I have a confession to make. I sometimes get annoyed at commentators. There, I've said it now. It's out in the open for every one to see. Cycling commentators, on a regular basis, do my head in.
Some of the things they say are so ridiculous that they have become as much a part of the folklore of cycling as Bartali pleading with his breakaway companion, Coppi, to not leave him and instead let him win the stage in the '49 Tour because he would get GC anyway. Or tales of riders stopping with broken bikes, finding the closest repair shop, and having spent an hour or two fixing it up, rejoining the race. Or that it turns out Cipollini is a bit of a ladies man. Yes, commentators are as integral to the sport these days as weird aero helmets or heli shots of fields or skinsuits being worn on 250k hilly one day races.
Whether it's Phil Liggett telling us that the peloton is being 'squeezed like a tube of toothpaste' or Paul Sherwin saying that it's 'being seriously decanted here', commentators use the same words as us normal folk, just often in a different order and, at a different time. Since the demise of David (the less said the better) Harmon, Eurosport has called upon the likes of Carlton (oh I do make myself laugh) Kirby, to fill the void. Along with Declan Quigley, viewers are left to wonder why the ES decision makers feel that car racing guys are the best suited to cycling. Yeah I know they both have wheels and someone sitting down and steering but that's about where the similarities end.
I could no doubt go on for hours about different commentators and phrases like 'suitcase of pain' or 'a wall of noise' but here's the rub. I'm actually writing this because I think we're being far too harsh on them.
Let's look at some facts:
1. Unlike most other sports, they have only TV coverage to see. They're not there at the ground or court side. They rely on the same pictures that we see.
2. They don't see these pictures on a 100 inch flat screen HD tv but on a small monitor or often just on a laptop. (And yes, I know most of you watch on laptops too, but, is every thread comment during a live race correct? Thought not.)
3. They are not just looking for their favourite riders or teams but need to try to be aware of everything.
4. They normally have, in one ear, a slightly frazzled director alerting them to ad break commitments and the like, and in the other, race radio. They use their third ear to hear what their co commentating ex pro is elucidating on.
5. Often, when they give out incorrect information, you know the type, 'Sean! There's a Lotto rider gone into a ditch. Oh no it's Andre Greipel.' Sean: 'Oh to be sure it is and that'. (I apologise for this unfair racial stereotyping but it unfortunately was missed in the final proof-read). Commentator: (as we see Jelle Vanendert emerge from the roadside trench) 'I'm not sure that is Greipel you know Sean?' Sean: 'Well the race radio was saying that to be to sure to be sure.' Yes, as many times as not, it's the commentator repeating what he is incorrectly being told via the aforementioned race radio or the host broadcaster putting up the wrong rider on a screen caption.
6. They can often be required to talk for two or three hours when hardly anything is happening bar a bunch riding along behind a small break that will obviously get caught. They also talked for a couple of hours the previous day whilst the same scenario occurred and the day before that and the day before that and the, well I'm sure you get the picture.
7. They have good days and bad days like the rest of us. Okay, I'm starting to struggle but I hope my point has already been made. It's not an easy job and maybe we should cut them a bit of slack. So, if on Sunday, one of these Gods of the Microphone start screaming that Phil G is about to win Amstel Gold and you're in fits because it's obviously Sammy Sanchez sprinting over the line, remember they're only human and maybe similar to the riders themselves for to paraphrase a Liggettism, 'these guys just shut off their brains and talk on instinct.'
Authors note: The reasoning given above does not however alleviate in any way the shambolic efforts of 'studio hosts' who continually talk utter bollocks after an ad break and stop the viewer from being updated by the commentator on what they may have missed. Yes Tomalaris, I'm talking to you!