We are in the deepest Valley of Sports. The World Cup is over. LeBron made His Decision, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo. We're down to the All-Star game, the answer to "can baseball be made MORE boring on television?" We have 44 days until college football. The city in which I live has currently regressed to some sort of primordial ooze containing only humidity and men looking uncomfortable in suits.
But we have one thing. One single, solitary sporting event standing athwart the wheels of sports boredom. It is the Tour de France, and Phil Liggett is its majestic announcer.
The Tour de France covers roughly 2,200 miles over three weeks. You should not do it. No one should. The Tour de France has featured some of the most sophisticated methods of performance enhancement because there are virtually 3 people on earth who can bike up mountains for hundreds of miles every single day for nearly a month, and those 3 people probably have something else to do.We were likely not meant to heave ourselves through the French countryside on carbon bicycles at high speeds, but we probably weren't meant to do a lot of things. Even writing about the Tour de France reduces one to saying things like, "it's a bike race that's fucking insane" because that's just what it is. It is a bike race that is fucking insane. But not to Phil Liggett.
Phil Liggett loves the Tour de France, and he wants you to love it, too. Nothing makes Phil Liggett happier than explaining the Tour de France, or cycling, or the magic of watching hundreds of men ride bicycles at high speeds through French fields and with horses every day for three weeks in July. It's beautiful in its complexity and in its difficulty, in the bicycles and uniforms and domestiques and team cars, in the mountain stages and team time trials and French villagers waving flags and patting riders on the back. Phil Liggett is very excited to tell you about it.
I have watched the Tour de France every year I've been alive. My dad got me hooked on it, because nothing brings father and daughter together like watching someone ride 110 miles through the French countryside while fans who NEED TO STOP TAKING F-ING SELFIES run alongside. I watched the Miguel Indurain years, Jan Ullrich's one shining moment before being mentally decimated by Lance Armstrong*, and the Lance Armstrong era that never happened according to Le Tour. CBS used to do a highlight package every Sunday, introduced by Armen Keteyian looking smug as hell on some random French tussock. My dad and I watched every week, and soon realized that Phil Liggett was the Way.
Phil Liggett has covered 42 Tour de Frances. He has seen things. Horrible things. Sometimes actual death things. In 1995 Fabio Casartelli died in a crash in the fifteenth stage**. The sixteenth stage was raced non-competitively, his Motorola team crossing the line together. Phil Liggett announced it, because Phil Liggett always announces the Tour de France. The sun will rise, the sun will set, and Phil Liggett will announce the Tour de France and yell things like, "Are they on the road to stardom? Or are they lambs to the slaughter?" He avoids the urge to compare the Tour to other sports (boxing matches, soccer games, football games) because it's not like other sports. It's not like anything else you'll see this summer. It's the Tour.
Sports aren't always an overarching statement on the nature of man and society. Sometimes, it really is just a football game between two top-ten teams or an NBA Finals game. It doesn't need to be about What America Is Today or The State of Europe or Who We Are As People. It's sports. Sports are awesome. Sports are enough. Phil Liggett knows that. This is the final time trial from the 1989 Tour de France, perhaps my favorite moment of the Tour ever***. In between the sonorous American voices, Phil Liggett is the one announcer who lets the event be what it is. Sometimes, you just want to watch two dudes race through Paris on bicycles.
So thanks, Phil Liggett. For 42 Tours, he's followed hundreds of men as they climb mountains and sprint through villages and he's just as excited about it today as he was in 1978 or 1994. He'll be excited about it tomorrow, too - Stage 11, 116 miles from Besancon to Oyonnax.
* I'm most angry that Lance Armstrong kind of ruined this memory for me, because this was one of the most stone cold sports moments I'd ever seen. Goddammit, Lance.
** FYI, the Tour didn't require helmets until 2003.
***And yes, someone involved was doping.