Pro cycling's spring Classics season wraps up with two of these
one-day races just a few days apart, both taking place on the winding
roads of Belgium: the Fleche Wallonne on April 21 and
Liege-Bastogne-Liege on April 25. Liege-Bastogne-Liege, known as the
"Queen of the Classics" and widely regarded as the most
prestigious of them all, gets first billing on this DVD, but it's
more enjoyable to watch the races in chronological order, so viewers
will want to check out Fleche Wallonne first.
Before I talk about the individual races, I'll start off with some
general comments that hold true for both. Each race is given
approximately an hour and 45 minutes of coverage, and in both cases,
we jump immediately into the race footage, with no introductory
material. Since the action in both Fleche Wallonne and
Liege-Bastogne-Liege tends to be concentrated in the latter part of
the race, it makes sense that the coverage here is a lot shorter than
in a race like the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.
I'm usually delighted with the commentary supplied by WCP's team of
Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, so I was quite surprised to find that
their commentary for both these races is lackluster. It's highly
repetitive, rehashing the same few facts about the riders and their
recent results, and until we get to the closing kilometers of each
race, it's really not that focused on the racing action. Ordinarily,
any little bit of action gets immediately pointed out to the viewer
with comments about its significance, but here, it's almost like Phil
and Paul are not paying much attention to the race. Similarly, until
we get to the last part of the race, even their overall tone is
different, more subdued and less excited about the race, which in
turn makes the race less exciting for viewers.
believe that these commentaries were done for the Outdoor Life
Network, and that's where I'd lay most of the blame for the
uncharacteristically weak commentary. For instance, the frequent
repetitions of the same information match up with the cuts where
commercial breaks were evidently inserted. If the intention was to
water down the commentary in order to woo clueless channel-surfing US
viewers who've never seen a bike race before, I doubt it succeeded,
and it's certainly not up to standard for WCP's devoted viewers. Give
me Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen in their normal form, being excited
about the race (and paying attention to it!) and conveying that
excitement to viewers. Give me, in short, the kind of commentary we
get in the outstanding 2004
(And please, let's not get OLN involved any more!)
With that off my chest, let's take a look at the races themselves.
Fleche Wallonne has a lot in common with Ghent-Wevelgem.
Not in the course itself, but in the fact that it's in an
uncomfortable position in the calendar relative to a more prestigious
race, in this case Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The field has plenty of
stars... but many of them are hesitant to put a full effort into
winning the race, preferring instead to save their legs for the more
Fleche Wallonne is fairly bland for much of the race, with the riders
unwilling to commit themselves to an all-out attack, and equally
unwilling to push the pace to fragment the peloton. Fortunately for
viewers, the last half hour or so sharpens up considerably, as we get
a number of attacks, breakaways, and some worthwhile chasing. The
final steep uphill finish in Fleche Wallonne has been the site of
many impressive victories in the past, and in truth 2004's finish is
All in all, Fleche Wallonne has never been one of my favorite races,
as it tends to be fairly low-key, and the 2004 edition is about
average in that respect. I did appreciate seeing the post-race
interview with Davide Rebellin; the interview is in French with Paul
Sherwen providing a translation. It's really nice to hear from
important riders even if they don't speak English!
Like Fleche Wallonne, the "Queen of the Classics" boasts an
impressive start list, and in this race we can be sure all the riders
are looking to win. Last year's winner Tyler Hamilton is here, riding
for Phonak instead of CSC, while CSC fields an impressive bunch of
riders including Italian champion Michele Bartoli and Ivan Basso.
Peter Van Petegem is here, along with T-Mobile's Steffen Wesemann,
both having demonstrated great form in the earlier spring Classics.
The marked man of the race is of course Gerolsteiner's Davide
Rebellin, the winner of Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne. No rider has
ever won those races and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the same year; the
question on everyone's lips was whether Rebellin would be able to
pull off such a coup.
years Liege-Bastogne-Liege is very interesting, like
in 2003 ..
and some years it's not. 2004 turns out to fall in the "not
interesting" category for nearly the entire race, with all of
the big names hiding in the peloton, unwilling to risk an attack. The
field remains quite large even after going over several climbs, and
it's really only in the last 15 kilometers or so that we see any
action happening at all, as finally some of the teams send riders out
on tentative attacks. Viewers' patience will eventually be rewarded
by a very exciting final 5 kilometers, with a three-man breakaway
featuring stars Davide Rebellin, Michael Boogerd, and Alexandre
Vinokourov. We also get a short post-race interview with Rebellin,
which is a nice bonus.
The 2004 Liege-Bastogne-Liege & Fleche Wallonne DVD is a two-disc
set, with one race per DVD. Even though Fleche Wallonne is the second
disc in the set, it falls before Liege-Bastogne-Liege
chronologically, so I highly recommend watching it first.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the better-looking of the two races, with a
high-quality transfer. Colors are bright and vibrant, and there's a
respectable amount of detail in the image. Fleche Wallonne looks
disappointing, however, as the image is quite blurry and chunky,
making it hard to distinguish the riders from each other. I'd say
that Liege-Bastogne-Liege would merit three and a half stars, and
Fleche Wallonne two and a half, which gives me an average for this
review of three stars.
In both races, the sound quality is quite good in technical terms,
with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen always being clear and easy to
understand. Rather oddly, though, in Liege-Bastogne-Liege there's no
ambient race sound for most of the coverage: instead, we get just a
silent image of the race with the commentary overlaid. It's
disconcerting and definitely not as enjoyable as when the "race
ambiance" is included, as it's lacking that exciting "you
are there live" feeling. Fleche Wallonne, fortunately, has a
more natural sound that includes the race itself, so I'll go ahead
and give an average of three stars for audio quality of the two races
WCP's overall DVD and menu designs for the 2004 races continue to be
excellent. The back of the DVD insert is quite usefully printed with
the start lists of each race, which are visible inside the clear
case. The menus are straightforward and easy to navigate, and the
chapter stops, which break the race into segments based quite
sensibly on the various climbs in the race, are very useful.
Each disc has the same two bonus features: a display of the other
2004 races available on DVD, and a short promotional featurette (4
minutes) for Cycle Sport Magazine.
editions of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege & Fleche Wallonne really
show what these races have to offer at their best. In contrast,
2004's edition of both these races ends up providing an exciting
finish, but only after a considerable amount of rather bland racing.
The surprisingly lackluster commentary from the normally excellent
Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen is another factor in the overall low
score I've given to this DVD set. I've given it a "rent it"
recommendation to indicate that, while it's worth watching for
cycling fans, it's certainly at the bottom of the priority list when
it comes to picking up 2004's releases: Ghent-Wevelgem,
and especially the Tour
of Flanders and the outstanding Paris-Roubaix
should come first.