It seemed like paradise, a luxury cabin in a national forest,
topped with a satellite dish. Upon our arrival last Thursday
afternoon, I seized the remote, accessed the program guide and
punched in 151, the Dish Network home of the Outdoor Life
Network. Onto the screen popped this:
Attention: This is a subscription channel which has not been
And my world became just a little darker.
Normally I would not care if the cabin I was renting had a TV,
let alone a dish. But these are not normal times for me. On the
first day of July--the first day of my new life--the cable guy
came by my house. When he left, I had the Digital Bronze
Package, by which I do not mean that I suddenly resembled the
upright figure of my old third-place Punt, Pass & Kick trophy. I
had a new cable box that granted me, at long last, access to
OLN, the network that was providing live coverage of each stage
of the Tour de France. OLN was also showing replays throughout
How ideal, I thought. I could descend from my home office for
five or 10 minutes at a time, get a sense of how the race was
going, then get back to work. I would remain productive, make
all my deadlines, and stay abreast of Lance's quest for a
four-peat. The staying abreast part worked out well. Painful
though it is to admit, I had a better handle on this Tour than I
did while driving around France covering two Tours for SI. (It
didn't help that in 1995 I missed the end of a stage because I
could not remember where I'd parked my car in the city of
This total Tour immersion came at a cost. Other areas of my life
suffered. (I was three hours late sending in this column, for
instance.) Nor did things go swimmingly on the home front. My
wife, who has taken to referring to OLN as "the Contraceptive
Channel," gave me heat for flipping on the tube when we had
company two weekends ago--as if our guests didn't prefer history
in the making to our banal small talk!
What was it about the network's coverage that drew one in?
During my OLN-less exile in Idaho, where we went for a wedding,
I discussed the network's appeal with like-minded souls. "It's
Liggett and Sherwen," said Dave Benson, a hydrogeologist who
began his July mornings by walking down the street at 6:30,
wearing slippers and carrying an empty coffee mug, to watch the
race with his neighbor. "They absolutely bring it to life."
He was referring to former pro riders Phil Liggett and Paul
Sherwen, a pair of Brits whose comprehensive knowledge of cycling
is matched only by their gift for dropping delightfully unique
and memorable phrases into their OLN commentary.
"Here is Hincapie, who has worked so hard for Armstrong, having
to throw his massive carcass over the grade!" That was not
Sherwen, mind you. It was Stu Bone, a San Francisco technology
salesman and amateur bike racer, doing his Sherwen
impersonation. Bone admitted to having hosted OLN parties during
the Tour. "We pretty much dork out over that stuff," he said.
Liggett and Sherwen can give you gooseflesh talking about an
approaching feed zone. So their company was essential for the
truly critical moments of the race, such as Armstrong's heading
into La Mongie in stage 11, on July 18, when then race leader
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano could not hang.
"The yellow jersey has cracked!" emoted Liggett.
"The yellow jersey has completely and utterly crumbled by the
side of the road!" Sherwen agreed.
During stage 13 my eight-year-old daughter took a break from
pleading with me to let her watch SpongeBob Squarepants long
enough to point out that the surname of Michael Boogerd was a
homophone for boggart. I begged her pardon. "You know, the thing
in Harry Potter that transforms itself into whatever you most
What I most feared was the end of the Tour. Now, having learned
about the final stages of Armstrong's victory from some hideously
inadequate news-channel ticker, I must look on the bright side:
Thirty-four days till OLN's coverage of the Vuelta a Espana.
much dork out over that stuff."