I don’t think there is a sport where the commentators matter so much. Then again, I don't know of a sport that is televised sometimes for more than 5 hours a day for 3 weeks in a row. That is a lot of time to fill in with very little happening. A good commentator can turn those 5 hours into something worth watching. They inform you of the bigger and smaller players, tell you about the different races going on in the same tour, they give you historical anecdotes about the last edition of the race, the last time the peloton passed through that mountain pass.
I am not sure about Rik or Michael, but with the Giro coming up the topic of commentators weighs heavy on my mind. For Colombians, at least those of us who follow the sport heavily and for longer than just the Nairo and Uran explosion, it is a torturous experience. You end up having to make the tough decision of streaming it in bad quality and good commentary or HD quality big screen TV with painful commentary. The HD usually wins… unfortunately. Granted this is only for the Giro and the Vuelta, we get the most amazing Goga Ruiz (the Godmother of Colombian and Latin American cycling) for the Tour. Thank the cycling gods for that minor miracle.
This is not something that only I have issues with, nor is it a problem only Colombians and Latin Americans have to deal with. Phil Ligget’s name gets thrown around a lot. He divides the English speaking world with some loving him and some detesting him. I personally love the trio with Carlton Kirby and Sean Kelly, especially Carlton Kirby. Kirby is clear, knowledgeable, and always brings interesting information to the fold. I like what Kelly’s real on the ground experience brings to the conversation. However, I know that as much as I love them, there are those who cannot stand them. My dad, for example, argues that you can never understand a word Kelly is saying due to his heavy accent.
Hector Urrego, or as he is known by Colombians the Prof, is a similar character as Ligget in the sense that he evokes the races of our childhood. Urrego did most of his transmission in the golden era of radio, managing to convey to us the purple of the lavender field in Provence, the yellow of the sunflower fields, the green of the Alps, the desolate landscape of the Mount Ventoux. In the first Tours and Vueltas that Colombians were part of, the story goes that he would use a phone line of a local’s home to narrate the stages. By the time I was old enough to listen to cycling and know what I was listening to, Urrego was already more than established as the voice of Colombian cycling, something he is still considered. He is featured in the documentary Hell on Wheels about the Telekom Team in the 2003 Tour de France. In this trailer you can see him in action. From the land where we don't yell goal, we sing it rather, you can see why this man has captivated our imaginations. He also made a small appearance on the Orica Greenedge Backstage Pass Stage 18 of the Vuelta singing our national anthem.
Cycling is a varied sport with long history; that’s what a good commentator brings to the table. Once you find one you like, it is often hard to watch a race without them.