World Cycling Productions' DVD
of the 2003 Tour of Romandie is a real treat, giving viewers a chance to see a
very different style of race. The Tour of Romandie is a stage race, like the
Tour de France, meaning that it takes place over several different stages, and
the leadership may change hands several times before the overall leader is
decided at the end of the final stage. However, the Tour of Romandie is a short
stage race: it is only five days long (compared to the three-week "Grand
Tours" of France, Italy, and Spain). What that means is that all the
action is compressed into a shorter period of time, leading to a potentially
very exciting race: the race favorites are thrown into contention right away.
It's also a showcase for the rider from Massachusetts: Tyler Hamilton, only the
second U.S. rider to win the Tour of Romandie, with the first being Andy
The Tour of Romandie takes
place in Switzerland, with the 2003 edition running from April 29 to May 3. As
such, it's an ideal warm-up race for riders who are interested in making a
splash in the Giro d'Italia, which starts just two weeks later.
In the prologue time trial,
we're given an overview of the favorites for the race: last year's winner Dario
Frigo, the U.S. rider Tyler Hamilton, coming off a historic victory the
previous week in Liège-Bastogne-Liège,
and Laurent Dufaux are three top contenders, but there are other significant
challengers as well, including seasoned pro Alex Zülle. The prologue itself is
extremely interesting to watch: it's a tough, very technical course that winds
through Geneva and features lots of sharp corners and a steep climb, both of
which make this short time trial into a distinctive start for the Tour of
The first road stage is a flat
one, which usually means that the sprinters will be in control. However, Simone
Bertoletti threw a monkey wrench in the works with a solo breakaway, making for
an interesting finish to the stage. After that, we get two stages with
mountain-top finishes before the final day's time trial. In both cases, the
action is concentrated toward the end of the stage; the early portion of the
race is fairly conservative, with Hamilton's CSC-Tiscali team playing a
defensive game and working hard to keep the race together. Stage 3 in
particular is covered at greater length than it needs to be, and could easily
have been trimmed down by 20 or 30 minutes. (Keep a careful eye on the lone
leader as he nears the finishing line. In particular, keep an eye on the road
and the race route markings. I won't spoil it for you, but there's a memorable
moment there.)Stage 4 is also a bit more drawn-out than it needs to be, though
less so than the day before. In both cases, though, once we get to the final
part of the stage, we do start getting some interesting breakaways, attacks and
counter-attacks, in which the leadership of the Tour of Romandie switches
shoulders and sets up a very difficult situation for Tyler Hamilton if he is
going to take the overall victory.
The final time trial is given
excellent coverage, as well it should, since the results of this last stage
will determine the overall winner of the race; since it's a fairly short time
trial, it's an exciting finish. Overall, the three-hour coverage of the Tour of
Romandie is a bit longer than it needed to be, but it's well done overall and
all the most exciting moments are captured.
The Tour of Romandie is a
two-DVD set, packaged in a slim single-wide case. The Tour of Romandie is
spread out over both DVDs, with two hours on the first disc and one hour on the
second, sharing space with the bonus Tour de Suisse.
The menu is well designed.
Conveniently, the Tour de Suisse is accessed separately from the Tour of Romandie;
we also get the option of selecting specific stages in the Tour of Romandie.
Unfortunately, the Tour of
Romandie isn't up to the standard of the other 2003 releases from World Cycling
Productions in terms of video quality; from the way the image looks, I'd say
that the problem is in the original source material rather than in the
It looks like the television
footage is digital and was heavily compressed for transmission, resulting in a
picture that's fairly blurry, especially in long-distance shots, but in a
blocky rather than soft way. Digital picture breakup appears periodically, but
this is definitively an issue with the source rather than the transfer, as the
audio is unaffected (and usually we get a rapid change to a different camera as
well). The long-distance shots also tend to be slightly muted in color, which
makes it hard to pick out the different teams in the peloton. There's also a
fair amount of compression artifacts; whenever the camera pans rapidly over the
wooded landscape or the whole body of the peloton, there's a noticeable
presence of shimmering artifacts. Close-up shots look satisfactory, here colors
are strong and clear, with adequate detail. It's watchable, but a letdown after
the outstanding image quality we've gotten in other races.
The audio quality for the Tour
of Romandie is excellent, with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen's commentary
always sounding crystal-clear and natural. It's a Dolby 2.0 track, which is
sufficient for the straightforward nature of the soundtrack. Some of the
"race ambiance" is captured in the background of the track, which
adds to the experience without intruding on the commentary. The post-race
interviews are also clear and easy to understand.
Racing fans will be delighted with the special features on the
Tour of Romandie: as a bonus, we get the entire 2003 Tour de Suisse (Tour of
Switzerland). This ten-day stage race is the largest stage race apart from the
three Grand Tours, it has an ample share of challenging mountains, and all in
all it makes for a very interesting viewing experience. Here, the reigning
champion is Alex Zülle, with challenges coming from Francesco Casagrande and
Alexandre Vinokourov, who states that he's using the Tour de Suisse as a
launching point for the Tour de France...
and viewers will want to keep an close eye on this talented young man in both
the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France.
This ten-day stage race is
given an hour of coverage; it's not exhaustive coverage, but it's certainly
enough to settle in and enjoy the race. The presentation of the race is
excellent; not only are the overall race favorites summarized at the start of
the program, but at the start of each stage we're also given a quick overview
of which riders are likely to make a bid for the victory that day, which is
very useful. Because it's fairly compressed, Phil Liggett provides a post-race
voiceover narrative in the past tense, only occasionally dipping into the
actual live commentary for some sections like stage finishes. It takes a bit of
getting used to after watching mostly "live" races, but Liggett does
a solid job.
Running from June 16-25, the
Tour de Suisse actually comes after the Giro d'Italia in the race calendar; for
maximum enjoyment, viewers may want to hold off on watching this feature until
after seeing the Giro d'Italia. However, Phil Liggett makes almost no reference
to the Giro in the coverage of the Tour de Suisse, so if you want to watch it
right after the Tour of Romandie, you can do so without fear of spoiling the
surprises of the Giro.
Bicycle racing fans will be
delighted to see the Tour of Romandie and the Tour de Suisse on DVD, filling in
the gap between the coverage of the one-day Classics and the three-week Grand
Tours. The Tour of Romandie is a very entertaining race, and the coverage is
good, if a bit too long at times; it would ordinarily get a solid
"recommended." The inclusion of the Tour de Suisse as a bonus feature,
however, provides a boost to the content and rewatchability of this two-disc
set, so it ends up earning a "highly recommended" rating.