The Tour of Flanders has become one
of my favorite Spring Classics, giving bicycle racing fans an
exciting course whose prestige attracts the best one-day racers to
fight it out for the win. The Tour of Flanders (or Ronde van
Vlaanderen) is also Belgium's biggest race: for Belgian racers, who
have a strong place in the pro peloton, the Tour of Flanders is
basically their "World Championship." Winding its way over
the back roads of the Belgian countryside, the Tour of Flanders is
known for its difficult climbs over short, steep cobbled hills. The
names roll off the tongue and are delightfully well known to any fan
of the Classics, hills like the Molenberg, the Oude Kwaremont, the
Paterberg, the Koppenberg (with a brutal grade of 22% at one point),
the Berendries, the feared Muur, and the final Bosberg.
The 2005 edition, which rolled out
on the morning of April 3, features a respectable start list of
potential winners (and past winners). Veteran Peter van Petegem (and
winner) is of course a favorite, along with T-Mobile's Steffen
winner in 2004); let's not forget riders like Erik Dekker and
Stijn Devolder. Many eyes are also on the talented Tom Boonen of
QuickStep; this isn't a course that would normally suit Boonen, who's
known for his sprinting ability, and he's one of the younger riders
in the peloton here, but Boonen has shown himself to be ambitious,
tactically smart, and very motivated as well as talented. Other
riders to look for include George Hincapie riding for the Discovery
Channel team with the support of Lance Armstrong and Roger Hammond,
along with Cofidis' Stuart O'Grady.
The four-hour coverage of the Tour
of Flanders starts out with an excellent section, about twenty
minutes long, of interviews with key riders. Paul Sherwen does a
great job (as usual) with chatting up the key riders and finding out
their thoughts on the upcoming race and their own chances (and that
of their rivals). The interviews do tend to focus on the
native-English-speaking riders, but Sherwen also talks to big names
like Wesemann and Boonen. I really like these solid pre-race
segments, as they do a great job of letting the viewer know who to
watch for, as well as generating anticipation for the race itself.
The race itself starts out a bit
slow. There's not a huge amount of action in the first half of the
race; we get some give and take, and tactical maneuvering, but
there's not much by way of real action. In the second half, however,
things do heat up and the race becomes much more exciting. The big
stars start to pick up the pace and really fight things out in the
second half, especially as the race moves toward the closing climbs.
The conclusion is a very interesting one; experienced viewers of the
Tour of Flanders will have certain expectations as to which climb is
the "key" one of the race, the one that will see the
essential move of the day... but in fact, things shake out in a
rather unexpected manner in this edition. That's one of the great
things about a challenging, varied course like Flanders: there's
always room for the daring move and the unexpected action.
Throughout the race, Phil Liggett
and Paul Sherwen do their usual outstanding job of providing
enthusiastic commentary on the action. Sherwen in particular has
become quite a polished commentator over the years, bringing a
thorough knowledge of racing (from his own career as a pro racer) to
the table along with great enthusiasm and, most importantly, an
ability to discuss the action on the fly in an interesting and easily
flowing manner. Sherwen wraps up the DVD with a set of solid
post-race interviews, as we hear from George Hincapie, Roger Hammond,
and Johann Brunyeel of team Discovery Channel.
The Tour of Flanders is a two-disc
set, nicely packaged in a single-wide plastic keepcase. The cover art
is an attractive, non-spoiler image, though it's best not to look too
closely at the race's subtitle (at least if you're an experience
cycling fan) as it is a whopping hint as to who wins. The disc art is
good in the sense that it doesn't give anything away, but
unfortunately it's vertically stretched in an unattractive manner.
The menus do have spoiler images, but the chapter breaks are usefully
made on the major climbs.
The Tour of Flanders video quality
is fairly standard for a cycling race. The image is slightly soft,
especially in longer-distance shots, but looks good in close-ups. The
print is clean, apart from the normal instances of picture break-up
that come from interference in the original television broadcast (and
these are relatively uncommon). The colors tend to fluctuate a bit,
but not excessively so. The image appears in its original television
broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The 2.0 audio track is nicely done.
The sound is crisp and clean, with a pleasant amount of "race
ambiance" sound included as well. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen
both sound natural and clear in their commentary on the race.
The main bonus feature is the start
list for all the teams, which is printed on the back of the DVD cover
insert. On the disc itself, there's an "Extra Stuff"
section that has images of items available for sale on WCP's web
site, along with a picture of the other Spring Classics DVDs that are
for sale on WCP.
I liked the 2005 Tour of Flanders;
it's not one of the most exciting editions of the race that I've seen
(that honor would have to go to the
2002 edition) as it has somewhat of a slow start, but in the end
it delivers an engaging second half and an exciting finish. For any
cycling fan, this race will deliver a solid package of entertainment,
and deserves a strong "recommended" rating.