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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » 2005 Tour de France: Magnificent 7 (4-hour version)
2005 Tour de France: Magnificent 7 (4-hour version)
World Cycling Productions // Unrated // November 1, 2005 // Region 0
List Price: $49.95 [Buy now and save at Worldcycling]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted November 13, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Lance Armstrong's seventh consecutive Tour de France win in 2005 was historic and unprecedented, so for that reason alone the 2005 Tour certainly has a place in the annals of bicycle racing. But was it as exciting as it was historic? Well... not really. The most exciting races are the ones that are hotly contested down to the wire, like the 1989 Tour with LeMond vs. Fignon or the 2003 Tour with Armstrong vs. a very strong Ullrich. In 2005, Armstrong stamped his domination on the race from the very first stage of the race - quite literally - so there was much less to be excited about as the race unfolded over its full three weeks. Fortunately for viewers, though, World Cycling Productions has done a really outstanding job of presenting the race on DVD (easily the best Tour program they've put together), so it ends up being entertaining almost despite itself.

Armstrong was the clear favorite coming into the race, despite the fact that the returning champion had not won a single race all season: everyone knew that he was making the Tour his one objective for the year, and training accordingly. His Discovery Channel team (now that US Postal has bowed out as a sponsor) is just as loaded with talented super-domestiques as always, with the supporting cast including George Hincapie, Manual Beltran, Paolo Savoldelli, Jose Azevedo, and the talented young Yaroslav Popovych. Team CSC, one of the main challengers for Armstrong, fields Ivan Basso as the leader, while T-Mobile, the only other seriously challenging squad, pinned all their hopes on Jan Ullrich, whose one Tour win (pre-Armstrong) has grown ever more distant in the face of repeated second places.

It's from T-Mobile that we get the most active, aggressive, and all-around fantastic rider of the Tour... but it's not Ullrich. Instead, it's his teammate Alexandre Vinokourov. Cycle racing fans will recognize Vinokourov as a real fighter, one who's never content with just following wheels or minimizing time losses. No, Vino wants to be out there, forcing the splits, daring the elite riders to catch up with him, and just in general mixing things up. He's a breath of much-needed fresh air in a Tour whose tactics over the past seven years have been dominated by Armstrong's "gain an advantage and hold it with my squad of super-domestiques" approach, with most of the other riders not daring to attack for fear of losing their second or third place on the podium.

So if there's one rider who makes the 2005 Tour exciting, it's Vinokourov, with Phonak's Oscar Pereiro also standing out as a rider willing to go out on a breakaway and make things happen, instead of conservatively riding in the leading group. Interestingly, there's a hint at one point of some internal tension in T-Mobile: at one point Vinokourov attacks from the front of a select group... and it's Ullrich who chases him down, bringing up Armstrong behind him. Hm.

Conspicuous in his absence from the Tour was T-Mobile's Erik Zabel, the winner of six consecutive green jerseys for most consistent finisher in the Tour de France. It wasn't that Zabel was ill or injured, but rather that T-Mobile didn't want him on the Tour squad, perhaps fearing that it would dilute their focus on getting Ullrich in yellow. (While the eternally amiable Zabel has been cordial about the whole thing, it's fairly certain that this was a factor in Zabel's decision to switch teams next year, despite being on Telekom/T-Mobile for his entire pro career up to this point.) That opened up the points competition, and the sprints, to more riders, such as Mapei's young superstar Tom Boonen, the Australian Brad McGee (riding for Fran├žaise des Jeux), Davitamon-Lotto's Robbie McEwan, and Credit Agricole's Thor Hushovd, not to mention Cofidis' Stewart O'Grady, always a fighter. A touch of "argy-bargy" in some of the sprint finishes makes things a little tense, and the difficult finishing straights are an issue at times as well. Of more interest is the fact that some of the crucial stages don't end up in bunch sprints at all, but rather have a breakaway hanging on to the bitter end. I'm sure I'm not the only one who cheers on the brave soul who dares the peloton to chase him, knowing that he'll probably get caught; it's great to see a daring break succeed.

The king of the mountains competition, as usual, wasn't nearly as hotly contested as the green jersey competition. What livens it up is the attempt by Michael Rasmussen, wearing the polka-dot jersey, to keep the podium position that he had unexpectedly gotten into. As for the general classification... well, after the first stage, a lengthy time trial instead of a short prologue, it's basically in the bag, and even the mountains are no more than a formality.

In the four-hour DVD program of the 2005 Tour de France, World Cycling Productions has really done an excellent job of presenting the race in its very best light. While the race itself doesn't offer that much to work with, WCP's presentation is easily the best they've done so far.

To begin with, the editing is handled extremely well. With four hours of coverage overall, we get exactly the right amount of time spent on each stage, with great capsule summaries of the action early in the stage, before we're taken directly into the action. On top of that, the footage is often discreetly edited to skip over portions with no action, like lengthy downhills, so that there's a continual sense of being in the middle of the action without missing anything important. This is the direction that WCP has been going in for the past few years in its Tour coverage, and to good effect.

As has been the case with most of the Tour DVDs, WCP's team of commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen provide the running commentary for the racing action, and as always do a very good job of it. Gary Imlach returns as the host and field reporter, doing a solid job of providing an overview of each stage and summarizing early action before handing off the commentary to Liggett and Sherwen. A new and welcome addition to the commentary staff in this Tour is Chris Boardman, who was known as the "prologue specialist" of the Tour during his successful career in the pro peloton. Boardman discusses the Tour with Imlach, giving us a useful "inside" insight into riders' tactics. He seems quite comfortable on-camera and presents informational material in a clear and straightforward manner; I hope we'll see more of Boardman on other WCP productions.

Another improvement in the overall Tour coverage is the fact that several of the "human interest" pieces done for the program are included as bonus features, rather than being sandwiched into the main program. This is a very good idea, as it allows the main program to stay more focused on the racing action, and lets viewers dip into the ancillary material at will. It's not handled perfectly, as there's still a fair amount of material in the main program that should have been cut out and put as special features, such as a long retrospective on Armstrong's Tour victories, and his podium speech. But certainly the main Tour program here another step forward in being polished and viewer-friendly.

One feature that's great to see in the main program is a lot of rider interviews, and the 2005 Tour does a nice job with this. We get post-stage interviews with a variety of riders, including non-English-speaking ones who get their interviews subtitled. This is a nice feature that really helps give a well-rounded view of the action. The stage and general classifications are updated after each stage, and viewers are also kept fully abreast of the king of the mountains and green jersey standings.

All in all, while I can't say that the 2005 Tour had a lot of action, there's enough here to make the four-hour coverage worth watching, especially if you're a fan of the Grand Tours.

The DVD

WCP's release of the four-hour 2005 Tour de France is a two-disc set, with both discs attractively packaged in a slim single-wide keepcase. Unfortunately, the menu design leaves a lot to be desired. After you pop in the disc, there's a long delay while we stare at a static image of Armstrong... and then the menu itself takes its sweet time to display the selection choices. That wouldn't be so bad, except that while you're waiting for the "play" selection to appear on-screen, the background starts displaying spoiler images for stages of the Tour!

On the bright side, the chapters are well done, with one per stage, and with the stages listed by location and distance, with no spoilers mentioned in the chapter titles. The DVD cover (both front and back) is also colorful and happily spoiler-free (well, it reveals who wins the Tour, but even I will concede that everyone knows that).

Video

The 2005 Tour de France coverage appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, as it was broadcast on television. The image quality is excellent: not "excellent" as in feature-film quality, but certainly extremely good for material that had to be taken from live television footage captured on the road. The image is crisp and clean, with colors looking bright and vibrant. It's always easy to pick out the colors of the jerseys in the bunch, which is a big issue in a cycling DVD. Even picture break-up (which comes from the source material, not the DVD transfer) is rarely to be seen. All in all, it's a very nice production.

Audio

The Dolby stereo sound is handled very well here. The voiceovers are always clear and easy to understand, while the race ambiance is generally held to a level that adds a good background flavor without taking over the soundtrack. The overall sound is full and clean.

Extras

The special features start out with the start list printed on the inside of the DVD cover, visible through the clear plastic case. In a nice touch this year, a miniature jersey with the team's colors is printed beside each start list. That's really quite helpful, not just for new cycle racing fans but also for veteran fans, since there are always some changes in the jersey designs each season. (I'd still love to see stage profiles in an insert, but we haven't gotten there yet.)

Additional special features are included on both discs. On Disc 1, there's a reasonably interesting 3-minute piece on the "super slo-mo" camera used at the stage finishes, and another short piece on "Yellow Jerseys." On this disc, there's also a Tour map, which provides a 3-minute animated presentation of the race route.

Disc 2 has several more special features. "Bjarne Riis" is a 2-minute piece on the previous Tour winner who now directs the CSC team. "Col du Galibier" (also 2 minutes) is an interesting short history of the famous climb. The disc wraps up with a 5-minute "Armstrong Photo Tribute" slide show, and a section of "Extra Stuff" that suggests buying other race DVDs.

It's worth noting that while the special features aren't extensive, they're all fresh material that does not appear in the main program, so they're definitely worth checking out.

Final thoughts

The 2005 Tour de France isn't one of the more exciting editions of the race, given that Armstrong totally dominated it from the start, but thanks to WCP's nicely edited coverage, the four-hour DVD edition is an entertaining viewing experience. Except for the most die-hard of Lance Armstrong fans, I'd say that this four-hour edition is superior to the extended 12-hour edition; we get all of the interesting moments, well edited and well presented so that the dull sections are discreetly skipped over. It's a DVD that's worth adding to your cycle racing collection; after all, it marks the end of an era and showcases some riders who will most likely be the stars of 2006 and beyond. Recommended.

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