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Over the next few episodes of From the Top I switch gears to speak to iconic individuals within the cycling industry, to better understand how they got to where they are. First up, I speak to Phil Liggett about how he got his start in commentating, how he met Paul Sherwen, how he’s been doing since Paul’s untimely passing, about his relationship with Lance Armstrong, and the cut-throat nature of his position at the top of his profession.
Liggett is undeniably the most recognisable voice in cycling and his dulcet tones have brought the sport we all love into the mainstream through his ‘Liggetisms’, through his descriptions of châteaux, and through his partnership with co-commentator Paul Sherwen.
Many enthusiasts say that Phil is long past his prime and should retire. There’s no denying that the media landscape is a very different place now than it was when Phil started commenting — before many of us were even born. But Phil has witnessed and called so many of cycling’s most significant and historic moments; moments that made us all jump out of our chairs with excitement. You have to thank Phil for being part of those memories. Personally, I bookmark my years by who won the TdF in that particular July, and Phil and Paul’s voices are part of that.
Phil is now 76 years old and has been commentating since the late 70s. Think about that. His impact on the sport and his pioneering role have been tremendous. These days, while he might get some details wrong while calling a race in front of millions of people, I call tell you first-hand through many interactions with him that he’s still sharp as a tack. And as much as you don’t want to hear it, his commentary isn’t really for you or me, the hardcore cycling fans – it’s for the people who immerse themselves in the Tour de France once a year, and who still love him.
From aspiring pro bike racer, to journalist, to commentating with Paul Sherwen for 33 years, Phil is now in the twilight of his career. I sat down with him to hear how he got started, and to learn about some of his struggles along the way.