'Voices of Cycling' Duo Has Shared A Mic For 29 Years

Jul 17, 2014
Originally published on July 17, 2014 11:17 am

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen have covered the Tour de France, the sport's most grueling race, together for decades and have developed a rapport that viewers appreciate.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are known as the voices of cycling. For going on three decades they've shared the microphone covering one of cycling's most grueling races the Tour de France.

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PHIL LIGGETT: What a result. Oh, my goodness me, we almost slid with him there.

PAUL SHERWEN: Well, this is the time when you have to have nerves of steel and especially when you think that you're going to win a stage in the Tour de France you want to push it to the absolute limit, any risk that you can...

MONTAGNE: The 21 stage race takes a toll on the commentators as well. We caught up with Liggett and Sherwen in Vernon Trois (Ph) France, a town so small, Liggett noted, doesn't even have a pub. And they only had one phone. Liggett got on first to lay out how the Tour is going so far this year.

LIGGETT: I think (unintelligible) say the Tour is surviving is a pretty a good definition because the two hot favorites both crashed out on the fifth day of racing. The defending champion Chris Froome, after a number of crashes, broke his hand and his wrist and then the next big favorite Alberto Contador, 2 time winner, he crashed and broke his leg. So, the two big names have gone. So, there's room for this year, in the Tour, for there to be a surprise winner and believe me in the Tour de France that doesn't happen often.

MONTAGNE: So, you, Paul Sherwen once raced in the Tour yourself. What was it like?

SHERWEN: Well, actually it seems like such a long time ago, that I've almost forgotten I raced in Tour myself. When I see the guys at the finish of a mountain stage and I see their faces, I actually - I can't believe that I actually did it, it's so long ago nowadays. But, yes, I did race the Tour de France from 1978 till 1985.

MONTAGNE: So, but it's a very, very tough race and at this point in time I think listeners might be thinking of a low point in the race, Lance Armstrong, high moments and some of the lowest moments ever of the tour. I wanted to ask you a question about that but first let's hear you on the air speaking of him.

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LIGGETT: Armstrong is coming with an incredible rush and Kloden has realized it's too late. Is there any stopping Lance Armstrong in this Tour de France? And the answer is no, there is not.

MONTAGNE: Lance Armstrong. Great racer but stripped of the seven Tour titles after allegations of doping proved true. Is that still hang over the race at all? And I'm wondering - maybe I'm asking you because you've actually done the race?

SHERWEN: Yeah, well, I think, you know, that is the most recent doping scandal in people's minds and it was so huge in cycling. I think it's one of those things that we went through a very bad era 10, 15 years ago because that's what we're talking about now. We're talking up to 10 years ago.

MONTAGNE: Right but is there a belief or a suspicion or a concern that there's still doping going on in the Tour de France?

SHERWEN: I think the general consensus is not that era of, the Lance Armstrong era, as they call it. Was specifically that, it was something when cycling, as a sport, went through a very bad period. And I think it's changed. When you look at the way the races are happening now, when you look at the fact that rider's performances are monitored on a monthly basis. So, I think that the majority of people think that it is something that has evolved and been left in the past.

MONTAGNE: Looking to the past because again the two of you have done this for, well ages, is there a high point on this Tour for you?

SHERWEN: There have been great moments in the tour, the Tour always has its ups and downs and whenever asked about one of our greatest moments, we very often cite the 1989 Tour de France, when Greg LeMond came back from being shot in the back. And won the Tour de France by just eight seconds, which if you want to put it into distance is not much more than like 120 yards after two and a half thousand miles of racing. So that was pretty exciting.

MONTAGNE: If you had to describe for a listener who hadn't seen you on television, what would you say the dynamic is? Who are you Phil Liggett and who is Paul Sherwen?

LIGGETT: Well, we're both two guys, though we live totally separate lives, who were born within 30 miles of each other. We remember all of the time that cycling is a sport and a game. It's not a world war. And so, let's make sure the viewers know what they've got and let's also enjoy the sport. But we know people watch us because of our humor. In America they call it our British humor and we've been together so long, we know what each other is going to do. I can tell you where Paul is, when he hasn't told where he's going and probably he could do the same about me.

MONTAGNE: Well, I hate to say you sound like an old married couple.

LIGGETT: That is exactly what people say to us. The way you two carry, they say, you're like an old married couple.

MONTAGNE: And when you say 30 miles for each other, I believe you come from the North.

LIGGETT: We come from the Northwest and that's the area where all of the great cyclists came from in the period of our teams. It was a great place to start learning to ride a bike. Anybody was riding for England and there was strong bike riders, (unintelligible).

MONTAGNE: I'm going to give Paul Sherwen the last word here. If you will pass the phone one more time. Just simple really - what is it about this race that you love so much?

SHERWEN: Well, I think it's because it's a bit like a soap because every day, every year, there's a different story to follow and it gets weaved in like a book. In the first week of the Tour we start picking our way through the little stories that start to develop into what ends up being the great finale in the final chapters. And every day's different, every mile is different, every hour is different. I think that's what I enjoy. Plus you can weave in the beauty of France at the same time.

MONTAGNE: Paul Sherwen, thank you very much for joining us.

SHERWEN: My pleasure thank you.

MONTAGNE: Phil Liggett, thank you very much.

LIGGETT: It was a great pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.