‘Voice of Cycling’ Phil Liggett previews the USA Pro Challenge, reflects on his career

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Photo: USA Pro Cycling ChallengeThe USA Pro Cycling Challenge started yesterday in Aspen, Colo., and through Sunday, riders from 16 teams will battle it out across the state. But riders like defending champion Tejay van Garderen aren't the only cycling celebrities in Colorado this week.

Phil Liggett, who is calling the race for NBC Sports, has been dubbed "The Voice of Cycling." He's been behind the microphone for 42 Tours de France, best known for memorable expressions like, "He's dancing on the pedals!" when a rider is going uphill quickly, or "He's wearing the mask of pain!" when a rider is gritting out the race.

Liggett says he's not sure where the expressions come from.

"When I see a cyclist riding very quickly up a hill and he’s out the saddle bobbing up and down, to me he’s dancing on the pedals, and the phrase just popped out," Liggett says.

He says he started using the phrases in the 1980's, and some fans have developed Bingo games with "Liggettisms" written in each box, which they cross off when he says one on air. But the fans may be waiting a while: Liggett says he tries not to use each expression too many times.

Photo: Phil Liggett press head shotBefore he was an announcer Liggett raced, but he's never ridden all around France, which he calls one of his biggest regrets. Still, he knows what it's like to be going very fast in a pack of riders.

"When you go down these mountains, I’ve driven on the Tour de France, and I’ve had riders pass me in my car when the car is showing 72 miles an hour," Liggett says.

That's one reason fans need to watch out because in cycling fans line up on the side of the road with no barrier between them and the riders. Liggett says fans these days are trying to take selfies in the middle of the race.

"In the Tour de France this year, I think we caught them on camera at least four or five times... and they're hit from the behind by the riders as they try to get the pack in the shot. Well that's completely crazy," Liggett says.