The Tour of Flanders (the Ronde van
Vlaanderen) is pretty much the big race of the season for Belgian
bicycle racers... and there are a lot of strong Belgian teams and
riders in the pro peloton, making Flanders into a great viewing
experience for racing fans. Taking place on April 2, the Tour of
Flanders fits between Het Volk and Ghent-Wevelgem.
The reigning World Champion, Tom
Boonen, is of course the star of the show and the favorite right from
the beginning, riding as he does for the strong QuickStep-Innergetic
team. QuickStep offers Boonen remarkable depth of support, but even
so, there are still serious challengers to Boonen at the start line.
Leif Hoste, coming off a win in the Three Days of De Panne, takes up
the challenge, as does US rider George Hincapie, whose determination
and talent have been demonstrated many times in his strong Classic
finishes. Other riders who can't be ruled out include veteran riders
Peter van Petegem and Erik Zabel.
The opening credits are nicely
handled, giving us a montage of scenes from old races, and no
spoilers of images from this edition of the race. Phil Liggett and
Paul Sherwen give us the introduction to the race from a cafe rather
than the town square, because of the wet weather. We get a brief but
useful overview of the race route, and then Sherwen moves out into
the wet to grab a nice set of interviews with the riders, including
George Hincapie, Tom Boonen, and Erik Zabel. A common theme is the
weather, with the riders weighing in on how the wet roads will affect
the difficulty of the race; as always, Sherwen also prompts them to
speculate on potential winners and top places in the finish, which is
It's a 260-km race, but the DVD
footage picks up the action at 134 kilometers to go, which is a good
idea: with the inclement weather dampening spirits as well as the
roads, the riders aren't in a hurry for the first section of the
race. It's when the peloton gets to the climbs that the real action
begins, as it often does. The Molenberg starts to shake out the
strong riders from the rest, and then the Oude Kwaremont and
Paterberg continue to test the legs of the riders. Not surprisingly,
it's the Koppenberg that ends up being both exciting and probably
decisive in the race. It's such a brutal climb, with cobbles and all,
that many of the riders end up having to walk their bikes up it - no
kidding, "brutal" is exactly the word.
The rest of the race plays out with
a fine show of both team tactics and pure strength, as a breakaway
puts clear space between themselves and the peloton, with loyal
teammates defending back in the chase group. It ends up being an
impressive finish, the kind of cat-and-mouse action that really puts
you on the edge of your seat. Personally, I enjoy this kind of finish
a lot more than bunch sprints, so it's nice to see that the climbs of
the Tour of Flanders worked their usual magic in breaking up (and
shaking up) the peloton and rewarding the aggressive riders.
The footage runs three hours and 50
minutes, split over two DVDs. There's some good action here, though I
don't think it really merits that much running time; some more
editing would have made a good race program even more exciting. I did
enjoy seeing the post-race coverage, with interviews; it adds a nice
finish for the race experience.
The 2006 Tour of Flanders is a
two-DVD set, with the two discs attractively packaged in a
As with the earlier release of the
2006 Ghent-Wevelgem & Het Volk DVD, the image here is a hybrid of
full-screen 1.33:1 and anamorphic widescreen footage. The
introduction and interviews are in the 1.33:1 format, with the image
switching to widescreen for the racing. The widescreen footage for
the race itself is a really outstanding idea, taking advantage of the
European adoption of widescreen television broadcasts and giving us a
more involving viewing experience. I'd just like to see the
introductory material windowboxed so that we wouldn't have to
manually switch television modes (perhaps after wondering why those
cyclists are looking so squashed).
Colors are bright and natural,
letting us see the riders' team jerseys in all their neon glory. The
image is a bit soft, but it's good quality considering that it's live
footage of an outdoor sporting event. Some edge enhancement is
visible, but not too much.
The stereo sound for the DVD is
satisfactory overall. There's a slight problem with the sound at the
start of the DVD; the sound isn't quite synchronized with Liggett and
Sherwen's lip movement. Once the outdoor footage rolls, though, the
lip-synching gets back on track, and there are no other issues with
the soundtrack. Overall, the sound is clear and clean, with Phil
Liggett and Paul Sherwen sounding "on form.
On Disc 1, there's a brief
featurette that offers a visit to the Ridley bicycle factory, which
is a producer of bikes for many Belgian racers, including Tom Boonen.
It's an interesting, though quite brief, piece (not quite two
minutes). The rosters for all the teams are printed on the inside of
the DVD cover insert, visible through the clear plastic of the case.
The 2006 Tour of Flanders is a solid
example of an entertaining Spring Classic, and will be enjoyed by
fans who've kept up with Flanders in the past. I found the footage
could have used some more editing (I wish that WCP didn't have a
blanket policy of giving us four hours of footage no matter what
happens), but it's still a race that pro cycling fans will enjoy
adding to their collection. Recommended.