Veteran ITV cycling commentator Phil Liggett answers six key questions about this year's Tour de France:
1) Who do you think will win this year's Tour, why and how?
“Well I cannot believe that for the second year, because this is the 100th edition of the Tour, that we still have a British favourite - two out of two - last year Bradley Wiggins got the victory and Chris Froome got second. Now it’s time for Chris Froome to step up I think and he has shown the same form in the build-up that Wiggins showed last year. And so he’ll go in as the favourite, but for me he will have a real fight on his hands with Alberto Contador and there are probably four or five guys in the second grouping who could, if things drop in their ball court, win the race.”
2) What makes the Tour de France so special above other cycling events and why does it strike a chord with the public?
“I think because of its very roots, beginning back in 1903 and it has lasted the passage of time, but the thing is it has developed with the country of France. They brought in the mountains in 1910 and 1911, the riders and the romanticisms and the stories behind the race that have built, it has reached such a height. It is the event, sadly to say, the sporting event that if you have a grudge against the country of France, where you demonstrate because there are huge viewing figures around the world who will see your plight. And of course the doping scandals, sadly in one way but popular in another, have brought the event at least more to the attention of the public. This race is never going to go away, it is the biggest sporting event in France and if you take it on an annual basis it is now as big as anything in the world except a [football] World Cup or an Olympic Games.”
3) Can you give us an insight into what it's like behind the scenes with ITV4's coverage?
“Well it’s a big moving jamboree to be honest now, there’s about 20 nations who cover it live, we all sit alongside each other in our commentary boxes, but every nation has its own outside broadcast unit on the Tour, we even have our own chefs because there’s no time to go anywhere. There are bizarre situations like being on top of a mountain for a full day’s racing, and you’ll arrive at 8am in the morning and you won’t go until 6.30pm at night. So everything is in self-contained units now. It seems like organised chaos but it all goes very, very smoothly. It never ceases to amaze me how the host broadcasters who provide all our signals can run such a smooth show but the use of helicopters of course is the key, and at 10,000ft fixed-wing aircraft. These are how the signals are leaving us and are beamed into homes around the world.”
4) Any hot tips for outsiders or underdogs you think might do well?
“In all honesty I don’t think anybody likes to be called the favourite to win the Tour de France. It’s a race of 3,000 kilometres, it’s over 21 days, and things happen - you get chest complaints, you fall off, you get injured, you can never be sure you’re going to win the Tour even if you’re the most outstanding favourite. But there is only a handful of riders in any one year who have the all-round ability to win the Tour. They have to be able to climb mountains, ride the individual time trials and conserve their losses when they are on the flat sprinted stages. Chris Froome has all this ability, he has proved that already. Contador has as well. There are other guys who will push them close. Cadel Evans has won the Tour in the past, he’s older now but he has indicated with a third place in the Giro d’Italia that he can win again in the Tour de France, so you must put him up there. Also Alejandro Valverde, another top Spaniard, he is showing good form this year, and I don’t think Joaquim Rodriguez can win but he can climb, and he’ll also be a challenger. There’s very very little room for someone to come from the depths of the race but there are one or two young developing riders in their first Tour de Frances who could surprise us.”
5) What do you think will be the highlight of this year's Tour?
“This year is a great Tour - it starts on the island of Corsica for the first time which is fitting for the 100th edition. That is not a flat island, there are two second-category mountains on that island so it won’t be a flat start. I expect Mark Cavendish to give us a great opening day, it looks of course suited to him. It might be he’s struggling a bit on the next two days. Then we move on to the mainland of France and after the team time trial we go very quickly to the Pyrenees, and it’s very tough there but not as tough as in the Alps.”
6) This is your 41st Tour. What has been the highlight of the many events you’ve covered so far?
“We go back to 1978 when World of Sport asked me to cover the Tour for them after the death of David Saunders a couple of months earlier. I had been on the Tour but as David’s driver and journalist and ITV knew of me and offered me the job. I never applied for the job and in actual fact I’ve been very lucky and I’ve never actually applied for any job in television. From there of course Channel 4 came on stream, then we swung over to ITV4 and of course last year on the main channel as well. The race has now caught the public imagination, we are now into millions in our viewerships on the days of the big winners, and I’m just happy I’ve been there. I didn’t think I’d last for such a long time, but I have and I’ve been at every single day since 1973 of the Tour de France. In fact, I’ve never been at home in July unless the Tour de France has been coming to Britain, as has happened on three or four occasions.”
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