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In Praise of Paul Sherwen

Voice of Cycling on two continents

USA Pro Challenge - Previews Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Various sources are announcing today that long-time cycling announcer Paul Sherwen has died at his home in Uganda. He was 62 and is survived by his wife Katherine and their children.

Sherwen is known around here as a long-time voice of the sport of cycling in the US and Australia, being a regular commentator on the Tour de France especially, in a career that dates back to 1989 when he covered the Tour for British Channel 4. In the US he teamed with Phil Liggett, an even-longer-term voice of the sport whose career goes back to the 1970s, and since the 1990s the pair have commented on the Tour in the US. Sherwen and Liggett have not been spared their share of criticism in recent years — for their over-familiarity to fans and their connection as the voice of the Lance Armstrong era. But their mark on cycling is perhaps more charitably remembered as having brought the sport into millions of English-speaking households, skillfully explaining the sport to audiences of people like me, who didn’t grow up with the sport but were thrilled at what they were suddenly seeing.

Sherwen especially brought the color of the French landscape into focus, and even if his ideas of fun sites of the Tour got a bit stuffier over time, his appreciation for the experience of the sport never diminished. I found him somewhat unable to disguise his love of Flanders, as he strove to pronounce Dutch correctly and fawned over the sport’s iconic landscapes.

And it’s no surprise: Sherwen finished 15th in the 1980 running of Paris-Roubaix as well as 11th in Milano-Sanremo. As a U23 rider he finished third in that edition of the Hell of the North. As a pro Sherwen contributed his efforts to the La Redoute and Raleigh teams spanning 1978 to 1987. One of his most famous rides involved finishing outside the time cut at a stage of the 1985 Tour... when he’d crashed in the first kilometer and chased Bernard Hinault and the peloton all day, all by his lonesome. He had some traditional glory too, winning the British championships road race in the final two years of his career, and taking a handful of other minor victories along the way.

I don’t remember a moment of his riding years, but he turned enough pedals in anger to get a team job after he retired as a rider, and transitioned into the booth such that he became a permanent presence behind the mike by the late 1990s.

And that’s all I can say for sure. Perhaps by the time you read this we will know about the cause of his death, though the tone of remembrances suggests that a medical condition was to blame. Anecdotal information suggests that Sherwen was very well liked as a gentleman who seemed to have played nicely with his fans all over the world. I never met him but he seemed like a great guy from all I can tell.

Rest in peace, Paul.