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Observations Phil Liggett

Soigneur Tekst Soigneur Gepubliceerd 14 september 2017

Philip ‘Phil’ Alexander Liggett (1943) is a former amateur cyclist who turned to sports journalism. He commentates on the Tour de France, Olympic Games, and bike races for ITV, NBC Sports, SBS, and Seven. Liggett is considered ‘the voice of cycling’ and is well known for his famous sayings, called ‘Liggettisms’. In 2005, Liggett was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to cycling.

—LIFE— “My whole life has been cycling, but it was never planned! There was no car in my family, so my transport to school was by bicycle. At 15, I started to ride with a club that met locally. In the last days of my 17th year, I rode a junior race and finished almost last, but decided I had enjoyed it. When I left school, I then continued to race and ended up in Belgium, where I won a pro contract in 1967. However, during the winter, I was offered a job as a journalist with Cycling Magazine in London, which I took because I had already decided that I was not good enough to ever beat Eddy Merckx, so writing seemed my best option. In March 1967, I became a writer and never asked for another job again. Work in radio followed, and then I moved into television in 1978.”

—FIRST TOUR— “My first Tour was in 1973, when it started in the Netherlands. The sun shone everyday, and I thought it always did in Europe in July! Everything was new to me. I didn’t speak French, had never ever seen the Tour except when it passed through a feeding zone in Luxembourg in 1966, and there I was, employed as a driver for the British TV commentator, David Saunders. The Tour was crazy, but I enjoyed every minute, and Tour fever quickly ensued.”

''I advised my co-comentator Paul Sherwen to retire the day after, as we would never be so perfect again!''

—ROBOTIC— “I think the biggest change is how the ASO, as owners and organisers, have widened the scope of the race to the world. It is, without doubt, the most famous annual sporting event and to win it means certain stardom for the rider. As a race, it has become, perhaps, a little too sterile and controlled. It is no longer the challenge it was through the 60s. Teams are all too powerful, and with the use of race radios and TVs in the team cars, the event has become robotic and less exciting — and quite often predictable. However, the spectacle remains, and it is still the most amazing event and a ‘must see’ on most people’s lists.”

—BEST RACE EVER— “I always talk about the 1989 Tour de France and the race-long battle between Laurent Fignon and Greg LeMond. Every day, we had a story with either Fignon winning a stage, or Greg. Then Greg would take yellow, and Fignon would take it back. In the end, the race was turned around in the last 200 metres on the Champs-Élysées, with LeMond winning overall by eight seconds! Such a race will never be repeated. I advised my co-commentator Paul Sherwen to retire the day after, as we would never be so perfect again!”

—MILK RACE— “I directed the Milk Race for 22 years, and to me, it was the best race in the World — others thought so too! The people turned out in their thousands to watch the event, which was held in late May or early June just after the Peace Race in Eastern Europe. Until the race became open to pros in the late 80s, Great Britain struggled to win, and victories usually went the way of the now-defunct USSR. The Dutch also raced well and won with Fedor den Hertog, Roy Schuiten and Piet van Katwijk, to name three.”

—IMPASS— “Cycling has never been more popular, and there will be many changes ahead. I think the UCI has to involve its working partners in a more democratic way, otherwise, there will one day be a major impasse that could seriously damage the sport. The sport remains in a fragile state, as the cost of teams goes up and major organizers fight to hold their corners on promotion.”

—EIGHT-MAN TEAMS— “Perhaps the Grand Tours should look at eight-man teams to ease the control of the event by one major squad. I would not be in favour of shorter Grand Tours, because Grand Tours are the very raison d’être of our sport and should not be made to look like just another race.”

—PERSONALITIES— “We also need more riders with personalities, but maybe the calendar needs to be spread better, so the top riders are not over-raced.”

—MODEST— “I am not a hero worshipper, but Eddy Merckx is without doubt someone I admire immensely. He was the greatest cyclist ever and remains a very modest person who is appreciated by all.”

''I directed the Milk Race for 22 years, and to me, it was the best race in the world''

—LANCE— “I’ve never spoken or seen Lance since September 2011. I can’t imagine how he is facing up to his ‘new’ life away from the centre of attention. I can understand why he doped, as he was convinced that all his rivals were doing so too. He was made an example of because he made himself an enemy of the state, which was determined to get him. It was an era in our sport that changed the world of sport, and we have progressed a long way since. I cannot feel any hatred for Lance and still feel there was a lot of good within him. I was privileged to see him work with cancer survivors and inspire them. The Tour organizers recognized that the riders who finished behind Armstrong throughout his seven years were all tainted as well, otherwise they would not have just put an X on those results, but promoted them to first place.”

—FRIENDS— “As a journalist and commentator, I am not sure people trust you as a friend, as one day you may have to be honest in your commentary and criticize that person.”

—PAUL SHERWEN— “I brought Paul Sherwen into commentating after his retirement in 1986 from the European scene. Neither of us thought that we would become the longest commentating duo in any sport. Paul tells me we have worked together for 31 years! We have shaped each other’s lives professionally and personally. He lives in Uganda, and I switch between the UK and Africa, so our lives have followed similar paths since 1986.”

—LIGGETISMS— “I never know what I am going to say next and when American Doug Donaldson wrote about all of my phrases in his book Dancing on the Pedals, I nearly fell over in shock! I liked one I said in this year’s Tour, something along the lines of, ‘the rabbits are about to be put back in the hutch!’”

—CYCLING UK— “As a sport, British cycling is at a level never seen before, and the result is that everyone is riding a bicycle now. In London, thousands commute daily through the streets and local governments have responded with the building of cycle ways. Riding a bicycle is ‘cool’ and benefits everyone in some way.”

—TEAM GB— “In Rio, I worked for Network Seven, Australia, and it was my 15th Olympic Games! The Aussies did not have a great games on the road and track, winning only a silver and a bronze medal, but the racing was excellent. The amazing men’s team pursuit final between the Australians and Great Britain was one of the best I have ever called and, as a Brit, I was proud to see just how far the sport has come. I spent the first 30 years of my career making excuses for the teams who failed to win anything, when qualifying for a semi-final was an achievement. Now, if team GB leave without a medal, they feel as though they have let everyone down.”

—CHRIS, MARK, BRAD— “They are three very different personalities who have left an indelible mark on our sport. I like all three characters and am proud I have commentated on all of their major achievements.”

> More about cycling in the UK? Soigneur suggests;
1. 6 Day London
2. Wiggins, Froome and the battle for British hearts <

—SKY— “Team Sky had one ambition — to win the Tour de France — and the world laughed at them. Not anymore, as they have won it four times in five years. They did what needed to be done and had the money and the expertise to execute their plan to perfection. For me, the victories have been clinically performed and not been great, exciting races, but they got the job done. TV audience numbers around the world were down during the Tour this year, and I wonder if it was because Froome took the lead 13 days out and people stopped watching. Just a thought.”

—SOUTH AFRICA— “I went to South Africa in 1989 for TV and fell in love with a beautiful, but troubled country. Ten years ago, I bought some land and built a lodge. Outside, there are only the animals to contend with — lions, rhinos, buffalo, leopard, et cetera. They all need help, so I like to think that on my land they are safe — and then the poachers come along to kill the rhinos for the useless horn they carry so proudly. As a result, I am now a patron for Helpingrhinos.org and, as a charity, we raise money to try and improve their plight. The cycling world has helped me a lot, with teams like Orica-BikeExchange rising big bucks for the rhinos in Africa, as well as a new campaign we are involved in in South Australia. A world without elephants, rhinos, and birds is no world at all. They long ago earned their freedom to roam.”


If you liked this story consider purchasing Soigneur Cycling Journal 16 where it was first printed.

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