It is the largest cycling race and the third largest sporting event in the world, yet not much is known about why. Tour de France: Unchained is an eight-part documentary series that uses 21 stages of the 2022 Tour to show why this 3328km competition is so important.
It gives a behind-the-scenes view of the grueling training of the race, the politics of the team’s drafting, the technology that strives to turn riders into fully aerodynamic human engines, as well as the dramatic shocks of the race itself.
Each episode follows a different group of top athletes, team managers, and directors in racing and their personal ambitions, setbacks, and triumphs. Thanks to its high production quality and insider accessibility, sports fans who know every twist and turn in racing will still find it insightful – it’s clear that the documentary team spent a great deal of time shooting with the riders as they capture every triumph and disaster, and their presence never feels like… duty.
But first and foremost, this is a series optimized for viewers who had little interest in cycling before. Strategic concepts such as drafting a team, how the pelotons work together, or how a rider actually wins the Tour are broken down so quickly and realistically that viewers may not even realize it’s happening. By explaining the sport using human narratives, the audience is invested in the teams’ personal stories and notes the details that shape the results of each race.
Editing maintains a frantic tension (as if the footage wasn’t fast enough) and thus holds the attention of the uninitiated long enough to prove why the Tour de France is an excellent spectator sport. You’ll be dazzled by the athletes’ determination, physique, and technical ability, and groan at the incredible crashes. The scale of the event is simply amazing.
Where do you watch it
Tour de France: Unchained available at Netflix.
What’s the atmosphere?
The cinematography is bright and shiny. The result is sexy and heavy as a transformers film. The racing scenes themselves, shot at such high speeds and imbued with the personal significance of the riders, are sometimes so intense and invigorating as to be very stressful to watch.
The series is produced by James Gay-Rees, who has previously made excellent biographical documentaries – most notably, A24 Music doccies Amy And Oasis: Ultrasonic and an HBO movie Diego Maradona. But lately, Guy Reese and colleague Paul Martin have been creating an admittedly less accurate, but apparently highly reliable and successful form—the massively syndicated behind-the-scenes sports docuseries.
In 2016, the pair got engaged Box To Box moviesInc., a production company that specializes in these kinds of “bringing sports to the world” projects. They have so far dealt with surfing Do it or quittennis in breaking pointand golf in full swingFormula 1 in Drive to survive And more are on the way, including rugby, rugby, and sumo wrestling.
On the back of Gay-Rees’ reputation, camera crews were given excellent access. And the shows themselves, in particular Drive to survivethey’ve done much to generate interest in new audiences that fans of each sport hope will be their next in line.
The format of these shows is embarrassingly consistent, but it works, and at least the depiction of athletes’ experiences is honest and specific to their sport.
breaking point It shows the mental fortitude tennis players must achieve to keep going, despite failure after failure; full swing sympathizes with the frustration golfers feel in this volatile, technical sport; while Drive to survive It exposes the ruthless side of dog and dog eating in Formula 1 and explores how dangerous it can be. Tour de France: UnchainedMore than others, it is about the tremendous suffering these athletes endure. Understanding the mental fortitude that cyclists must maintain during training and the throat races themselves gives a greater appreciation for the sport.
The beginning of the first episode is a trailer – quick snippets of action footage and experts saying extreme things about how tough the race is. Cyclists and those already interested in the Tour de France know this stuff, and this opening trap is to grab people who don’t. That’s the elevated pitch for this documentary – it captures subtlety when possible, but the priority is packing what enthusiasts already know into quality production with enough precision to turn commoners into enthusiasts.
As exciting as it is, the first episode is a little hectic, but the series calms down a bit after that. It’s no less enjoyable, but the episode’s content is a little repetitive, with many of the same editing tricks used to create excitement.
One of the advantages of Box To Box productions is the “Don’t Tell Us” show writing. Background knowledge is dumped in so intensely condensed bits at the beginning of the scene, and anything else an uninformed audience member needs to know is either deduced or explained so fleetingly that it’s barely noticeable as exposition.
“The Tour de France is simple,” says former professional cyclist Steve Chennell. “It’s 21 stages, there’s a stage winner every day, and the person in the famous yellow jersey is the rider with the best time over 21 stages. But cycling is not an individual sport. There are 22 teams, each made up of eight riders working together to carry their leader to the next level. Victory.” That’s it. Within 15 seconds, someone who has never been interested in the Tour de France has a basic understanding of how it works, and feels ready for the high profile events and heated controversies they hold.
Many people hear the “Tour de France” and immediately think of the “Lance Armstrong” doping scandal. The series begins to address the scandal in the first episode, but there’s clearly a strong agenda to show that this low point in the race’s history doesn’t define it. The series is largely rooted in the current touring format rather than its initially illustrious and ultimately infamous history.
We see the daily lives of famous teams from their preparation and training to the finish line, as well as all their stresses and feuds with other teams. Many viewpoints and rivalries are explored in the series, but at the heart of it all is Taideg cake maker – Two-time cycling champion and cyclist’s sweetheart – and Danish cyclist Jonas Vinggaard. Once you understand the uniting workings of a team, an interview with Vingegaard, furious at his teammate’s rush to victory, becomes hot gossip, because it’s multifaceted – riders have to balance their individual ambitions with those of their teams.
The show leans into wargame drama that takes place on the road, but its results come across without glamor. From behind the railings, crashing is just part of the entertainment. Onlookers enthusiastically talk about crashes, speculate about why they happen or joke about how ridiculous these crazy riders are putting their bodies on the line. With so many athletes competing in such a popular spectator event, there is a pervasive culture of dehumanization.
impact of the plane crash
The show makes sure that the audience understands what a breakdown means to a competitor. It can change lives and define a career path. However, athletes know the stakes better than anyone, and often remain alarmingly conservative about it. We have shown footage of Fabio Jacobsen’s horrific crash a few years ago in which he almost died. He talks about it casually, referring to “some horrible injury” as if he were talking about a sore knee.
Tour de France: Unchained It has its drawbacks — its repetition dampens the excitement around the medium, and its hefty style editing sometimes comes across as insincere. It’s a somewhat shocking oversight that the series didn’t feature a single story about the women’s race. But just like its cousins before it, it’s making the sport accessible and entertaining to people who didn’t care about it before, and it’ll be interesting to see how that affects viewership in the ongoing 2023 race. DM
Tour de France: Unchained Available in South Africa on Netflix.
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