Tour Down Under: Liggett takes us back to the good old days

Stage 4: Norwood to Uraidla (128.2km)

After a bad news winter, what with all the speculation and the let down, Stage 4 of the Santos Tour Down Under came prescribed to cycling fans like a tranquilizer. “Take this”, they should have said when introducing coverage on the FreeSport channel. “You’ll feel better.”

And we did. After an off-season that caused fans some tightness in the chest, and breathing difficulty, this was a bike race straight out of the good old days.

Suddenly, rather than dealing with asthma inhalers and doping scandals, we were transported back to a world before doping had been invented, or at least before it was acknowledged with more than a wink. And besides, we were eight in that world, and wouldn’t have understood anyway.

There was no need for salbutamol among our ranks though, for we had something far more powerful, and at the prescribed legal dose.

A high definition picture of standard definition broadcast, of a high speed finish… on TV

Three hours of Phil Liggett is all it takes to transport you back 30 years. Just when you think the voice of cycling had hung up his headphones, or been ushered out for younger voices who know how to pronounce “Tom-Jelte Slagter”, he was back, alongside the ever positive, and similarly ageless Paul Sherwen.

Of all bike-racing commentators, Phil Liggett remains the easiest to recognise in a noisy crowd, to anyone over about 35 anyway. The great grandfather of cycling commentary, Liggett must be on something to last so long, but he’s been clean for decades. Listening to his unshakable enthusiasm, he gets the job done on little more than bread, water, and with thanks to the official sponsorship partners of the Santos Tour.

I’m not sure Liggett ever went anywhere. He was surely on a TV network in some corner of the world. But those of us reliant on Eurosport got used to his absence. That was until he reappeared in glorious standard definition, on an obscure new channel FreeSport. The timing was perfect.

We got the winner we needed too.

Uncatchable by peers, unblemished in the press, Peter Sagan wears the World Champion stripes like super powers.

He rode hard up Norton Summit, and then out sprinted the pack to take his first win of the year, at speeds to make even non-interested family members, forced to watch cycling in January, exclaimed “look at him go!”

Even his rage at the crush afterwards felt right, as his body descended into dehydration, and his team fed him gummy bears while pouring water over his head. Like some of us, it’s a preference for the business of bike racing to be kept between the start and finish lines.

For Sagan the race ends at the finish line. All that other stuff, the interviews, the photos, the podium, doesn’t really fit into what his version of bike racing. Interviews are awkward, his temper flares on the ride back to doping control, and he eats gummy bears while his team pours down his neck. It’s all about that part of the job between the start and finish lines.

Which applies to a lot of cycling fans too for that matter.

So this was more like it. Not a classic as such, more a trip out with the grandparents, after a long running family argument, to buy us kids an ice cream. For a day at least we could all breathe easily.

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