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Hell On Wheels Cover Hell on Wheels

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

This documentary about the 2003 Tour tells two stories. The more compelling one paints an overview of the Tour de France – in all its splendor and mundaneness.

The secondary, less gripping story follows Eric Zabel and Rolf Aldag, German teammates on T-Mobile, who had ridden together for years. Zabel was one of the world’s best sprinters in the 1990s, winning the Green Jersey a record six consecutive years.

Fortunately, the drama of the larger event prevails over the drab interludes. 2003 was an exciting Tour, with Tyler Hamilton, Lance Armstrong and Jan Ulrich taking spills. It was also the 100th anniversary of the Tour, so the film includes archival footage and expert commentary on the history and meaning of the race.

What a tour de force the Tour de France is, from the stars to the domestiques, the spectators to the sportswriters. Conceived as a way to sell newspapers, the Tour was founded before many of France’s roads were paved and therefore helped unify the country.

The film is beautifully filmed and crisply edited. It depicts what the race means to those directly involved. Some 12 million spectators gather every July along the Tour’s 2,500 kilometer route, turning France into a big sports arena. It’s like 20 Super Bowls strung together, except that the stars come to the people – close enough to be touched.

The riders train incredibly hard and suffer long, but they endure to help their team win and for the honor of participating. “Is it smart to go down a mountain at 95 kilometers per hour on a 2.5 centimeter tire?” one rider asks. Apparently so. “Winning just a stage could make you a little immortal in cycling,” says another rider.

Indeed, Hell on Wheels demonstrates how biking into Paris, the Mount Everest of cycling, makes the doubt, despair and danger along the way almost irrelevant.

Title: Hell on Wheels
Year Released: 2004
Duration: 120 minutes
Language: German
Bike Content: 9/10 wheels

Posted by Greg Borzo on 09/03 at 10:07 PM