Legendary cycling commentator Phil Liggett is upset about the overhaul of Tour de France television coverage, saying he’s “absolutely devastated” he’s no longer doing the blow-by-blow commentary for SBS.
This year marks a change in the SBS broadcast of the three-week Grand Tour, which starts on Saturday night (AEST) in Dusseldorf, Germany.
SBS helped sparked the ongoing Australian cycling boom in 1991 when it started showing nightly Tour de France highlight shows.
It has morphed into continuous live coverage, with Liggett and his long-time sidekick Paul Sherwen the constants.
But there will be significant changes this year because of a complex situation involving Tour organisers ASO that has developed in the past couple of years.
It boils down to Australians Matthew Keenan and Robbie McEwen now fronting the SBS coverage, with Liggett and Sherwen making guest appearances.
The British pair will continue to commentate for the American NBC network.
Fronting ASO’s English-language broadcast feed is a huge vote of confidence in Keenan and McEwen, the former sprint ace.
Liggett and Sherwen were told of the change in March.
While Liggett is rapt for the Australians, he makes it clear it was an ASO decision.
“Paul and I are absolutely devastated that we’re no longer doing the blow-by-blow commentary for SBS,” Liggett told AAP.
“I am always blown away by our Australian fans, they’ve been absolutely fantastic and I’ve received some lovely messages since the news became public.
“It puts Matt and Robbie in an invidious position but they do an excellent job – Matt is a walking encyclopedia of cycling knowledge and he is a great talent.”
Liggett is a regular visitor to Australia, most recently earlier in June for a week-long series of speaking engagements.
He is looking forward to the Tour, where Richie Porte has a genuine chance to become the second Australian champion.
“It’s a wide-open field and I think all the favourites have their weaknesses,” Liggett said.
“Richie probably goes in as the slight favourite but he still has to show he can be consistent over the three weeks.
“It’s a great field, led by Chris Froome of course, and there are a lot of guys who can win.”