Archive for July, 2010

Breaking Away

July 28, 2010

by Ian Cleverly

As Matt Seaton began in his essay from issue four of Rouleur, everyone has their favourite scene from Breaking Away – unless you haven’t seen it, of course, in which case you are missing out.

This is mine, although excuse me if the precise details are sketchy. It’s been a few years since the last viewing and I am prone to exaggeration in the retelling of a story, but this is the gist of it.

Our Italo-obsessed young hero, Dave Stoller – although he prefers to be called Enrico Gimondi – enters the kitchen, greets his father, Raymond, seated at the dinner table awaiting his supper, with a kiss on the head and a “Ciao, papa!”

Papa – sorry, father – is not in the least amused with the boy’s affectations and chides his son accordingly, then asks Mrs Stoller what is for dinner. It is going to be pasta – again. What else would a Campagnolo devotee in training for a big race want on his plate? Former quarryman Raymond, however, most certainly does not want pasta. In fact, he wants nothing on his plate ending in “guini” or “ini” or anything remotely “Eye-talian” sounding.

“I want American food, dammit,” he rails. “I want French fries!”

It still makes me chuckle. And the whole film still brings a smile to my face: not because it is a cycling movie – it is first and foremost a coming-of-age story – but because it is a great film that just happens to feature bike racing, and is the only drama to successfully combine the two.

Nominated for five Academy Awards and winning best original screenplay in 1980, Breaking Away is the perfect example of the script-led films of the era, superseded by CGI effects and overpaid film stars. And there is bike racing – what more could you ask for?

Keep your eyes peeled for Team Garmin pro Christian Vande Velde’s dad, John, playing one of the pump-weilding Cinzano riders.

The DVD of Breaking Away is available here.

La Course en Tête

July 26, 2010

La Course en Tête

“We learn about Merckx the perfectionist, meticulously preparing his track bike in his immaculate workshop with glistening tools adorning the walls. We see him closely watching the mechanics of his Molteni team as they prepare his bike for another day in the Giro. We see him adjusting his saddle en route, which was always a Merckx trademark, whether on the final lap of the world championships or during a motor-pace session. He is always riding with indifference, that hard-earned nonchalance that sets champions apart from the rest. And we see him winning over and over again.” – Rouleur, issue 14.

The definitive documentary of the greatest cyclist yet to throw his leg over a crossbar. French filmmaker Joël Santoni’s 1973 classic forgoes dialogue, save for the occasional thoughts of Eddy Merckx’s wife, Claudine, and allows the images and score to do the talking.

The result of a dinner conversation with fellow film director Louis Malle, non-cycling fan Santoni threw himself headlong into the project, spending a year with the Belgian starting at the Vuelta.

“We had no preparation. I had no idea – I’d never even been to the Tour de France. I was a newcomer to it all.

“We had some difficult situations when we started filming. The car wasn’t really appropriate for going down descents trying to follow the race, and we nearly crashed. The director of the race asked us please not to kill anyone. So after a while we learned what we were doing and I loved it.” – Rouleur, issue 14.

La Course en Tête is now available on a double bill DVD with The Greatest Show on Earth – The Story of the 1974 Giro d’Italia here.

And finally…

July 25, 2010

Stage 20 Longjumeau – Paris
So the final stage into Paris and the sprinter’s playground of the Champs-Elysées. While the yellow jersey sips champagne and poses for the cameras, the speed merchants and their lead-out trains will be fighting over the one they all want to win. Mark Cavendish and HTC-Columbia teammate Mark Renshaw humiliated the opposition last year, exiting the Place de la Concorde with a huge gap.

It may be technically possible to evade the peloton in Paris, but in 35 years of finishes on the famous avenue, only one man has done it: Bernard Hinault, 1979.

Bjarne, we have a problem…

July 24, 2010

Stage 19 Bordeaux – Pauillac
Just one time trial in this year’s Tour, this 52km jaunt along the banks of the Gironde. The chances of a shake-up to the overall are slim. Any yellow jersey-holder with a decent lead today will have to perform disastrously to lose it in Paris. What could possibly go wrong on the penultimate day?

Well, Bjarne Riis shows you just how wrong things can go in this clip from 1997. The bike is tossed into a ditch, the spare machine ignored. “I’m sure his morale must be down in his yellow socks,” says Stephen Roche. Classic stuff.

Vintage Bordeaux

July 23, 2010

Stage 18 Salies-de-Béarn – Bordeaux
Bordeaux has long been a favourite of the sprinters and today should be no different. Velodrome stage finishes were commonplace in the Tour until 1975 when Barry Hoban won the last track finish ever in Bordeaux. It would be 33 years until a Briton would again win a sprint stage: Mark Cavendish in Chateauroux.

The 1955 Bordeaux stage also finished in the velodrome, with a surreal game of bicycle polo in the track centre, motorcycle gendarmes pulling stunts on the banking and, finally, the peloton arriving in this cine camera footage.

Ne touche pas les soufflet!

July 21, 2010

Stage 17 Pau – Col du Tourmalet
A beast of a stage today, culminating with the legendary Col du Tourmalet. The mountain has inspired many stories from the 73 occasions it has featured on the Tour route, none better than the hapless Eugene Christophe in 1913. The Frenchman snapped his forks, walked over eight miles to find a forge to make his own repair, then continued having effectively lost the race. To pile misery upon misery, race officials handed Christophe a 10-minute time penalty – outside assistance was forbidden so the young boy operating the bellows was considered against the rules: harsh, to say the least.

This year is only the second time, however, the Tourmalet has hosted a stage finish. Jean-Pierre Danguillaume won on the mountain in 1974, but Eddy Merckx dominated the Tour, as seen in this grainy but excellent footage of the prologue in Brest. Not a pointy hat or tri-bar in sight.

Climb every mountain…

July 20, 2010

Stage 16 Bagneres-de-Luchon – Pau
Anyone who’s anyone in Tour de France history has won in a stage in Pau, hosting the race for the 62nd time. Today’s 199.5km takes in such beasts as the Peyresourde, Col d’Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque before descending into town. If that doesn’t sort them out, nothing will.

Quite possibly the coolest man ever to throw his leg over a crossbar, Fausto Coppi, is among the greats to cross the line first in Pau, finishing in Paris a few days later with nearly half an hour in hand over second-placed Stan Ockers.

A century of suffering

July 19, 2010

Stage 15 Pamiers – Bagneres-de-Luchon
Exactly 100 years ago Octave Lapize celebrated the Tour’s inaugural visit to the Pyrenees with a stage win at Luchon en route to overall victory. A three-time winner of both Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Brussels, the Frenchman’s life was cruelly cut short by the First World War.

For an innocent, pre-War take on the Tour, check out this footage of the very first grand depart in 1903 and do not adjust your volume – it’s a silent movie.

The Cannibal takes over

July 18, 2010

Stage 14 Revel – Ax-3-Domaines
The reign of Eddy Merckx began in 1969 with the Belgian thrashing the opposition at his first Tour attempt, taking six stages along the way, including the time trial in Revel.

From the drubbing handed to his rivals in the opening week on the Ballon d’Alsace to the astonishing 130km solo break started on the Tourmalet and finished in Mourenx, the great Merckx was in complete control. A glittering Tour palmares started here, on stage six to Belfort, as Phil Liggett explains.

Here come the Colombians

July 17, 2010

Stage 13 Rodez – Revel
The Renault-Elf team of Cyrille Guimard dominated the 1984 Tour to such an extent that its riders were taking it in turns to win stages, including Pierre-Henri Mentheour in Rodez.

But four days later, it was Luis Herrera’s turn to capture the headlines on Alpe d’Huez as he became the first Colombian to win a Tour stage. After that, Laurent Fignon took charge all the way to Paris, finishing with more than 10 minutes in hand over Bernard Hinault.