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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » 2005 Paris-Roubaix
2005 Paris-Roubaix
World Cycling Productions // Unrated // July 1, 2005 // Region 0
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Worldcycling]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted July 26, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Paris-Roubaix exerts a strange fascination over the professional cyclists who compete in it and over the fans who watch it every year. Its peculiar nature is captured in the two nicknames for the race: the "Queen of the Classics" and the "Hell of the North." The race course winds through the French countryside, incorporating 26 stretches of cobbled roads that are used only for farm vehicles during the rest of the year. Even under the best circumstances, Paris-Roubaix is tough: the bone-shaking pavé (cobbles) is uneven and difficult to ride, with dust and grime coating the riders as they push on relentlessly. Add even a touch of bad weather, and Paris-Roubaix takes on its true character as "l'enfer du Nord": the cobbles grow slick and treacherous, sending riders crashing with the slightest misplacing of a wheel, and many of the roads become expanses of mud. And yet, many riders adore Paris-Roubaix, especially in difficult weather conditions; no matter how hard it is, there's no denying that Paris-Roubaix is unique, and it's a race that many a rider would love to have on his palmares.

So it's par for the course that the 2005 Paris-Roubaix has quite a few riders who plan to go all-out for the win, and who have a good shot at pulling it off. It's here that we see how a Classic like this can be more interesting than a stage race like the Tour de France, as the Classics have more genuine contenders for the win... and all the contenders know that they have to put their best effort today, or not at all.

Last year's winner Magnus Backstedt, the big Swedish rider, is a clear favorite for the podium. So, too, is US rider George Hincapie, who makes no secret that winning Paris-Roubaix is his greatest ambition; with two fourth-place finishes, he's more than motivated to take the victory. Experienced and wily Peter van Petegem, riding for Davitamon-Lotto, is one of the riders who could throw George for a loop, as are T-Mobile's pair of challengers, Erik Zabel and Steffen Wesemann. And of course Belgian rider Tom Boonen is looking to keep his season's hot streak going with a win here. As any fan of Paris-Roubaix knows, too, there's no way to tell which riders may end up delivering a surprise performance: good form combined with a touch of luck and the will to win has certainly created some upsets in the past. And all bets are off with the change in the race route this year: the Forest of Arenberg has been removed, and in its place there's an actual climb, a novelty in the normally pancake-flat route.

So how does the 2005 edition turn out? Fairly well overall. The race is made more interesting by the fact that it doesn't follow the typical Paris-Roubaix style of gradual attrition from the peloton. Instead, there's a breakaway group fairly early in the race, and as the peloton chases it down, there are fractures in the group, putting a small group of "big names" in an important position for a surprisingly large part of the race. There's not a huge amount of give-and-take in the middle part of the race, but certainly the last few kilometers and the finish are very interesting. One nice thing is that at the very end, the camera sticks with the riders from the moment they enter the Roubaix velodrome to the finish line, unlike some other years in which the camera would cut to show the audience in the velodrome partway through.

The pre-race and post-race sections are excellent. We get about 20 minutes before the start of the race, with the main contenders being introduced and giving interviews. It's very interesting and provides a great setup for the race, so we know who to keep an eye out for. The post-race segments are also very nice.

Not everything is roses for the 2005 Paris-Roubaix, though. One nitpick is that it's a bit too long at four hours. The coverage is very complete, giving us the race from start to finish, but considering that the action is not non-stop, it feels like a bit too much for any viewer except the truly hard-core fans. I'm pretty hard-core myself when it comes to watching cycle racing, but even I felt that some extra editing would have made the DVD more fun to watch.

The real problem, though, can be expressed in two words: Bob Roll. My heart fell when I saw him being introduced along with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen as the commentators, and my fears were soon shown to be justified. (Groans from my fellow viewers soon told me that I wasn't alone in being less than thrilled.) Roll is a flat-out awful commentator. I used to complain about Gary Imlach's commenting on some of the Tour de France DVDs, but I'd take him over Roll in a millisecond; Imlach can get a bit too self-consciously hip for my tastes, but at least he can articulate a sentence properly. What are Roll's offenses? Well, for starters he always sounds awkward, as if he's reading from cue cards; he always sounds like he's faking enthusiasm; he routinely mangles the riders' names; he says "uh" often enough to make the listener start getting twitchy; and he never even has anything particularly interesting to say. Phil Liggett sometimes says fairly ridiculous things too (undoubtedly caused by changing thoughts mid-stream) but he can get away with it because he's a great commentator overall; it's just charming to catch the occasional Liggett-ism... but Roll just sounds like he can't get things straight. Both Liggett and Paul Sherwen make (painful) efforts to draw Roll into more of a conversation with them, but it's in vain; Roll might as well be reading from a badly written script. Even the post-race interview that he does with Hincapie sounds awkward; he doesn't seem to know how to ask good questions, and it sounds again like he's reading off of cue cards instead of having a conversation with the riders. It's not just inexperience, either. Paul Sherwen was a little "rough around the edges" when he first started co-commentating with Liggett, but he was always fun and interesting to listen to even from the very first.

Fortunately for us, though Roll is annoyingly talkative in the middle portions of the race, he's silent in the last hour or so... as if Phil and Paul realized that it was best to keep him out of it, that the final action was much too important to risk him screwing it up. And other than that, the commentary is fine. Whenever we just have Phil and Paul, life is good.

The DVD

The 2005 Paris-Roubaix is a two-disc set, nicely packaged in a slim plastic keepcase. The cover art and menu art is relatively spoiler-free (no shots of the finish line, anyway). We do get ugly stretched images on the discs, but the front cover photo is a nice action shot.

Video

Paris-Roubaix is a tough race to photograph, but even so, I'd say that this time, the image quality is a bit below what I'd expect. The cameras don't seem to be adjusting for exposure automatically, so when the camera pans from the riders to the scenery, everything looks pale and over-exposed. There's a lot of picture break-up as well. Admittedly, these are issues with the source material, so there's not much that WCP could have done about it in the DVD, but it's still necessary to point out that the image quality isn't so hot. Apart from the sections that look washed-out, colors are OK, but there's a lot of edge enhancement, so the image sharpness overall is not so good.

Audio

The audio quality is excellent throughout the race. The "race ambiance" noise is presented very well in the background, so you get the feeling of really experiencing the race, with the cheering crowds, humming bicycle wheels, and beeping cars contributing to the atmosphere. The commentary track is crisp and clear, and is always easy to understand.

Extras

The only special feature is the start list, with all the teams and riders printed on the reverse of the cover.

Final thoughts

All in all, the 2005 Paris-Roubaix is a reasonably interesting, though not ideal, race. It doesn't pack in the excitement of some of the very best Paris-Roubaix races (like the phenomenal 2004 edition), but it's quite respectable in terms of action and interest for the serious cycling fan. The race would get a better mark if it weren't for the annoying presence of Bob Roll in the commentary track. Overall, I'll give this a "recommended" for cycling fans.

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