Phil Liggett’s ‘Things you might not know about covering the Tour de France’

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For 50 years, Phil Liggett’s coverage of the Tour de France has become synonymous with the event itself. 

Liggett began covering the Tour de France in 1973 and started calling the race on television in 1978. By the end of this year’s competition, he will have covered over 114,500 miles of racing on the Tour de France – the equivalent of making more than four-and-a-half trips around the Earth.

And as with most experienced travelers, Liggett learned a thing or two along the way. Fortunately, he decided to share his knowledge with the rest of us.

The race within the race

“To keep up with the Tour de France, which is about 2,100 miles over three weeks, the TV commentators drive approximately 3,500 miles around the race route, often reaching their hotels at midnight, but ready to call the race from the finishing line the next day.

“In the early days, I started just half a mile ahead of the riders in a group of maybe 500 cars. Before the finish, I had to gain three hours on the riders and jump into the commentary box to pick up the action to the finish line. It was a dangerous existence and I was the happiest guy on TV when the system changed because of the extended coverage of the event due to its popularity. We now travel to the next finish in the evenings.”

Most memorable moments

“During my 50 years, I have been lucky enough to call every English-speaking rider ever to win the Tour de France and also every one of the 34 stage victories of Britain’s Mark Cavendish, which equaled the record of the great Belgian Eddy Merckx in 2021.

“When Greg LeMond became the first (and only) winner of the Tour in 1986, he had to sit with me on top of an open bus waiting for a satellite live cross at midnight into the States. He was amazingly tolerant as all he really wanted to do was celebrate his victory with the team, who had booked a boat on the Seine and were ready to party.”

Changing of the times

“When the Colombian journalists (TV and radio) came to the Tour for the first time in the mid-80s, they produced their radio programmes from the roadside telephone boxes and had their pockets full of French francs to pump into the telephones (no mobile phones, of course) to run a half-hour live show into Bogotá.

“Throughout the ‘70s, walking into the press room, where up to a thousand journalists were banging out the stories on typewriters, was deafening. And, finding a seat through the smoke of so many cigarettes was perhaps not the healthiest existence either. No mobile phones, so always a rush to the telephone operators and then a wait of up to two hours to get your collect call through to the UK or the States.

As the race became more popular and television was producing non-stop live coverage lasting up to six hours, we had to request that the organizers move the toilets to within a one-minute walk from the commentary positions, so a quick visit was possible during the commercial breaks. They still do this now.”

NBC Sports will present three weeks of wall-to-wall live and encore coverage of the 109th Tour de France on Peacock and USA Network. Daily live coverage of the Tour de France, featuring all 21 stages, begins Friday, July 1, at 9:30 a.m. ET on Peacock and USA Network with the Tour de France Pre-Race Show, followed by Stage 1 at 10 a.m. ET on Peacock and USA Network.  

Peacock will provide live streaming coverage of every stage of the 2022 Tour de France, featuring live, start-to-finish coverage of every stage. Peacock’s coverage includes simulstreams from USA Network and NBC shows, as well as commentary from the world feed. Peacock will also feature full-stage replays, highlights, stage recaps and rider interviews.