July 23, 2007

More on metaphor - Le Tour

Bub and I are big Tour de France fans, having been known in the past to get out of bed in time for a 5:30 a.m. stage start.

Thanks to our brand new DVR (we're a little behind the times), we can now watch it whenever we want. This also means we have to avoid any tv or online news the entire day, just in case we find out who wins the stage before we've seen it!

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen have been cycling commentators for a combined total of almost 50 years, and they've honed their skills to such a degree of sharpness that they can keep up their smooth patter no matter what is happening in the race (yesterday a man came into view of the camera running alongside the riders in nothing but a g-string; Phil quipped, "Pretty fit athlete there," and kept going with the commentary.)

Phil and Paul use metaphor as a way to dramatize the event and bring it to life for those of us who don't get to experience the race in person.

When a viewer is watching three to five hours of cycling a day for three weeks, some of the stages can be uneventful. This is where the commentators' talents are most handy, engaging the audience, keeping them focused and keeping the viewers entertained with stories about the riders, explanations of cycling strategy and historical facts about the race.

Where Phil is more subtle with his commentary, Paul is dramatic. . .

As riders start to fall behind the peloton, Paul says, "The elastic is starting to stretch." Sometimes it even "snaps."

As a rider picks up the pace going up a mountain, he says, "He's putting the hammer down."

He talks about riders being "possessed," "going through purgatory" and "dragging their bodies up the summit." Yesterday, someone was even "in death throes." I can always count on Paul to throw in some great hyperbole. Even though I've heard many of his sayings over and over, I always find his commentary entertaining.

Phil uses British expressions like, "That rider's in a spot of bother," poetic phrases like "dancing on the pedals," and understated humor like the comment above about the nearly nude man. Phil takes pity on riders, calling whoever is falling off the back, "Poor old (insert name here)." One of my favorites: "turning a pedal in anger."

Here are Paul's written daily reports, and here are Phil's. In their writing, you can almost "hear" each man's voice, distinctive and full of imagery.

Here's an article with some interesting Tour history, cycling terms and trivia. Here's a more complete glossary of cycling terms.

And if you happen to be a fan, you might enjoy this Phil and Paul bingo game to play during the race; each square contains one of their well-known sayings.

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