Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Versus Cycling Commentary

After the Tour of California, a few of you tuned in to read my ranting about the Versus "Network" cycling coverage. If you missed it and want to 1) read about what a waste of television Craig Hummer is, 2) read about what an even bigger waste of television Rasika Mathur is, and 3) see Craig Hummer in a fur-lined speedo (really), then take a look at this posts from a few weeks ago:

Thoughts on the Tour of California

Dr. Spalm Discusses Craig Hummer

Things More Annoying Than Craig Hummer

Things More Annoying Than Rasika Mathur

Ideas that make as much sense as the Versus Network

I should say that I was a cycling fan when we had to get our cycling news in little snippets in the newspaper (remember those?) and wait for VeloNews to arrive in the mailbox in August with the first half of the Tour de France coverage and then the next issue to read about the rest of the race. So, I am genuinely happy that as a follower of pro cycling there is a lot more coverage online and there is televised coverage. I would just be a lot happier if Versus would stop effen it up so badly.

Here is an overview of the cycling commentators.

Phil Ligget

From Misc Bike Pics

Phil is the Dean of Cycling Commentators. Phil was there when the cavemen created the first bicycles and he has been commentating on wheeled competition ever since. Phil is often the one who comes up with the sayings that are repeated over and over in cycling conversations. If you go through the 700 million words blogged each day about cycling, you will find variations of Phil's various comments, "suitcase of courage", "rubber band has snapped", "like a formula one race car coming down the stretch," repeated more times than Lance Armstrong's name. And that is really saying something.

Phil is also the one to use three different pronunciations for each non-english name and you can't count on the accuracy of any particular observation. He will mis-identify riders or call the riders dropping off the pack the leaders, etc., but his overall knowledge, his enthusiasm for the final kilometer of ANY race and his rooting for the underdog, all combine to make him an irreplaceable presence.

Paul Sherman

From Misc Bike Pics

Paul was the addition to Phil's commentary box that turned this duo into the stuff of legend. Paul was one of the early english-speakers in the Euro pro scene and had a reputation for being a hard man. He was also known for being the guy with the best sense of math and pace so that he could help the gruppetto (the riders who are slogging through the mountains of a stage race together well behind the leaders) get to the finish line at just the right speed to avoid the time-cut elimination.

You can usually count on Paul to be accurate in this information, although he does have the annoying habit of reading things from the race book and pretending that he knows them. If he had that much information in his head of every castle across mainland Europe he should be a history professor or tour guide. He also has the habit of getting a hold of a catch phrase and saying over and over until you want to scream at the television. I like listening to Paul, but I do not need to hear him say AGAIN, "I've got a funny feeling that . . ." Most guys with that many funny feelings either need an antibiotic or a psychiatrist.

Bob Roll

From Misc Bike Pics

With Bob Roll, a picture tells a thousand words. Take a look at the picture above. That is Bob cleaned up and ready for a studio picture. Here is a look at something closer to the real Bob Roll.

From Misc Bike Pics

Bob also came at this gig from the professional ranks. He was a journeyman rider, including for the 7-11 Team that was the first American team to ride in the Giro and Tour. He raced with Chris Carmichael, Eric Heiden, Davis Phinney (the first famous Phinney), Steve Bauer and Andy Hampsten, just to name a few of the guys (most of whom should be your cycling heroes). He also kicked around the mountain bike circuit for a number of years. During that time, he wrote a column for VeloNews that it took editorial footnotes to give you the idea you knew what he was saying. I don't know for sure that he was under the influence while he was writing those columns, but it usually takes hallucinogenics or religion to make someone that feverish, so I have my suspicions. When he was first on television he was definitely the color guy, coming up with metaphors that were so stretched and obtuse that you had to love them even when you had no idea what he was saying. He has lost a lot of that old charm, but he still is great at communicating the pain, anguish, misery, joy, competition and difficulty of racing.

All Together Now . . .

From Misc Bike Pics

When I sit down to watch cycling on tv, that's what I want from my commentary booth. They are serious students of the sport, they know its history and the path of the guys on the bikes in front of them. All three all have racing backgrounds. As Rider 1 touched on yesterday, there are things you experience in racing that you simply can't experience anywhere else. These guys get that and it adds something to the best of their commentary.

On the downside, they all seem to have their lips permanently attached to the ass of Lance Armstrong. Lance is a tough subject for people who really love and follow professional cycling. He's an easy subject on the cancer support side and for the casual cyclist, but does that really mean that Phil, Paul and Bob need to mention his name and his greatness every 3 minutes of every broadcast whether L.A. is in that day's race or not? I think not.

Tomorrow, some of the lesser lights at Versus.


  1. Rider 3-I totally agree with you. I think the Phil-Paul-Bobke chemistry is excellent. The British dry humor combined with Bob's, as well as their unique commentary styles really have become a staple of watching cycling on Versus. But I believe the Lancealogues are due to the fact that the network wants to draw more people to watch and everyone knows Lance's name at least, much like with NASCAR when they talk about Earnhardt Jr so much because everyone knows the name. But if Hummer and Mathur ever become a household name, it will probably be something associated with a toilet, like Liquid Hummer, or with reusing discarded beer cans and bottles, like Rasikling.

  2. Bob is probably one of the best writers in cycling in his ability to describe a particular event. When he is one camera I wish he would sit on his hands.

  3. God , you think that's bad, just watch CyclingTV online.


  4. High praise for your specifics, or maybe I should just say that's exactly how I see them. Last year Bob's humor was so muted that I wondered if they had told him to stifle himself. Hope more spontaneity is back this year. It occurs to me that his Irish Catholic background helps him explore the darker side of racing, especially suffering but also less than honorable motivation.

    I also like the background that P&P can give on riders from Commonwealth countries.

    But if you agree that the phrases are trite, liven it up with a Phil & Paul Bingo Card from

  5. Sherwin, Ligget and Role are the best. They should be the only 3 on the tour.

  6. The Tour is more than the three can handle alone. Hard to do commentary and then run out and do pre and post race interviews. And Bobke needs someone to talk to in the evening. I don't mind Craig Hummer because I remember Al Trautwig. At least Hummer can still remember what he learned last year.
    BTW, I don't mind signing my name but couldn't figure out how to do that without also giving a URL.
    Faithfully, Marilla

  7. I've warmed up to Craig, sorry, he set Phil up in pretty good humor at the start of each stage this year.