Bread and butter. Mornings and coffee. Phil Liggett and the Tour de France. Some things just belong together.
That’s why sports fans across the country are scratching their heads, asking: “Where’s Phil?”
Liggett and trusty sidekick Paul Sherwen are no longer commentating on SBS’s coverage of cycling’s biggest event, instead limited to guest appearances before and after stages.
And while their replacements, Aussie pair Matthew Keenan and three-time green jersey winner Robbie McEwen, are doing a good job, it’s not the same.
For many of us sports-loving night owls, the iconic voices of Liggett and Sherwen are just as compelling to listen to as the riders are to watch.
And in a stage’s flat spots – of which there can be many, given most are more than 150 kilometres long – Liggett and Sherwen come into their own.
The array of stunning footage – think overhead shots of the French countryside, castles, picturesque towns, churches, crowds and their demonstrations – is complemented so well by Liggett and Sherwen you could be watching a travel program.
But to say the pair are missing just for their colour is to do them a great disservice.
They are cycling buffs, and Liggett’s soothing tones and encyclopaedic knowledge are matched by Sherwen’s ability to articulate what riders are thinking and when, formed from his days as a professional cyclist who competed in the Tour de France.
Before you start writing that letter to SBS, though, it’s worth noting that it wasn’t their decision.
“Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are commentating exclusively for a US network for the 2017 Tour de France,” an SBS spokesperson told The New Daily.
“As Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are no longer commentators on the world feed for [the] Tour de France, their commentary is not available to be broadcast by SBS.
“SBS commentators Matthew Keenan and Robbie McEwen take over the world feed, broadcast in over 50 territories.”
Liggett said the race organisers, the Amaury Sport Organisation, opted against using American broadcaster NBC for their world feed this year, a decision that left him “absolutely devastated”.
SBS acknowledged to The New Daily that Liggett and Sherwen are “much-loved by the Australian cycling audience” and that “they will continue to be featured on-screen throughout SBS’s coverage of the 2017 race, contributing analysis and insights”.
But fans are frustrated at Liggett and Sherwen’s reduced role, making Keenan and McEwen’s task even tougher, even though the early evidence suggests both will do a good job.
Keenan is a long-time cycling commentator who has been part of SBS’s coverage for many years.
He has called the early sections of stages for the station in the past and possesses outstanding knowledge.
McEwen’s experience and expertise makes for a nice blend.
He showed that off with an exceptionally quick pick-up of a Peter Sagan error late in stage three, which the Slovakian went on to win anyway.
With less than 250m remaining, in all the drama of a close finish, with riders everywhere and the crowd yelling and screaming, McEwen immediately noticed that Sagan’s foot had slipped out of his pedal.
It was a mistake that would have cost most riders victory, and one that was rectified quickly, but McEwen immediately brought it to the attention of viewers, who almost certainly missed it given the late-night timing.
It was the sharp pick-up of a sharp commentator.
But without the voices of Liggett and Sherwen, there’s something missing with this year’s Tour de France.
It just isn’t the same.