Paul Sherwen, professional bicyclist who became a voice of Tour de France telecasts
Paul Sherwen, who raced in the Tour de France and then became a longtime voice of commentary on that and other major cycling events for the Englishspeaking world, died Sunday at his home in Kampala, Uganda. He was 62.
The cause was heart failure, his wife, Katherine Love Sherwen, said.
For 33 editions of cycling’s most famous race, starting in 1986, Paul Sherwen teamed with Phil Liggett to provide live commentary for broadcasts in English-speaking countries, including the United States. Even casual cycling fans knew who “Phil and Paul” were.
With Sherwen behind the wheel, the pair would drive to the finish line of each stage of the three-week race and squeeze into a tiny booth packed with television monitors, cameras, lights and computers inside a two-story trailer. “They are hot and stuffy, compact working quarters,” Liggett said in a telephone interview from South Africa, where he lives.
While Liggett generally called the race, particularly the final kilometer, Sherwen drew on his time as a professional racer and seven-time Tour entrant to explain cycling’s sometimes opaque tactics to viewers and otherwise fill airtime during broadcasts that, for some stages, ran on for as much as six hours.
Part of Sherwen’s job involved gently correcting Ligett’s errors, like misidentifying riders on the screen – an inevitable part of live commentary. And when helicopter-mounted cameras fixated on ancient buildings or particularly striking landscapes, Sherwen turned into a tour guide, if an occasionally mischievous one. When an impressive chateau appeared onscreen, he would sometimes say that King Louis IV had slept in it, whether true or not.
Sherwen retired from racing in 1987 after taking two British champion titles, but he remained tied to the sport. He became manager of Raleigh Banana and later served as spokesman for the American team sponsored by Motorola, the first to hire Lance Armstrong, who became a friend.
John William Paul Sherwen was born June 7, 1956, in Widnes, England, near Liverpool. His mother, Margaret (McGowan) Sherwen, was a homemaker; his father, John, was an industrial chemist with Imperial Chemical Industries. When Paul was 7, Imperial Chemical moved the family to Uganda, where his father ran a fertilizer factory.
Sherwen became the first of a wave of English-speaking riders to follow what would become a standard apprenticeship for turning pro in Europe, joining the amateur Athletic Club de BoulogneBillancourt in suburban Paris.
Sherwen showed enough promise that the next season he turned professional, with a team sponsored by Fiat.
As Sherwen and the other English speakers made their way to the Tour de France, they came to be known as the “Foreign Legion.”