Paul Sherwen is generally seen as Phil Liggett’s counter-point, dutifully keeping the iconic duo’s race commentary on course, helping to convey to the English-speaking world the sport of Professional Cycling. Liggett, of course, has undeniably helped shape this great sport for Anglophones across the globe, having been the English voice of this sport since before I was born – and for that I’m eternally grateful to him; merely the sound of his voice warms the cockles of my cold, black heart. But as much as he is inextricably bound to the sport, the last time he got a fact right must have also been before I was born, if he ever has.
The balance Liggett’s special breed of factual rigor is Paul Sherwen. Not only does he have the insight of an ex-pro with which to season his commentary, he has several other highly technical analytical tools at his disposal, such as actually watching the race. Furthermore, Paul is able to counter Uncle Phil’s constitution under pressure – which resembles that of a knock-kneed Rhode Island Red in a washing machine on a delicates/knits cycle – with his Sprinter’s Cool. Whereas Phil can be heard squawking and clucking incomprehensibly with excitement as a race unfolds, Paul peppers the commentary with self-deprecating jokes about his own career and adds a Swahili proverb or two that might be helpful for the riders, were they only able to hear him.
In this current role of his, as the commentary equivalent of Autocorrect on Liggett’s iPhone, it is easy to forget that Paul was among the most respected riders of his day. Seen here stringing out a bunch (in complete Rule Compliance, I might add) reminds me of the various tales of tenacity that earned him the respect not only of his fellow riders, but of race organizers.
One such example is of the 1985 Tour de France when Sherwen, a domestique with no chance at the overall, crashed in the opening kilometers of a Pyrenean stage and was left to fend for himself while Bernard Hinault raced for the win at the front, making small children of grown men. Refusing to give up, Sherwen limped through the stage alone, accompanied only by a single Gendarme’s motorcycle. More than an hour after the stage winner and well outside the time limit, he finished the stage. The race jury, moved by his resolve to finish the stage, reinstated him and allowed him to continue on in the Tour. In a word, respect.
I think of all the people in the cycling world I most admire, it has to be Paul Sherwen.