TEXT OF INTERVIEW
RENITA JABLONSKI: The Tour de France kicks of tomorrow in Monaco. TV ratings for the race are expected to go up this year thanks to the return of a certain seven-time winner of the event. Names like General Mills, Nike, and even General Motors are among the companies signed on as advertisers.
The Versus network is airing the race in HD, and it’s counting on the buzz. One man assures us, it is there. We caught up with Versus announcer Phil Liggett. He’s with us from Monaco. Thanks for joining us.
PHIL LIGGETT: It’s a pleasure.
JABLONSKI: This is your 37th tour. What’s your state of mind going into this year’s event?
LIGGETT: Well this year everybody’s excited because we never thought we’d see Lance Armstrong ride the Tour de France again. He retired after he wont in 2005 for a 7th consecutive time. It’s a record, which I believe will never be equaled. And here he is out of retirement at 37 years of age. Perhaps there’s a clue there, as it’s my 37th tour, and I think he’ll be a contender. I think Lance will possibly on the podium in Paris. Maybe not the win, but certainly we’ll know he’s been in the race.
JABLONSKI: Now I know certainly your concern is not with the business of cycling, but this incredible event and this sport, but I’m wondering if you are noticing more marketing around you and big names kind of trying to step into the frenzy of this all?
LIGGETT: I think we are very much so. The publicity caravan, which precedes the race by an hour, is as busy as ever with companies buying into the race and paying a lot of money too — $2,000-$3,000 a day is what they pay just to put their vehicle on the race roads. And I think, well as the world is facing a recession, people have been turning to bicycles to save money. And in London, for example, where I live, there has been an 80 percent increase in riding bicycles. And I’m delighted to say an 18 percent drop in casualties on the road as well at the same time, so I think yes, the money in the sport is not short. It’s coming in all the time.
JABLONSKI: So how are you seeing this increased interest in cycling translate into what people want to know from you heading into the tour?
LIGGETT: Well I don’t just do it for the American Versus’s network. I also commentate for Australia, for South Africa, and for the organization which puts a special 30-minute program to the world every night as well. In all we reach 150 nations around the world doing our commentaries on our tour. And we know by the feedback that they have an enormous amount of viewers. Apart from the Olympic games or perhaps a football World Cup, they are telling us that we are the highest-rated program in the world, taking a world audience. It’s quite amazing really.
JABLONSKI: OK. Here’s to your 37th tour then.
LIGGETT: Thank you.
JABLONSKI: Long-time cycling commentator Phil Liggett. Thanks so much.
LIGGETT: Thank you.
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