves: " As we're lookin' at the bee-yutiful countryside of Corsica, all of a sudden there's a touch of wheels..." Oh, no, it's OK, it's just the riders. It happened because everyone was "nervous" approaching the feeding station. "The feeding station is always a dangerous point..." So they thought they would crash in anticipation of danger ahead? This racing caper is more complicated than I thought.
 
Next, the gradient became "precarious". I wasn't sure whether this was on a climb up or a descent down. Phil scored at last with a great mash-up of metaphor and cliché: "And there's the long, long, winding ribbon, the yellow brick road, I guess..." over the helicopter shot of pinkish bitumen snaking around the hillsides. Not Phil's best guess.
Corsican coastline amid the pink Calanques de Piana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Regional Park of Corsica near the Scandola Peninsula, north of Ajaccio. A deserted road with sensational scenery ideal for a tour, or for The Tour.
 
With 20-odd km to go, Paul continued racking up the points with a nice poker metaphor (I think):"We-ell, it's the time of the race now where there's no more messing about... last possible chance to go back and get a drink for all of your team mates and then it's eyes down and look out for a full house." No-one had mentioned this urgency to the breakaways who were doing their best to mess about with feigned attacks interspersed with zig-zaggings across the road and nary a house in sight, whether full or empty.
 
Phil cast some aspersion on French cheese in referring to a rider who had won the minor race, Paris--Camembert: "Camembert, of course, is the home of the famous smelly cheese." I think if it is famously smelly, Phil, your Camembert is past its best. It only barely makes it into the list of the top 10 smelliest cheeses.
  
Paul had his mind on the smelly race rather than on smelly cheese, opining, with several comprehensively mangled metaphors: "When a peloton of the Tour de France starts to smell a stage victory, they hold no bars."
 
"The Tour de France is in angry mood" contributed Phil, determined not to be left out of the scoring towards the stage finish. Paul had a message for him though: "When you look over your shoulder like that, you know it's over." Sounds like the hammer going down in the comm box.
 
As it was on the road. Gerrrrrro!!!
 
Tommo summed it up: "Well, it doesn't get much better than that does it?" (I seem to recall something happening in 2011 that was much better than that but it was 21 stages in the making, so I'll let you off there, Mike.) "Orica GreenEdge delivering what was an eks-cellent plaaan. It was also premeditated, it was beautiful to see." Who woulda thunk a plan could be premeditated? Finally, OGE has succeeded at something in the TdF, eh Tommo? I hope Matt Goss isn't within hearing or you might again be in danger of having your face rearranged. Oh well, there is always tomorrow.
 
À demain.
 
Stage 4
Tommo didn't wait for the rest of his team mates, launching a surprise attack into the ridiculous with his opening sentence.Too bad it was supposed to be a team time trial today.  "Yes it really was another tick in the box of the rise of Australian cycling. It... continues," he astutely and insightfully observed of Gerro's stage win yesterday, "And Paul Sherwen is here to enjoy it with me". Paul, looking like he lives for seeing boxes ticked, gushed: "That was a clear win." Yep, such a clear win that even the riders had to wait for the photo to come back from the chemist shop before they knew which one had the prize.

With racing in progress, Paul deployed one of his favourite metaphorical ciiches straight away: "... they get the motors nice and hot so the turbo can start to whistle immediately." Matt Keenan had a rare chance to score shortly afterwards. "Cannondale are under aweigh," he intoned as the green flotilla launched off the start ramp. Paul soon invoked the "tunnel of noise" cliche, at least building a roof over Phil's entry of the other day when it was a mere "corridor".
 
As Europcar left the start ramp, the TV graphic demonstrated why all-caps is a mistake or else the team could do with a new directeur-sportif without the surname "Flickinger".
 
The next drama arose as Saxo-Tinkoff dropped a bleeding rider and a close-up showed disturbing evidence. Could there have been a fight -- or worse -- among the team mates? Paul was unsure but informed us of the bleeding obvious anyway: "We have no idea what has happened there... but he's certainly got some blood on his hands." With no sign of a murder weapon, nor victim for that matter with neither Julia nor Kevin in sight, we'll just have to await the outcome of investigations after the stage, I guess.
 
It was very late in the stage when Paul told us for the first time about drafting. I wish I had known this before: "If you get a good ride in the slipstream you can save up to 35% of the energy that the rider in front of you is dispensing." He didn't explain how you caught all that energy which must be rushing past at speed. It'd be hard and it's probably why you lose 65% of it.
 
OGE put in another solid effort today but Paul wasn't willing to give them the stage too soon. "But, you know, this is not a bad ride here by Team Radioshack. They're challenging the first five or six positions" (Yeah, that sounds like a winning formula, Paul) as the graphic showed them plummeting to 9th position at the first and only checkpoint on-course.
 
The all-purpose adjective had its regular outing soon afterwards as the team of the maillot jaune appeared to take a bend on a less-than-optimal line. "As I've said, these bikes are not built for manoeuvrability, they are built for aerodynamics and they are very precarious and dangerous to move around corners sometimes..." Probably best to ride them around then, eh?
 
Radioshack isn't going to challenge OGE's time -- that's two stage wins in two days for our boys --  and the new maillot jaune is... Gerrrrrro!!!
 
"It's the Tour for Aussies at the moment. It doesn't get much better, does it?" was Tommo's insightful summation afterwards. No, only a lot, but we've dealt with that. "Yes, Simon Gerrans has proved many people wrong but he's silenced those critics."  Who said he was useless? According to Tommo a minute later, Gerro "is one of the most consistent Australians to ply their trade as professional cyclists ... the rewards have finally arrived." Perhaps Tommo thinks he wasn't one of those critics, despite his performance with Matt Goss at the end of the 2012 Tour, since he hasn't yet been silenced. I thought he and Gerry Ryan were going to tear up at the end talking about all the critics out there putting pressure on the team...
 
It was a short day at the Tour but a great one for Gerrrrrro!!!, for OGE, and for Paul, who beat Phil 6-love in today's set, wearing the commentators' maillot jaune with what seems an unassailable lead even this early in the event, but... there's still a long way to go.
 
Stage 5
Hey, what's with the OGE team car? The driver drives while the front-seat passenger yells into the microphone and does all the things to direct the team that drivers shouldn't be doing while driving. Is that actually allowed in the Tour? After last years MADiot et al efforts, I thought it must be illegal for drivers to concentrate on their most important task.
 
In their intro, Tommo and Phil scored with some metaphorical exaggeration and inaccuracy in their discussion of yesterday's result: "I love the cover of the respected daily French newspaper, L'Equipe," said Tommo, apparently unaware, as an old TV-man, that newspapers have front pages, "It's got a picture of Orica GreenEdge with the words 'T G V'." (Er, those would be letters, Mike) "That's how fast they went, almost." "That's right..." (Phil never disagrees with whatever gaffe the other commentator makes, just carries on and helps them dig the hole deeper) "...the headline on the French paper was 'From the bus to the TGV', the train à grand vitesse, a very apt headline." "Yeah, they flew across the course, didn't they?" Tommo offered, hopefully. Sorry, no. That would have resulted in a headline like 'From the bus to the Concorde', surely?
 
Tommo changed the subject slightly in order to mangle another metaphor. "You can see the emotion from the nine riders. Of course, not all of them are Australians but they band as brothers, Phil." Or did he mean "brothers are banned"? I dunno.
 
Phil waxed lyrical about another Phil he knows well, Phil "Skippy" Anderson, although he referred to him as "The Kangaroo" for his "habit of jumping away from the field". "He will be the happiest man in Australia... although I think he is here on the race somewhere but, you know, it's so big we never see anybody, do we?" A bit like not seeing the forest for the trees?
 
Musing on Aussies who could wear the maillot jaune in the future, Phil nominated Sky rider, Richie Porte, currently "handicapped a little bit by Chris Froome". That sounded nasty and had me wondering if it was why one of the riders yesterday had "blood on their hands", before Tommo and Phil combined to make the most laboured throw everrr to Gabriel "Gateau" Gaté
 
Thank heavens there was some cycling after that. It gave Matt Keenan a brief but lucrative scoring opportunity as riders passed a war memorial with plaques for "all the bodies which were unfound." Does that mean some could still be lying around? An unattractive image.
 
But Paul was soon leading the team, again, immediately suggesting: "Well, it's going to be very precarious for Simon Gerrans..." Aargh! He soon moved on to describing the feeding station as "precarious" as if it were teetering on the edge of a cliff rather than being nestled securely near a neat little French village. Then he launched into one of his technical explanations, this time about the road surface, and quickly ended up confusing himself as well as his less technically-minded audience, I suspect. "The roads are what we call in cycling, uh, 'heavy roads'. They've got a lot of gravel stuck onto the surface of the road which really reduces your rolling resistance." So a 'heavy road' is actually a good road, is it? We never found out because Phil changed the subject. At least these heavy roads aren't "precarious". 
 
After Paul had a slight "senior moment", misreading the Département number for Brignoles (nothing an adjustment to his spectacles' prescription wouldn't fix), Phil decided to rub it in by bringing up Paul's bad back, perhaps caused by his fall on that stage into Pontarlier all those years ago, and having a good chuckle about it. That'll get Paul really fired up to outscore the old man, I bet.
 
Sure enough, Paul soon diverted to give a geology lesson as we flew with the helicopter over La Montagne de la Loube. "Well, in fact, these are very similar in geology to the Dolomites, in fact this is dolomitic rye... rock, which is why that it has eroded the way that it has done." Thanks Paul, most enlightening, as usual.
 
Then poor Geraint Thomas, he of the fractured pelvis riding in "a world of pain", had a flat. But what does he have against the Tour? Paul didn't have time to explain why the two-time Olympic medallist "forgot... forgoe... forgave the Tour de France last year..." He'll have to try to get behind one of the cars for a tow back to the bunch, Phil reckoned, and Paul concurred, giving viewers full benefit of his experience by intoning: "it's always very, very precarious" back there.
 
As the helicopter hovered over a spectacular coastline, Paul made a venture into natural history, in his own incomprehensible,  un-, sorry, inimitable fashion. "This ... er ... long section of coves, or calanques, as they call them in French, ... is one of France's most famous national parks and this kind of national park, the same kind of fauna and flora you've got here is only really replicated in Cape Town in South Africa and in Sydney in Australia." Did I see some Seth-Efricken-eccented kangaroos hopping amongst the eucalypts down there? Phil wanted to be sure we knew that the stone missing from all the cliffs had been used to make the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York City by telling us twice. Both agreed that, for their liking, the rock was a bit soft for climbing on, so it's a good thing the race stuck to the roads -- perhaps the cliffs would be too "heavy" or even "grippy", another of Paul's favourite incomprehensible terms.
 
Back to the race and Paul cranked up the metaphorical-cliché-exaggeration beyond mere "turbos whistling". Cavendish will be "seeing if the afterburners can be turned on". Later Paul alliterated delightfully: "This may be one false-flat too far for this leading group of four" as the "pressure is really starting to bite." Pressure has teeth, now? Anyway, "they really are now starting to put the hammer down". "Ohhhh, there's a crash," they each exclaimed, surprisedly, in unison. Hardly unexpected, surely, with all those afterburners, hammers and pressure in the pack? "And that crash, actually Phil, happened very close to the front end of the main field and normally you would not expect that to happen but it's just the nervousness..." But Paul, there were at least 30 riders ahead of the first one to crash so it was entirely their own fault for not all staying in the first 20 or 30 riders. Phil said they fell like a pack of cards but Paul corrected that; to like a bunch of dominoes. Phil could only blame "rider or pilot error, down there" but Paul had found several more suspects, attributing it definitively to "rider error combined with a little bit of fatigue starting to creep in after five days of racing and a lot of travelling as well to boot ... but also the nervousness.." It's a wonder any rider stays upright at all.
 
Back to the "big V8 turbo diesel" metaphor for Paul as the riders accelerated, slowly, to reach speeds of 50 miles-an-hour on the next downhill. Will Cav's turbo whistle or will his afterburners cut in? Not yet. "We are in the marshalling yard now and the trains are lining up in the front of that peloton," said Phil sticking his green transport colours firmly to the metaphorical ship's mast, before almost completely losing it in the headlong rush for the line (still 5km away), "because we've got Peter Sagan's lime-green bore... er, green born on men of Cannonbore... of, uh, Cannondale, you've got Mark Cavendish's blue jerseys of Omega-Pharma-QuickStop" (especially if they crash, eh?) "er, QuickStep... André Greipel's team as well, they are all forming their individual lines..." Paul took pity for once and made a clever play on words about Cannondale becoming a cannonball and firing a salvo on the line, or was he just trying to suggest that the old man is past it? There's a lot of nervousness and pressure, if not hammers, in the commentary box, for sure.
 
Phil continued to score right to the end of the stage with: "Is this the future of pro racing because, the number of teams mixing it in the old days, it was one or two" (not much of a mix with only one team competing, you'd think) "now there's five or six..." In the end, it was neither Cav's whistling V8 turbo nor his afterburners which took him to the win. He was rocket-powered "because you never stop the missile when you've fired him this close to the line," said Phil. But Paul was sticking to his metaphorical guns. Cav had multiple turbos whistling in the sprint finish today, he suggested over the replayed images.
 
It was another long stage but there's still many a kilometre still to go and many more great commentary moments in prospect.
 
Roll on tomorrow.
 
Stage 6
I wonder how long it took Tommo to come up with his opening lines today, delivered to camera with head-bowing deferentiality. "He's a super-man, he's a super cyc-alist, he's super Cav." A pause for breath and some house-keeping before the accolades continued: "...the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour de France, ...he is British ... he is the fastest ever cyclist on two wheels." (Hang on, Tommo, does that mean someone on one wheel has gone faster? Certainly people have ridden pedal-powered vehicles with both two and three wheels faster than Cav can go but, I suppose, that doesn't count since the keeper of the holy book, the UCI, doesn't recognise such "super-human" feats.)
 
Is Stuey O'Grady the new Dr Evil? Someone at SBS must think so given the pictures they put over Paul's remarks: "...he's been there, he's done it, he's seen everything" as Stuey warms up on the stationary bike, his eyes flicking from side to side beneath beetled brows such that I expected to hear him muttering: "Heeheehee mwahaha.." Eeevil, I tells ya!
 
Tommo still hadn't finished singing Cav's praises."He is the man of the moment. He is a living legend." Enough, Tommo. You wouldn't want Cav to get confused about his own true identity, that of a mild-mannered Manx-man. He knows where he is from, at least, unlike Robbie McEwen, "the man from nowhere", we heard. Aussies might be heard to "harrumph" at that one.
 
Tommo hadn't finished scoring yet. Setting the scene for Gateau's day he managed some typical French-mangulation: "We are in Mont-pelly-air. It's the Lang-we-dock region..." Sigh. I wish Gabriel would intro his own segment with that oh-so-Fronsh aczent of his. Oh, he did and without any irony: "Bonjour from the beautiful city of Mon-pel-yay ... Many students from all over the world, including Australians, come here, to learn French, naturellement "  (Hint, hint, Tommo) as pictures show two young people kissing passionately in the nearby square.
 
But Tommo still hadn't finished his scoring streak, next venturing into the ridiculous: "The yellow jersey sits firmly on the shoulders of Simon Gerrans..." while every other commentator has been emphasising how tenuous (or even "precarious") a hold he has on it with two of his own team mates on exactly the same time as his, and numerous other-team riders within single-digit seconds and still 15 stages to go. The first coherent words from Matt Keenan emphasised how uncertain Gerrans' hold is on the yellow. Well, I guess, at least, no-one is likely to take the jersey from him before today's finish.
 
Does Philippe Gilbert remind anyone else of a younger Jean-Claude Van Damme? Or is it just me? Perhaps all Belgian men look like JCVD? No comment from our team who focussed on the Languedoc scenery featuring remnants of ancient chateaux and the tooth-like range of the limestone Alpilles mountains "through this beautiful part of France", unlike every other part of France, eh Phil? Soon, there was a crash, but it was minor, a "chute sans gravité" according to Paul. It looked like gravité was involved to me and to the embarrassed rider concerned. Then someone beat Supermanx in a sprint. Our commentators took it in their stride. Apparently Cav is more motivated to win on the stage finish line.
 
Back to the scenery around Les Baux de Provence. That's really why we're here, after all. Paul was prattling about a "tricky descent with a couple of nasty little hairpin bends" while Phil was looking at the bigger picture: "The best way to view this seems to be by our helicopter ... Uphill, all of the moment, then the plunge starts down below," before continuing even more bizarrely, "a very nice incursion into the throat of Provence this." Meanwhile, the unfortunate Nacer Bouhanni, closely haunted by the voiture balai, or the  "broom wagon" sweep vehicle, was "staring into the face of elimination". It looked, for a time, more like he was staring at a rabid Queensland rugby-league fan threatening to knock him from his bike as he ran unsteadily alongside, State-of-Origin-banner aloft. But Paul had moved on and spotted a local windmill responsible for who-knows-how-many deaths. "In fact, this windmill was built in 1814 as "the Windmill of Alphonse Daudet. It used to grind wheat for almost a century up until 1915" (Um, that's more than a century, Paul) "and, during the Great War, most of the workers were actually conscripted and had to move away and that really sounded the death tell... er, the death toll for this mill."
 
Next, Paul noted that the Mistral wind was making the peloton nervous. What doesn't make the peloton nervous, then? Perhaps the famous white and rosé wines and the famous local olives, drooled Phil. The serious riders will need to stay in the front 20 or 30 positions now, (did you know?), because the day has become "precarious", according to Paul. Cadel Evans popped into view as Paul observed that he was "esconced in the middle there". The peloton had just passed the feeding zone and I pictured Cadel enjoying jam and cream with his esconces. Mmmmm. [Better take a break for something to eat, NA.]
 
It's nice to hear about Stuey O'Grady but isn't there some other story the commentators could tell us besides that this is his 17th Tour and he wants to go for the record, 18, next year? "Stuart is up for it all of the time... and to be part of that team-time-trial-winning team on Tuesday was, for him, extremely special" said Phil, rivalling Paul for  economy-of-words-failure. Phil followed up with yesterday's story about Phil "The Kangaroo" Anderson, being "in town, meaning somewhere-in-France at the moment" who was an early mentor to "Simon Evans... er, Gerrans" and then proceeded almost to confuse Gerrrrro!!! with Geraint Thomas, though he neatly stopped himself almost as quickly as "Team QuickStop" can. Actually, later on Paul did have a good, new story about Stuey being a great tutor in how to crash. Well, maybe that's not what he meant. "Cam Meyer said yesterday he learnt so much in one day of racing from Stuart O'Grady it was like having a crash course at the University of Cycling." Sounds painful. As was Phil, again repeating the tale about how many times O'Grady has ridden the Tour.
 
Paul gave us another of his special technical explanations, this time of race-craft: "You see the hands coming off the handlebars every now and then. That's to indicate to the guys behind how the, er, race is going, which way it's going to move and just to make sure that everybody works together safe and soundly." It's amazing how expressive those hands can be. But it's the wind and its direction that are critical to the mood of the race. "They've had a tail wind now and they are going to start to circumnavigate so they'll get even more nervous as they start to move away from Saint-Gilles because, having picked up the tail wind they are gonna turn around to a very westerly direction -- that means they will have a cross-tail wind  -- and that's when it will start to get that little bit more nervous." Thanks, Paul, that is very clear. Just one question. When will they start becoming nervous? I thought they were already. Oh, never mind, "it's a good safe run into the finish today." Not "precarious" at all, eh? Thank heavens. But "those riders at the back are really under pressure. It's got to happen sooner or later when the elastic really will snap at this pace" observed Phil, adding another few points to his cliché tally.
 
Ooh, cows! No, those were the famous, wild, black Camargue bulls, the commentators assured us, perhaps disappointing all vaches fans. They did this a second time, just in case some vaches fans had come in late, and just prior to us seeing Peter Sagan, resplendent in nauseatingly-bright-green knicks with "BULL" in large type across his buttocks, riding back to the peloton after a wheel change. Surprisingly, neither Phil nor Paul tried to make anything of this coincidence. Disappointing. But Phil had spotted some equine wildlife: "Now, what are those, Camargue ponies or donkeys?" "Well, the ones at the front are ponies, the one at the back is a donkey," Paul responded knowledgeably. Those long ears are a giveaway, I thought, reminded for some reason, of Bugs Bunny.
  
"Grippy" had become Paul's all-purpose word-of-the-day. Too bad no-one has a clue what it means. Choose your own meaning, I guess. "Shortly they'll move out towards the outskirts of the Camargue and the open plains where there is not much shelter from the wind and that's where it will start to get a little bit grippy..."
  
So when will the field crack? When will someone have a crack? Both Phil and Paul expected a crack soon. "I am sure they will crack this peloton," said Phil while Paul agreed it was "veryvery grippy". But with 50km to go, not a crack to be seen, but the speed is now "rather grippy" to Paul. 
 
Phil wanted us to know how dangerous it is at the back of the field. "You gotta believe how dangerous it is," he begged listeners. "And the cars need eyes in the backs of their heads" (cars have heads, now?) "to see where these riders are coming from."  Paul explained what was happening up in front: "This operation they're doing here is to keep Alberto Contador near the front end of the pointy part of the race this afternoon. " Gee, I love it when Paul gets all technical! Meanwhile, Phil realised he was confused: "They've really been impressionan... impressionate... impressive today -- I keep confusing the French with the English." But Phil, it's not that hard. The French are the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", the English -- your countrymen -- are the favourites in the Tour de France.
 
Montpellier's roads were declared "precarious" by Paul and "very narrow" by Phil as the riders rode down a wide dual-carriageway avenue into the city, But it had been "a day of great nervous energy being dispensed", according to Paul. Energy is now routinely "dispensed" in Paul's Tour, it seems, rather than "spent", in the Tour of an actual English speaker.
 
The end was thrilling and didn't go to Phil's script because Supermanx failed to dominate a second sprint today. The kryptonite infusing Sagan's team kit must have weakened Cav because he sat up before the line and Greipel (the man Paul says he has nicknamed "The Griller") took "his desserts". I bet Cav hates missing out on dessert.
 
The last outing into the ridiculous for the day was Tommo's, commenting that Greipel, Paul's "Griller", was "cooked" on this blazing hot day. Mmmm, barbecue!
 
Stage 7
Tommo lurched straight into point scoring today with an entry in the "bleeding obvious" category. He scores extra for repeating the other commentators' oft-repeated themes. "Crashes have always been a major feature of the Tour de France ... of course there are lots of nerves, the main priority for the riders is to stay upright."
 
Phil didn't muck around for too long in the intro, describing Mark "Supermanx" Cavendish as a "slim, little greyhound" -- who's won 23 Tour stages, he continued, compared to the Greipel "gorilla" on only five. It's a good thing  the super-greyhound was out of earshot because Phil was short-changing him one win, and that was as recently as the previous stage. Tommo kept schtum on that before throwing up over to "Gateau" Gaté (he still can't get the segment-name right) for a lesson on ... what else, but pigeon breeding. It's a broad church, the Tour de France.
 
Next, the "OGE Insider"... I just don't wanna go here. Gerrrrrro!!!, commented on his room-mate taking the yellow jersey: "Well, we are sleeping pretty close together in these rooms but ahh... so you never know what he may have done to me in my sleep" while they both kept big toothy smiles on their faces.  
 
Soon Matt "No Nickname Just Yet" Keenan was explaining the proper German pronunciation of Jens "Shut Up Legs" Voigt's surname. I'm not sure why he cared, given his inability to pronounce correctly anyone else's name or that of any geographical feature or town the race visits. Keeno (Oh, there it is!) was struggling with English words as it was. Having stumbled over Supermanx's name, calling him "Cas-vendish", he commented on "Aussie" Arthur Vichot's massive load of water bottles and suggested he should "disload" them on the climb.
 
After Gerrrrrro!!!'s admissions, my mind fairly boggled at what could be the eating habits of Sylvain Chavanel which earned him a SFr100 fine for bringing the image of cycling into disrepute. 
 
Phil and Paul, when they eventually appeared, began steady if unspectacular scoring with their usual economy-of-words fails and redundancies, particularly on the "descent down" whatever hill riders crested. Paul grabbed my attention with his thoughts on the brilliance of one team's strategising: "Omega Pharma-QuickStep... they also probably figured out that they had an idea what was going to happen here this afternoon". Figuring out that you have an idea is half the battle in planning a bike race, I am sure. Phil was warming to this theme as well: "It's a great tactic by Cannondale. They've pre-planned this for sure." Yep, no other team would have thought of planning anything beforehand.
 
Paul predicted, incomprehensibly, that "it's going to be a huge trace" with two teams working together, and then said it again, in case we hadn't understood the first time, before moving on to the theme of how excited the race referees were: "They are getting veryvery excited", with 90km or more still to go, moving the team cars out from between the separate groups on the road. Meanwhile "Cannondale now, uh, have put their cards on the table...", not easy to do while "riding like men possessed". "It will be a chase all the way to the finish. It just depends who has the most firepower..." My money would be on the "Cannonball" team in the firepower stakes and Paul seemed to concur: "It could also be setting them up to lay down some serious foundations for Peter Sagan to win the Points competition." He'll have to work hard to outscore Paul, I thought.
 
Sure enough, Paul soon made another great foray into the incomprehensible: "You need a strong team if you want to perform at the top end of the sport of professional cycling. You need a team to sacrifice yourself sometimes so that an individual can take the glory." I don't need a team that will sacrifice me. Then Phil was on about elastic, again, "going twang" this time, instead of snapping, before coining a new verb: "...the proximity of Orica-GreenEdge, they're slowly filtrating through now..." Kind of infiltrating while filtering, I guess. Nice. But was all well with OGE? "They are now desperately concerned," Phil continued. "The secret, as Paul Sherwen always tells me, is not to panic at this stage of the race..." OK, be desperate, but DON'T PANIC and, as Douglas Adams would further suggest, always carry a towel.
 
Next, Paul spotted a castle half-submerged in the dammed river. It was more visible, apparently, in 2011, because of the drought conditions, when "the waters seceded a little bit". Hmmm, so the waters didn't want to be part of France, but only slightly ? Meanwhile, Phil thought the pace of the race must have dropped significantly as he noted that "Orica-GreenEdge are winning the day slowly". But the average speed for the fourth hour of the day was 46km/h, leading Paul to comment bizarrely on "how heavy the race has been this afternoon". I guess that could slow things down.
 
The leading riders were lucky to avoid some "traffic furniture", Paul's favourite term for things like median strips, left lying untidily in the middle of the road on an intersection. Phil wanted us to know how time zones work to ensure we understood that South Africans would be able to watch live pictures of Daryl Impey at the same time of day which was coming up to 5pm. It would be almost intolerable to have to watch live pictures at any other time of day, of course, as we Aussies staying up half the night would know. (Well, I wouldn't, of course).
 
Suddenly, drama! Damned traffic furniture again, I bet: "...Ooooh, a little bit... there's a little bit of a... problem going 'round the corner there. They took a nasty little line but now they've managed to straighten themselves up," and Paul sighed with relief. Phil explained that the riders had "got themselves confused completely and nearly touched the back wheel of their own team mate" as they negotiated the roundabout, sorry, "traffic circle". I wish the French roads people would stop leaving these things lying where they can catch people out.
 
What qualifications does new-boy Scott McGrory bring to the SBS broadcast? In the outro, as Tommo stumbled incoherently over the significance of the maillot jaune to South Africa and the condition of Nelson Mandela, I realised I haven't heard Scotty say anything less than perfectly sensible this whole tour. He'd better be careful he isn't dropped on the next stage as we go into the mountains.
 
Stage 8 and onwards, continues over here.
TdF 2013 Great Moments in Commentary © Neil Alexander 2013

Views: 839

Comment by Robflyte on July 2, 2013 at 9:59pm

ah, so this is where the updates are hiding.

Comment by Edward Re on July 3, 2013 at 4:26pm

Hi Neil, did they say anything about the race itself, or was it all how to pick the camembert, what to do on a windy unfamiliar road and how beautiful it all looks today?? Nice picture there too. So they're racing with full panniers, and stopping to take photos this year? That's the kind of race I'd love to see..

Comment by Neil Alexander on July 3, 2013 at 5:54pm

There was some discussion about what cyclists were doing but it usually isn't interesting enough to blog about, I figure. I really enjoy it when Paul explains the technical aspects of things though. Anything from how to descend down, to climb up and how things work. Mostly when he explains how things work, they wouldn't if they were really like that!

Comment by Bill Parker on July 4, 2013 at 10:11pm
You get good mileage from your cows. While it is a privilege to be part of your select audience these pearls deserve a wider following.
Comment by Dick Portus on July 6, 2013 at 3:33pm

Damn you NA. Am now watching with my mind searching for stupid commentary, like "their like Robin Hood, all for one and one for all". Were they English or French, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, or just wanting to have sword fights for the King. Wasn't too sure, but it was late and did wake me a little to see the finish. Now I look forward to the next critique from yourself.

Comment by Edward Re on July 6, 2013 at 4:12pm

"OGE Insider... I just don't wanna go here" - once you're past being a giggly teenage girl, it's probably time to give up watching this show.

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