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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » 2001 Tour de France (4-hour version)
2001 Tour de France (4-hour version)
World Cycling Productions // Unrated // January 1, 2002 // Region 0
List Price: $54.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted February 2, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Tour de France is the most famous professional bicycle race in the world, now brought to greater attention in the United States by the three consecutive victories of Lance Armstrong. I've watched every tape of World Cycling Productions' coverage of the Tour de France from 1989 to the present (along with their coverage of the Giro d'Italia, the Vuelta de España, and loads of other races throughout the 1990s), and I was most heartily pleased to finally see the race come to DVD.

In the 2001 Tour de France, the competition for the general classification (the overall victory) was admittedly one of the less interesting in recent years, due to the domination of returning winner Lance Armstrong. Even so, the first week of the Tour was very exciting, much more so than in other years, with many attacks, counterattacks, and daring breakaways; and later in the race, the competition between Stewart O'Grady and Eric Zabel for the green jersey as leader of the "points" competition (for most consistent rider overall) was fierce right down to the wire.

Unfortunately, the four-hour DVD edition of the 2001 Tour falls flat due to the combination of terrible editing and a lifeless commentary. Let me make things clear: WCP most definitely knows how to put together a knockout piece of race coverage. For instance, their treatment of the spring classic races, the Vuelta a España, and the Giro d'Italia has been phenomenal, with top-notch live race commentary that really conveys the excitement of bicycle racing. However, since around 1998 their coverage of the Tour de France has gone downhill, becoming more flashy and MTV-like and getting light on the race coverage itself. The 2001 edition continues the sad trend and is a real disappointment.

Remember that I mentioned that the first week of the 2001 Tour was very exciting? You wouldn't be able to tell that from this DVD's coverage of it, which rapidly skims through the first nine stages of the 21-stage race... including stage 8, which featured a daring breakaway that left favorite Lance Armstrong with a 13-minute deficit behind the new race leader. Yet this exciting stage is blandly summarized in literally a few seconds. Another important stage featured impressive attacks from French champion Laurent Jalabert, but we're shown only the final kilometer on the DVD. The sprint finishes are also shown hastily and not given anywhere near the attention that they receive in other WCP productions, in which the final sprints are usually replayed in slow-motion and from different angles, with commentary about the tactics of the different riders.

Around stage 10, when the Tour reached the mountains and the struggle for victory in the general classification heated up, the coverage becomes barely watchable. We're finally given some blow-by-blow commentary instead of a quick summary, which is how the preceding nine stages should have been covered. Unfortunately, the editing frequently skips over the early attacks and counterattacks of these stages and lingers on the final moments of the stage... such as fifteen minutes of Armstrong riding alone in the lead. I'd rather see similar coverage earlier in the stage, or have the end trimmed down to allow for more coverage at the beginning.Towards the end of the race, the coverage improves again somewhat, with a reasonably good treatment of the battle between O'Grady and Zabel for the green "points" jersey. Even so, I was left unsatisfied.

The other major problem with the 2001 Tour DVD is in the style of the narrative commentary. World Cycling Productions has two excellent commentators, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, and WCP's other cycling videos use their live commentary as the full narration for the race. However, the 2001 Tour de France DVD uses Gary Imlach for a substantial portion of the coverage. Imlach, who previously appeared only briefly in other WCP productions to give background information or "human interest" stories, spends much of his on-camera time making sarcastic pseudo-hip comments about the racers, before summing up in past tense what happened in the stage. This is not interesting. To be more precise, it sucks the life out of the Tour coverage, turning it into a dull, pointless slideshow of riders crossing the finish line. It's Liggett and Sherwen's live commentary sections which capture the excitement and action of the race.

Video

The picture quality of the 2001 Tour de France DVD will knock the socks off anyone who's used to watching racing on VHS. Of course, the Tour DVD's image quality is comparatively not as good as you'll find in a well-transferred movie or TV show DVD, but it's important to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. The racing images are taken from live television footage to begin with, and then have been converted from PAL to NTSC format for the R1 market; the picture simply isn't going to be perfect.

That said, the real comparison is between the VHS and DVD versions... and the DVD blows the VHS image quality out of the water, even with watching the DVD on my widescreen TV, which is a tough test. The image, which is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, is marvelously sharp and clear, with loads of detail. Goodbye, blobbiness and blockiness! You won't be missed. The DVD image's colors are natural-looking for the most part, and are nicely bright and vivid; contrast is also excellent. All in all, the 2001 Tour de France DVD is a pleasure to look at.

Audio

The 2001 Tour de France DVD is presented in Dolby 5.1, though I'm not sure why, as Dolby 2.0 would have been more than sufficient. The voice commentary uses the center channels, and is clear and easily understandable. The surround channels are occasionally used for the crowds yelling and clapping, which I have to say doesn't really add anything to the experience, and in fact is mildly distracting. It would have been better if the soundtrack had stuck to a nice clean Dolby 2.0.

Extras

World Cycling Productions offers a four-hour and an ten-hour version of this Tour; this edition contains the four-hour version on two discs. The packaging of the set is excellent, with both discs securely held in their own plastic spindles inside a slim, one-DVD-sized case.

The main special feature on this DVD is a selection of "best of" stages from previous editions of the Tour de France. We're given excerpts from the 1990 Tour, with Greg LeMond's effort to take the yellow jersey at Luz-Ardiden; Andy Hampsten's 1992 assault on the famous mountain stage of l'Alpe d'Huez; and the tragic 1995 death of Fabio Casartelli in the Tour and Lance Armstrong's tribute to his fallen teammate at Limoges. These segments are excerpts from WCP's own earlier productions, with better commentary than what's provided for the 2001 Tour. The four bonus segments vary in length; all together, it's about forty minutes of material.

Another minor special feature that's offered on the DVD is a map of each stage, which is nice to be able to check out. This is a great direction to go in for bonus features, and in the future I'd love to see more material such as a more detailed stage profile. Last but not least, the menus are attractive, and a scene index is provided, with one chapter per stage of the race.

Final thoughts

The four-hour 2001 Tour de France DVD is an atypically bad effort from a company that has a history of making great cycling videos. Depending on how the 10-hour DVD edition of this Tour is handled (at the time of writing, it hasn't been released yet), the 10-hour version may very well turn out to be the one to buy for both die-hard fans and the average viewer, the one that actually covers the race itself the way it ought to be covered. We'll just have to wait and see.

For anyone who is new to watching professional cycling and is tempted to pick up this DVD as an introduction to the sport: don't bother. Instead, I'll redirect you to a couple of World Cycling Productions' excellent historical DVDs: A Sunday in Hell, which covers the one-day classic race Paris-Roubaix, and Stars and Watercarriers, which covers the Giro d'Italia, Italy's version of the Tour de France. In the meantime, I'll be hoping for a better 10-hour DVD and for WCP to turn over a new leaf with their coverage of the 2002 race.
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