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Book Review: Dancing on the Pedals
By Locutus
Date: 6/29/2006
Book Review: Dancing on the Pedals

Dancing on the Pedals: The Found Poetry of Phil Liggett, the Voice of Cycling

by Phil Liggett and Doug Donaldson

$9.95 from Breakaway Books

As many people already know, Phil Liggett has been commentating on the Tour de France for television since 1977. More recently, he has been a centerpiece on the ESPN and OLN coverage of the Tour (as well as several other races). Over the years, he has seen—and commented upon—many of the greatest moments in cycling history. In this little 6.5" x 5.5" book, former Bicycling magazine nutrition editor Doug Donaldson has edited together some of Liggett's greatest calls and shaped them into a variety of poetic forms. The poetry isn't exactly Keats's "Ode to a Grecian Urn," but as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing.

The collection, which centers on the Tour de France, covers topics such as long breakaways, crashes, sprints, and life in the peloton. There is also a special section on the Tour champions, which covers everyone from Hinault to Armstrong. Each of the poems captures a moment of life in the Tour, and in this sense there is something for Tour aficionados and neophytes alike. For those who don't know Tour history, reading through the poems on greats like Hinault, Delgado, Millar, Indurain, Pantani, and Lemond will give some glimpses into their former battles. For those of us who remember those stages, reading Phil's words brings back the moments with surprising clarity. Donaldson selects some fantastic moments, too: Delgado and Millar dueling in the Pyranees on Stage 10 of 1989; Bjarne Riis chucking his time trial machine in frustration during Stage 20 of 1997; the pileup where riders hit a policeman in the final sprint of Stage 1 in 1994.

Of course there are ample selections from the Armstrong years as well, and the big Lance moments are here: "The Look" he gave Ullrich during Stage 10 in 2001, "The Crash" at Luz Ardiden during Stage 15 in 2003, his inspired win after the Casartelli tragedy on Stage 18 in 1995. But this isn't just an ode to Lance, as Donaldson gives Liggett's takes on Hamilton, Ullrich, Pantani, and scores of other recent and current greats.

The naming and form of the poems is where Donaldson gets playful and the humor of the volume really comes through. Sometimes he emphasizes the content with clever formatting (such as a poem in the shape of a raindrop about a race in bad weather). Sometimes the punchline comes with the title, such as the poem where Liggett notices Ullrich has no friends that Donaldson names "Tie a Pork Chop Around His Neck." However, Donaldson also demonstrates a clear grasp of both meter and drama with the shape he gives to Liggett's words. Overall, the effect is to celebrate and laugh with Phil while grooving on the greatest sport in the world. Like all good poetry, the pieces in the book lend themselves to sporadic, sustained, and multiple readings.

If you are a Phil hater, then this book is not for you. But for the rest of us, this is a great addition to cycling literature that can supplement our Tour de France viewing or get us through that off-season cycling jones (the withdrawals usually hit around December). Be sure to check in with the live ticker every day during the Tour de France for sample poems from Liggett and Donaldson.

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