Our buycycle Review for Tour de France: Unchained
That we at buycycle are not only huge bike fans, but also film fans, that should have become clear after our article about the best bike movies. So it's only logical that our hearts beat faster when Netflix releases a six-part documentary series about the Tour de France 2022. Even more logical that we binge-watch it for you and prepare you a proper blogpost on it. So here's our review of Tour de France: Unchained!
This is not the first Netflix documentary on the subject of cycling. With Icarus, the great streamer already presented an impressive piece of work on doping in professional cycling in 2017, which even won the Oscar for Best Documentary. And projects like Drive to Survive and Ball Point also get to the bottom of other (extreme) sports in a captivating way. Netflix knows how to do sports. And that Netflix knows how to do cycling too is definitely proven with Unchained .
Which is not to say that the very dramatic Hollywood style of these series isn't occasionally annoying. The Netflix recipe for documentaries is and remains the same, and it applies here as well: fast-paced cuts, shots of the athlete's defeats in slow motion and with dark vignettes, meaningful off-camera commentary and interviews in doomsday settings against dark backgrounds and in sparse soft lighting.
The documentary makes good use of thrill and the spectacular. Drastic statements and breakneck images are thrown at us so often within the same episode that one almost suspects a bug on one's laptop. For example, Marc Madiot, former professional cyclist and head of the Groupama-FDJ team, is deadly serious when stating:
Suffering is the key and the heart of cycling.
Not only do we get to hear that a dozen times, we get to see it at least as often.
From Fabio Jakobsen's scary crash at the 2020 Tour de Pologne that nearly took his life, to a bag of food slamming into Thibaut Pinot's face at full speed, to contorted faces on the torturous climbs in the French Alps. It's painful. Not just for the athletes, but for us spectators as well. We suffer with them physically. So the series is not necessarily something for the faint of heart, but it's all the more exciting and thrilling for everyone else.
This is precisely why Im Hauptfeldis an absolutely successful production, despitejustified criticism of its form and style . Various actors, above all the brilliant ex-athlete Steve Chainel, offer cleverly integrated insights into the rules, principles and subtleties of the competition. Anyone who had no idea about cycling until now will be elegantly taken by the hand, enlightened just enough and completely enthralled. Anyone who has never watched a live broadcast of the Grands Tours will still be enriched and challenged and will be presented with familiar, sometimes sluggish TV material in a cinematic thriller format.
Anyone who didn't know the Tour de France yet will love it after this series. Or fear it. Or both.
But anyone looking for technical insights into the sport or journalistic precision is in the wrong place here. Unchained has a completely different goal, and is less concerned with a detailed reappraisal of a competition steeped in tradition, but more with entertainment and attracting attention. The series fulfills this goal quite brilliantly. It provides professional cycling with new audiences and fans, addresses the broad masses and successfully captures their interest. In other words: Thanks to Netflix's six-million-euro series, cycling has a good chance of making the leap into the mainstream.
Not only thanks to the breathtaking depiction of the individual stages and maneuvers, but also by giving the sport a human, almost family-sentimental face. The camera crews follow eight of the 22 professional teams throughout the entire tour and accompany their highs and lows, their suffering and joy. But viewers also get private glimpses into the lives of some athletes. We see Wout von Aert with his young daughter at the dinner table, Thibaut Pinot on his home farm feeding his goats, and virtually read the lovingly teasing messages from Geraint Thomas' wife. And there is a lot of crying. With disappointment over lost stages, with happiness and emotion when yellow jersey wearer Jonas Vingegaard gives his teammate Wout the last stage victory. And Julien Jurdie, the usually choleric leader of the French AG2R-Citroën team, tearfully recounts the death of his parents on camera.
This may seem overly dramatic and emotional, but it works surprisingly well. Above all, because beyond these intimate moments, it becomes clear what kind of team spirit and what kind of passion, almost bordering on obsession, unites and drives these athletes. How indispensable tactical calculation is in cycling also becomes crystal clear. Or at least the existence of those tactics. Explaining them, or even just outlining them, is something that either the teams didn't want to do, or Netflix simply doesn't think us capable of grasping. And that's a bit of a shame.
This failure to bother explaining things in more depth leads us to the last major point of criticism. The gripping storytelling, which jumps back and forth between teams, athletes and stages, allows us impressive and intense insights into the three most important weeks of the cycling season. But there are a few holes in this mesh of interviews, snapshots and stunning Tour footage. One big hole called Pogačar and a few smaller ones called doping, camaraderie or nutritional challenges.
Tadej Pogačar, two-time Tour de France winner, was also a hot favorite for the yellow jersey in 2022. His team, UAE Emirates, decided against taking part in the series. However, it's not as if Pogačar was left out of the game entirely. On the contrary, he plays a central role, especially in the final episodes. That of the anti-hero. That of the sportsman who seizes the slightest opportunity to "destroy" his opponents, that of the dogged winning machine. This works brilliantly for the storytelling, but from an athlete's point of view, the producers have made it a little too easy for themselves.
And so it's perhaps logical from the production team's point of view that one of the most iconic and impressive moments of the last Tour de France didn't make it onto Netflix. The handshake between Vingegaard and Pogačar after the Slovenian crashed in stage 18 and Vingegaard waited for his rival. Nairo Quintana's doping scandal is also left out completely, as are the difficult conditions the athletes are subject to, from dietary restrictions to endless training and "living like a monk," as rider Nelson Powell calls it.
But a second season of the series at the 2023 Tour de France is already in planning, so maybe the streamer will make up for one or two points of criticism. Hopefully, however, the new season will remain equally exciting and impressive. In any case, we're looking forward to it. To the new Tour de France, the new season and the next film review.
If you're so hooked on race cycling now that you can hardly wait to jump on your road bike then it might be worth taking a look at buycycle.com. Here you will find over 14,000 Road, Gravel and Mountain bikesYour next dream bike is already waiting for you... For questions about the world of bikes the blog and our team are there to help. Until then we wish you: Happy binging, happy browsing, happy cycling!