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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » 2005 Tour de France: Magnificent 7 (12-hour version)
2005 Tour de France: Magnificent 7 (12-hour version)
World Cycling Productions // Unrated // November 1, 2005 // Region 0
List Price: $89.95 [Buy now and save at Worldcycling]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted February 14, 2006 | 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.

The following comments are about the race itself; for information on how the 12-hour coverage stacks up against the 4-hour coverage, skip down to the next section.

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 Française 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.

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: a long retrospective on Armstrong's Tour victories, his podium speech, and most notably a mid-program photo montage that, horrifyingly, puts spoiler images of stages that are yet to come (fast-forwarding will save the day, when you see it). 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.

12 hours vs. 4 hours

In my review of the 4-hour version of the 2005 Tour, I commented that while the 2005 Tour didn't have a lot of action, there's enough to make the four-hour coverage worth watching, especially considering that WCP does an outstanding job of editing to really bring out the best in the material. In the 12-hour version, we get eight more hours of material; what's included?

Some of the additional footage is human-interest material, hosted by Ned Boulting; considering that one of the praiseworthy elements of the four-hour version is that most of this type of material had migrated out to the special features section, this isn't a step forward for the 12-hour version. For the most part, though, what we get more of is lots more race footage for a Tour that frankly doesn't stand up very well to that much coverage. The additional material isn't spread evenly among the stages, but instead is heavily concentrated on the mountain stages; that's logical to a certain degree, considering that mountain stages are usually where the action takes place... but in the 2005 Tour, there isn't necessarily much action in the stages that get the extra attention. I'm a big cycle racing fan (although, admittedly, I favor the Classics more than the Grand Tours at this point) but even I didn't find the extra hours to be a benefit. Instead, the extra footage tends to drag down the overall pacing of the race. While the four-hour version is smartly paced and actually makes the race reasonably interesting to watch, the 12-hour simply runs much too long.

Here's a breakdown of exactly how much time is spent on each stage; I have bolded the stages with more material than the four-hour version.

Stage 1: Fromentine - Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile ITT 16 minutes

Stage 2: Challans - Les Essarts 11 minutes

Stage 3: La Châtaigneraie - Tours 13 minutes

Stage 4: Tours - Blois TTT 10 minutes

Stage 5: Chambord - Montargis 14 minutes

Stage 6: Troyes - Nancy 10 minutes

Stage 7: Lunéville - Karlsruhe 9 minutes

Stage 8: Pforzheim - Gérardmer 21 minutes

Stage 9: Gérardmer - Mulhouse 40 minutes

Stage 10: Grenoble - Courchevel (mountain) 42 minutes

Stage 11: Courchevel - Briançon (mountain) 93 minutes

Stage 12: Briançon - Digne-les-Bains (mountain) 3 minutes

Stage 13: Miramas - Montpellier (mountain) 12 minutes

Stage 14: Agde - Ax-3 Domaines 98 minutes

Stage 15: Lézat-sur-Lèze - Saint-Lary Soulan (Pla d'Adet) (mountain) 75 minutes

Stage 16: Mourenx - Pau (mountain) 127 minutes

Stage 17: Pau - Revel (mountain) 9 minutes

Stage 18: Albi - Mende 41 minutes

Stage 19: Issoire - Le Puy-en-Velay 8 minutes

Stage 20: Saint-Etienne - Saint-Etienne ITT 12 minutes

Stage 21: Corbeil-Essonnes - Paris Champs-Élysées 20 minutes

The DVD

The 12-hour version of the 2005 Tour is a six-DVD set, packaged in a double-wide plastic keepcase. The discs are neatly packaged and easily accessible, but unfortunately the useful back-of-the-cover insert with the team listings is not included, as it is in the four-hour version.

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 2.0 sound is mostly adequate, but several of the stages and special features have the annoying problem that the voiceover is restricted to the left center channel. Additionally, the sound quality is distinctly inferior overall to the four-hour version; stages that sound crisp and clean in the four-hour version are muddy and muffled-sounding in the 12-hour version. I encountered this problem on two different copies of the 12-hour DVD, and it definitely detracts from the overall experience. This is evidently a known problem, as the WCP site suggests that the DVD "may require adjustment of stereo balance for optimal audio playback." I'm not sure exactly what kind of adjustments they have in mind, but in any case I'm disappointed with this slip-up.

Update: WCP has indicated that the audio problem has been fixed, and they're sending me a fresh copy to evaluate. I'll update the review when I have more information.

Extras

Additional special features are included on several of the discs. On Disc 1, there's a Tour map and a one-minute segment on Nancy history with information about past winners. Disc 2 has "Bjarne Riis," a 2-minute piece on the previous Tour winner who now directs the CSC team, and a reasonably interesting 3-minute piece on the "super slo-mo" camera used at the stage finishes. On Disc 3, what is labeled as "Yellow Jerseys" actually takes viewers to the "Col du Galibier" segment (2 minutes), which is an interesting short history of the famous climb. Even more oddly, selecting "Col du Galibier" on the same disc takes you to a repeat of the "Super Slo-Mo" piece.

Final thoughts

The 12-hour version of the 2005 Tour de France may suit the most dedicated fans of Lance Armstrong, but for most fans of cycle racing, it's just too much of a not-so-great thing. The 2005 Tour just wasn't very exciting, and 12 hours of it is overkill. When the lackluster audio quality of this release is tossed in, it's even less appealing. WCP's nicely edited four-hour version fits the bill nicely for viewers who are interested in the Tour, and I recommended that version of the race; for the 12-hour version, I'll suggest that most viewers pass it by, or rent it at best. Rent it.

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