Phil Liggett’s Annual “PEZ-ing”
The end of a long and tough season is a good time to sit back, relax and talk to the ‘Voice of Cycling’ himself- Phil Liggett. We asked Phils’ opinions on our sport as we head into 2007, and as always the interview is entertaining and informative – his views on the current situation in cycling make an interesting read indeed.
Pez: Firstly Phil, do you realize that you have ruined cycling coverage by any other commentator for me… I grew up listening to your voice and as I travel the world and listen to other commentators it’s obvious to all that it’s just not the same without the Phil & Paul show! Please tell me there are no plans for retirement?
Phil: At times I think about it and then people like you say nice things and I realize I can’t retire just yet. I am so happy when I please my peers and give them enjoyment in an all-to-often sad world.
Pez: Whenever I hear your voice on the T.V, I come running to the set assuming that you will be commentating on cycling only to see that it’s the Winter Olympics or triathlon. Do you enjoy commentating on other sports as much as cycling, or is cycling your true passion?
Phil: Of course cycling is my true love. There was no other sport I could do at school, yet the pleasure I got from riding and later racing a bike can be understood only by those who have done it. But above all, I get high calling major events, especially if I feel I have found the story and correctly conveyed it to the viewer or reader.
CBS in the US introduced me to Ski jumping in 1991 and amazingly I have won awards for the coverage. In reality I loved meeting the jumpers and learning about “their” sport, but I found all they wanted was to talk about “my” sport. Jumping is a great sport and during the five Winter Games I have done, I’ve never lacked a good story line. Ski jumpers are wild! Ironman triathlons were not around in my sporting days – thank God! – but these men and women are the best. They are so all-round fit, yet the challenge is the course more than the adversary. Afterwards they are full of admiration for one another. The winners of the Ironman World titles for example return eight hours later to welcome home the last finishers at midnight! In short, I am very lucky to have been given the chance to call all sports, but cycling will never be replaced.
Phil ‘meets his public’ at the annual Sinclair Imports party at Interbike06.
2006 Defining Moments
Pez: As the voice of cycling for so many thousands of fans throughout the world, What are your ‘Most Defining Moments’ of 2006?
Phil: There are too many, and not many good ones, I’m afraid. I feel the Pro Tour has become a riders/managers union and is doing nothing for the future of our sport. That WADA and the UCI have both handled the doping scandals without any sensitivity or diplomacy and that the Press has taken the wrong stand in becoming judge and jury. The UCI’s threat to reduce the Grand Tours is the single biggest threat our sport has faced in years and if they do it, it will be the nail in the coffin of a sport that was born out of the ashes of long-distance suffering. In short, the very thing that makes our sport so popular will be destroyed. Who cares after one year who has won the Tour of Germany or the Tour of Britain? Everyone cares who has struggled over three weeks to win the Vuelta, Giro or Tour and they must remain untouchable. If the UCI really believes that shortening the Grand Tours will reduce doping, then they are living a dream. The UCI has already weakened our track sport at Olympic level by taking away the kilometer and 500 metres races. What else is the new breed at the top capable of?
Pez: It seems that everyone has an opinion on Operation Puerto and also the Landis affair. Do you feel that cycling can pull through its’ troubles once again? In your opinion, what is the way forward?
Phil: This is a difficult question and cannot be answered quickly here. Cycling will pull through, it has to, but at the moment we seem to be fighting the enemy within rather than the real route of the problem. Officials, WADA and riders and managers are involved in internal battles that leave everyone very frustrated. Those in power are so anxious to prove the “kill” that they have forgotten to adopt the correct procedures. What other sport suspends its riders without a single case being proved beyond reasonable doubt?
In 2007 we all have to take stock and decide whose side we are all on and work together for a common result – one of honesty.
The Crystal Ball
Pez: You’ve commentated and witnessed on some amazing races over the years – is there any one performance that stands out in your mind as being truly special?
Phil: I’m often asked this question and I think my favourite Tour was LeMond’s 8-second victory over Fignon in 1989. Even as recently as three years’ ago, I met Laurent and the first thing he said was “no questions about 1989.” I predicted on TV that day that LeMond would win by six seconds and a viewer wrote in and complained I had given the result away!
Pez: I remember the days when you used to commentate on the Commonwealth Bank Classic in Australia and you were sprouting to everyone the fact that this 19 year old wonderkid named Jan Ullrich would one day win the Tour de France. How did it feel to be vindicated?
Phil: Jan was clearly the classiest bike rider around and probably still is. I never even thought about it when Jan won in 1997, but then again I predicted in 1998 that Cadel Evans would one day win the Tour – he’s getting there!
Pez: Are then any young talents coming through at the moment that we should keep an eye on? Any that you are game enough to predict as a future tour winner?
Phil: I’m writing this from Africa with a lion playing outside, so thinking of great young riders is not easy! I’m also feeling pretty sad about the death in Ghent of Isaac Galvez. I think Alejandro Valverde will eventually break through and I am hoping that there are one or two young black South African riders who can make the grade to help the sport here. But to give a fuller answer, I would need more time – and I’m on holiday!
Pez: In your opinion, what separates a ‘great’ cyclist from an average pro?
Phil: Obviously you have to be born with the “engine” but even if your turbo is not quite as good as the next rider’s you can still achieve great things providing you are mentally strong and believe in yourself.
Most top athletes are nice people on the surface but demons beneath. These demons get out when the flag drops and heaven help those who get in the way. Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong and Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly, are great examples. But, you know, even “average” pros can have a great career because without these to swell the peloton to 189 riders, where would our champions be?
– We thank Phil for taking time out of a well-earned vacation to talk with us, and look forward to hearing him again next year.