The production company behind Channel 4’s much loved coverage of the Tour de France is to next year package 100 hours of live Tour coverage for the new digital ITV sports channel. A highlights programme will air on ITV. And guess what? Liggett, Sherwin and Imlach are to be reunited!

Channel 4 eat yer heart out, Le Tour will be back on terrestrial telly in 2002!

Production company VTV, last July acquired by major TV producer The Television Corporation, will produce all coverage. Commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin will be joined by features presenter Gary Imlach. All three were part of the Channel 4 coverage of Le Tour which was dumped this year thanks to Channel 4 securing the contract to air the Ashes.

The ITV deal is a three year contract, with ITV being licensed by Channel 4 for the coverage. In 2000, Channel 4 signed a five year contract with the European Broadcast Union, which is assigned the TV rights to the Tour by organiser Amaury Sport Organisations.

BBC2 was believed to have looked at taking on the Tour but, with tennis and golf, it already has a busy July sports schedule so did not enter a bidding war.

This year ITV showed three one-hour weekly highlights programmes after midnight, but the only station available to British viewers which showed Tour action was the digital channel Eurosport.

Gary Imlach presented the ITV highlights programme and was flown out to the Tour three times in order to do his short pieces to camera.

Brian Venner, chairman of VTV (Venner TV Ltd), told that despite the graveyard slot, viewers appreciated this year’s weekly ITV highlights coverage of the world’s biggest annual sporting event:

“ITV got a lot of phone calls. People made very nice noises about the coverage.”

And next year Imlach – famous for his quirky ‘colour’ pieces on Tour history or slices of French life – teams up again with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin. Imlach may be the main front for the programme as Liggett and Sherwin are under contract with Canadian cable channel OLN until 2005. Time constraints mean ITV could have Liggett and Sherwin’s race commentary but Liggett may not be able to front a highlights programme.

Brian Venner, chairman of VTV (Venner TV Ltd), told that no time slot has yet been decided for the terrestrial telly highlights programme but will definitely not be during peak time. Brian Barwick, head of ITV sport, is a big cycling fan but Le Tour will not displace Corrie!

Venner said: “We’re pretty excited about getting the Tour back.”

Venner is trying to entice ITV to hook up with the Tour in a big way, theming other programmes to fit in with the July sporting spectacular:

“It would be good to see cookery programmes following the progress of the Tour, serving up regional French specialities or featuring wine from that day’s region.”

VTV is based in London and shares office space with another of The Television Corporation’s acquisitions from 2000. Ironically, Sunset+Vine is the production company that – huck, spit – produces Channel 4’s Tour-ousting cricket coverage!

Phil Liggett today told that the ITV deal would be positive for cycling:

“It’s really good news. The Tour has been more popular with TV audiences around the world this year than ever before and I’m glad that somebody in the UK has woken up to its potential.”


Top: The media scrum that surrounds the Tour winner will be seen live next year, thanks to ITV.

Right: Last year, Gary Imlach, and his French girlfriend, signed the BikeBiz ‘Keep the Tour on telly’ petition

Bottom: the VTV motorbike will ride again! This time the pix will be beamed to ITV, not Channel 4

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