Sport on TV: Last legs as viewers go weak at the Pyrenees

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The Independent Online
It has been a long, hard week for fans of televised sport. The Tour de France (Eurosport and Channel 4) and The Open (BBC1 and BBC2) are marathon challenges to the viewer, demanding the comfiest of sofas and the steadiest of hands on the remote control. Non-sports viewers will be flummoxed by the appeal of both events but may marginally prefer the cycling: at least the landscape is different every day.

The Tour can punish complacency among the audience just as cruelly as the riders. Those watching Eurosport's live coverage might assume that next to nothing will happen for four hours or so while the peloton slogs up an Alp or down a Pyrenee. But if they turn their back for a moment to put the kettle on they can guarantee that the next time they look at the screen it will be a mass of twisted wheels, tortured sprockets, nastily barked knees and worse.

Nor are pile-ups the only interruption to the hard graft of pedalling. An assortment of deranged spectators in preposterous costumes leap from the mountainsides to jog uphill alongside their toiling heroes. No doubt this is done with the best of intentions, but the distraction is doubly cruel because the competitor is inevitably too tuckered out to respond. It may be a good idea for team managers to equip all their riders with cards that read "Bugger off" in a variety of European languages: these could be dispensed when the occasion demanded.

A further challenge (to the viewers, not the riders) is Stephen Roche's summary work for Eurosport. Roche's experience as a rider on the tour has undoubtedly given him ample qualifications to contribute to the commentary. But it has also weakened his grip on the English language to such an extent that it is often impossible to make head or tail of what he is saying. Too much fraternisation with the domestiques can do terrible things to your consonants.

Channel 4's coverage also has its perplexing moments. Some of these can be ascribed to the need to cram as much action as possible into half an hour, which can be tricky when the guys in the news have names like Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. But most of them are the fault of the sponsor's segments promoting Eurostar, which show typically French still lives such as a gradually melting lump of Brie. There may be those, of course, who would rather watch the cheese than the race.

The Open is marginally less bizarre, in that fancy-dressed spectators do not break ranks to march up the fairways with their favourites, but the competitors more than make up for any sartorial shortcomings among the crowd. As ever, Payne Stewart led the field in garb-related ghastliness. This year his trademark plus-fours had been run-up in an extravagant tartan: too good to be trews, they must have been the talk of all Troon.

The BBC's commentary team were as colourful as ever. When Alex Hay noted on the opening day that things were "not quite dry and bouncy enough" he was referring to the state of the fairways, not the boys at the mike.

This year there was a preponderance of Peters at work, the perennial Alliss having been joined by Messrs Oosterhuis and Thomson. Hay noted this in a link from the links: "I'll hand over to one of our three Peters," he quipped, and there was Alliss, prattling on rather than Petering out.

"Lovely handover there, Alex," the Voice of the Nineteenth Hole declared. "Old Uncle Wogan and Kenny the Bruce would have been very proud of you. Smooth as silk."

In a phrase, Alliss had once again staked out his territory, the broadcasting genre endorsed by Old Uncle Wogan in which the speaker burbles gently about nothing terribly much for hours on end. This is quite comforting but can sometimes be at variance with what is actually taking place on the screen: witness the moment during the first round when Tiger Woods vented his feelings following a triple-bogey seven by unleashing a copious gob on to the time-honoured fairway. "Wonderful temperament he's got," Alliss murmured, blissfully unaware. It was lucky for the green keeper that Woods declined to let the punishment fit the crime: those triple- bogey bogies can be an awful job to scrape up.

Life is easier for Alliss when he ignores the golf altogether and concentrates on the landscape, much as he did on the mammoth freebie-cum-documentary series A Golfer's Travels. At one stage on Friday evening he treated us to a lengthy discourse on the beach at Troon, noting that when the tide was out more of it was exposed, along with some rocks and things. But that was not all. "There's the dear old sea," he acutely observed, "shimmering away." Then he added the little phrase that is clearly a favourite of his at present: "Smooth as silk." Dear old P, wittering away: time for your milk.

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