PezCycling News - What's Cool In Road Cycling : Paul Sherwen: Gets PEZ’d (Pt. 2)

Paul Sherwen: Gets PEZ’d (Pt. 2)
When we first talked in 2003, my Paul Sherwen interview was temporarily interrupted on Tuesday (see Paul Sherwen Pt. 1) when he had to put his son to bed. I called back a few minutes later and we picked up the conversation on Team Directeurs, biking buddies, his life on tv and more…

On Team Directeurs
The conversation carries on towards bike racing and we start talking about more current riders and events…Paul’s pro racing career went from 1978 –87, and he’s worked in the business ever since. He’s seen a lot, of riders, races, and the men who’ve shaped cycling. I ask him about team managers and directeurs – who does he repsect and who is most reputable…

Paul: “Historically Jim Ochowicz who I worked very closely with. Jim was the most professional team manager and he brought in American management styles into European racing. He still acts as an advisor to the Phonak team, which is probably one reason why Tyler Hamilton went to ride for them. Jim is very very straight, and one of the greatest guys that I worked with when I was on the “sporting” side.

“Team managers that I respect… would be Giancarlo Ferretti, who is a hard man. And a lot of riders need a hard directeur, it’s like being in the army, you need a General and you need to respect the General. And some riders definitely needed his direction. But that style of management certainly would not suit Lance Armstrong, who needs to be able to make his own decisions with management. So Ferretti is the old fashioned, dominating team manager which would not suit Lance at all, in which case you’ve got to think Johan Bruyneel is a bloody good manager as well, because he is able to act as a manger and advisor to Lance. And Lance seems to need advisors. He knows is own plan at the start of the year, but he needs to put around him a group of advisors.

“It’s difficult to say who is the best team manager. Every team manager has his own strong points. I used to respect Patrick Lefevre an awful lot, and I wondered about some of his decisions vis a vis riders like Vandenbrouke, which is a shame because I’ve known Frank Vandebrouke since he was a kid because I raced with his uncle Jean-Luc. It’ s difficult … To put it into perspective, there’s no way a guy like Jim Ochowicz could ever, with any team he worked with, employ Frank Vandenbrouke.

PEZ: Does Vandenbrouke need a “Ferretti" as a team manger?

Paul: Well I suppose you’ll have to put that down as “one to follow”, who’ll crack first - Vandenbrouke or Ferretti?”

Cycling And Socializing
PEZ: How has your background as a rider helped you get to know the riders you report on?

Paul: The fact that I was a rider gives me a little bit of respect from the riders, more particularly the English-speaking riders because they know that I was a pro, and that I raced the Tour de France. They know I’m not going to ask dunce questions…

PEZ: Are you friends with any of the current pros, do you socialize with them outside racing?

Paul: I do stay in contact with some of the old pros, like Sean Yates, Bob Roll, Ron Keifel. But of the English-speaking pros from my era, there weren’t that many.

PEZ: What about Robert Millar?

Paul: He seems to have vanished. He lived in France during and after his career, but I’m not really sure what he does.

PEZ: Okay then, Robert - if you’re reading this please drop us a line and let us know how you’re doing!

PEZ: Do you and Phil Liggett socialize outside work?

Paul: Oh yeah. I’ve taken Phil on safari. We share a love of wildlife, more particularly birds –Phil is very good on his birds. Phil is as meticulous with his bird watching as he is with his racing results – he actually logged 144 varieties of birds on our last safari. We’re going on safari together to the South Africa in about a week…which is about 4-1/2 hours away by plane!

From Racer to TV Commentator
Riders wages are a tough thing to get a bead on, but most of us have wondered how much these guys actually make. I try to steer the conversation around to this sometimes “delicate” topic, but end up blurting out: “ So, uh, mm… at what point in your life did you start to become financially successful?

Paul: I qualified from university with a degree in paper technology. At the time that I turned professional (1978) I actually earned the same amount per year as most of the guys that I went to university with when they went into industry. My first pro contract was worth about $5000 a year – the same as a management position in industry. But although it wasn’t very much, I could actually save about $2500 a year, which I did, so when I actually retired (and I was in cycling before the megabucks actually started) I was fairly comfortable when I retired. But really I didn’t become financially comfortable until my television career took off…

PEZ: When was that?

Paul: Phil (Liggett) got me into it. I was retiring from the European scene in1985, to race in England for 2 more years, and Phil asked if I wanted to do the Tour commentary with me? And I said “ yeah, cool!”.

So Paul wrote into his new team contract that he got the month of July off to start covering the Tour. Luckily, his new team really wanted a former Euro-pro of Paul’s stature, and were happy to comply with his request. The rest is history…

PEZ: Did you have any experience in television?

Paul: Zippo. Zilch. Nothing. But I was lucky, because Phil and I got on well together, we’d known each other for about 10 years… You could put almost anybody into a commentary position with Phil and he’d get the best out of them. The Tour de France is the biggest tv gig of the year, and I was asked again and again and we developed a rapport…and I really enjoyed the statistical side of the sport, and Phil is very good on the historical side. Together we make a pretty good team…I crapped myself the other day when I realized we’d been working together for 18 years!

PEZ: How are you able to spew out so many statistics and tidbits during a race –is all that stuff in your head, or do you have a computer program you use?

Paul: A mixture of both really. Phil and I share a database which we put together and update ourselves on a daily basis. We use it to create records of the guys, and now it updates itself automatically when we input new data. But a lot of this stuff is memory. You can’t do a live broadcast without just knowing a lot of this stuff.

PEZ: Do you ever get bored?

Paul: Never. I love it, it’s a passion. To me it’s exciting… Sometimes I listen back to the call that Phil and I do of a bunch sprint in the last 5k’s… the blood is hot when you’re doin that. You aallways get a buzz when you’re doing a bunch sprint, or a mountain top finish. We’re on the edge of our seats as much as the guy watching tv is…

PEZ: The amount of travel involved with doing your job has to be one of the toughest yet least talked about aspects of following pro bike racing

Paul: I’m very lucky in that my wife was involved in television before, so she knew what this career is all about. But it is not easy and not normal. I probably do about 150 days a year of television, not including the traveling time. I hazard a guess that I do 80 flihts a year – every one a 7-8 hour flight. But when I’m homem it’s for a month, and if I wa doing a normal bankers job, I’d be working like mad Monday to Friday and see you 2 days on the weekend. I’d be knackered on Saturday and then just starting to get ‘round, then back into work again. Every system has it’s benefits and pitfalls…

PEZ: What’s your favorite thing about what you do?

Paul: My favorite thing about what I do is calling the final 1.5 km of a sprint, when Mario Cipollini’s lining it up with all of his boys.

PEZ: Least favorite?

Paul: When I’m commentating on a 6 hour mountain stage that’s flat for the first 2 hours and the French decide to cover the whole lot and you’re talking about blokes getting off for a piss…

PEZ: Well, I think I’m at the end of things I wanted to ask, but I feel like I could order anther couple of pints and shoot the crap all night long…
Paul: (haha) no problem… be sure to look us up sometime!

PEZ NOTE: Talking to Paul was a real pleasure. He's as laid back in person as he is on tv, and even though it was the first time we talked, the conversation felt like we were old buddies. The interview became less about me asking questions and more of a chat about cycling that just flowed from one interesting story to the next. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and thanks again to Paul for talking to us!

Read Paul Sherwen Interview Pt. 1


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