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News cycle slows down for this race

ON SPORTS MEDIA

The words were alarming. “There’s been a crash. The ocher jersey is involved. So is No. 1 for Columbia.”

This was a conversation going on during the third stage of the Tour Down Under between officials who were in cars that were right behind the 133 racers.

Journalists covering the race -- local, national and international, television, radio and newspaper -- were right behind the officials, packed into cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles and helicopters and totally reliant on these brief snippets that crackled across walkie-talkies.

There is no live television coverage of this race, which has gained more attention than usual since it is the post-retirement debut of Lance Armstrong.

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Even in Australia (as well as in the U.S. on Versus) there is only a 30-minute wrap-up show at 6 p.m. -- well after each stage is finished and after most stories are filed.

About 15 minutes after the radio had hinted at the crash, a more alarming sound was heard over the radio. It was an ambulance and the sound of race director Mike Turtur ordering all team cars to pull over and make way. Then radio silence.

How had the crash happened? Who was injured? Was a rider out of the race? An irritated Phil Liggett, the longtime race broadcaster who works for several networks here including Versus, came over the airwaves about 20 minutes later wondering if he could get an update on the injuries. But no more updates came.

This must have been what it was like back in the days when broadcasters such as late President Ronald Reagan constructed their baseball radio calls by reading information that clattered over a ticker machine.

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“In the lead group is one-one (11, Lance Armstrong), 186, 115, 126, 36, 71, 95, 86, 187, 174, 51, 3, 105, 37.”

That’s it, that’s all the description available to the 400 journalists here. After the numbers are grunted out over the radio, everyone squints at a small laminated card that lists each rider and his number. The print is tiny. The rest is left to the imagination.

It turns out the crash took down defending champion Andre Greipel of Team Columbia and leader Allan Davis, who wears the ocher jersey. Davis eventually made his way back into the race. Greipel didn’t.

Greipel lost a chunk of skin from his elbow and his shoulder was dislocated. The crash was caused by a motorcycle policeman.

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It took a couple of hours after the race to find out the details and the crash wasn’t available on video.

When Versus covers the Tour of California next month, you’ll be luckier. There will be live coverage of all nine stages, beginning Feb. 14 for the prologue in Sacramento.

What’s the point?

Really, there seems little purpose in investing yourself in sports talk radio shows. If you like something, it’s sure to go away. Even if you don’t like it, it will go away.

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Steve Hartman spoke Thursday afternoon after Day 2 of the newest version of his radio show, the one in which he is paired with Chris Myers and the one in which a subdued Vic “the Brick” Jacobs is still trying to find his voice as a little bit update guy, a little bit comic foil.

Fox Sports radio blew up KLAC 570’s programming Tuesday and Hartman went on the air Wednesday to speak to an audience that had no idea why he was talking with Myers instead of Mychal Thompson.

“To make it short and sweet,” Hartman said, “it’s what’s going on everywhere in the business. We’re condensing jobs and basically Fox created a brand new sports network. Honestly, we all had very little forewarning and our audience had no warning. I know it was a shocker when some of them tuned in at noon Wednesday and a lot of people were upset.”

KLAC’s contract with the Lakers ends after this season and Hartman said even as late as Tuesday he thought Thompson would be allowed to work until his contract runs out in February, or even stay until the Lakers season ended.

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Hartman said he has been given no orders to back off Lakers talk even though the show is now national and 570 is losing the team’s broadcast rights.

“Honestly, I thought we were overdoing Lakers talk anyway,” Hartman said. “I actually like the ability to draw back a little from Lakers talk. Today’s content, honestly, didn’t feel that much different than before.”

Is that corporate-speak or the truth? That’s up to the listeners. Not that it matters. Things will change again.

Good to watch Friday

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Oklahoma City is at the Clippers and checking on the rapidly improving former UCLA guard Russell Westbrook makes this worth a look-in at 7:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Prime.

Good to watch Saturday

Now that there’s no more college or NFL football on Saturdays, don’t despair. The U.S. men play Sweden in a soccer match at the Home Depot Center and it’s televised at 5:30 p.m. by Fox Soccer Channel.

Good to watch Sunday

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Might be fun to just leave Versus on all afternoon. The NHL All-Star game is at 3 p.m. and it follows a 2 p.m. wrap-up Tour Down Under cycling show where, besides the beautiful South Australia scenery, you can get a glimpse of Lance Armstrong before he comes to Tour of California next month.

The best part of the U.S. men’s figure skating championships might just be the free program at 1 p.m. on Channel 4. And if you must have something more mainstream, there’s always San Antonio at the Lakers at 12:30 p.m. on Channel 7. If you must.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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