This DVD from World Cycling Productions is a two-for-one package: we get coverage of the 2002 editions of two major one-day bicycle races, the semi-classic Ghent-Wevelgem and the classic Omloop Het Volk. These two Belgian races attract a stellar field of professional cyclists from all over the world, vying for victory on the cobbled roads and short but steep hills of the Belgian countryside.
The treatment of the two races here is outstanding, with two full hours of well-edited coverage for each race. For both Het Volk and Ghent Wevelgem, Paul Sherwen interviews a number of racers before the start, providing an excellent introduction to who's who in the race, as well as getting a glimpse of their plans for the race. Sherwen also follows up with interesting post-race interviews, not just with the winner but also with other key riders, making for a very informative presentation. For the race commentary itself, Sherwen is joined by Phil Liggett.
Het Volk comes first in the calendar, though it's listed second in the DVD set because it's not as famous as Ghent-Wevelgem; I'd recommend that viewers watch Het Volk first, as it's more enjoyable to watch the races in chronological order.
Omloop Het Volk
The earliest Belgian classic, the 2002 Het Volk took place on March 2; this early in the season, the riders are often fresh out of training camps without a lot of races under their belt, so Het Volk's results are a pointer toward later important classics like the Tour of Flanders. The 2002 Het Volk is an exciting edition of this race, with a number of great contenders fighting it out throughout the race. The Belgian classics specialist Peter van Petegem from the Lotto team is eager to take the race for a third time, while the previous year's winner, Michele Bartoli, is keen to defend his title, and others are ready to make a break for victory as well, including the experienced Rolf Sörensen from Colnago and Mapei's Paolo Bettini.
This Het Volk offers a great view of team tactics, as the crucial breakaway included several riders each from several of the main teams, meaning that when the final push came, many of the riders could count on tactical support from their teammates. Meanwhile, back in the main peloton, the teams who had been left "out in the cold" with no riders in the breakaway were pushing hard to catch up. With several key climbs and cobbled sections, including the steep Molenberg, adding spice to the mix, this Het Volk is interesting from start to finish.
Ghent-Wevelgem tends to be more of a sprinter's race, because it is mainly flat, with the exception of a small section of hills toward the finish. However, one of those hills is the brutal Kemmelberg, which the Ghent-Wevelgem course actually climbs twice. On this climb, the peloton is bound to break up, as the strongest riders try to split off from the main pack and stage a breakaway to the finish. In the 2002 edition of this race, taking place on April 10, the lead-in to the Kemmelberg is actually more interesting than in other years, because a brutal headwind forces the peloton to break up into several packs early on, each of which tries to catch up and gain the lead before the crucial tactical launching point of the Kemmelberg.
A number of excellent riders play key roles in this race, including U.S. Postal's George Hincapie, who, after a disappointment in the 2002 Tour of Flanders, is eager for a victory to springboard him to a win in the next important race on the calendar, Paris-Roubaix. Classics star Johan Museeuw is in contention, though he seems ready to support his teammate Fred Rodriquez (a U.S. rider) in a winning move. Acqua & Sapone's superstar Mario Cipollini is also eager for a record third win in Ghent-Wevelgem, but with a slightly weaker team than in the past, he will be forced to rely more on his own strength to carry him to the finish.
Of the two races on this DVD, Het Volk is the more exciting, but while Ghent-Wevelgem isn't quite as gripping, it still offers a very enjoyable viewing experience.
This DVD is Region 0, playable on any NTSC-compatible DVD player and TV. In fact, all of World Cycling Productions' DVDs are Region 0, which is very appropriate given the international scope of the sport of cycling.
It's great to see WCP's race coverage on DVD, as it looks much better than on VHS. The image is very good, especially considering that it's completely taken from broadcast television footage. The print is clean and noise-free, and is quite clear overall; colors are bright, clean, and well defined, which is particularly important considering that the riders are identified by their brightly colored team jerseys. The image is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
The overall quality of the Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is excellent, with both Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen's commentary sounding clear and natural throughout the race. The excited shouts of the spectators and the whirring of the riders' wheels as they pass by the video cameras are also captured very well. During Sherwen's pre-race introduction of Ghent-Wevelgem, his voice sounds a bit harsh, but fortunately this is only the case in the introductory footage, not in the rest of the production.
The 2002 Ghent-Wevelgem and Het Volk coverage is packaged in a two-disc set, conveniently with the full Ghent-Wevelgem on one disc and the full Het Volk on the other. The two discs are packaged neatly and securely in a slim single-wide keepcase.
The one thing I wish WCP would change is its habit of plastering the name and image of the race winner all over the DVD. Here we get the winners of both races on the cover of the DVD, the disc art, and also in the main menu; the on-screen title also reveals the winner. What's even more painful is that for Ghent-Wevelgem, the menu and cover image reveals not just the winner, but also second and third places. Personally, I enjoy watching the race coverage without knowing or being reminded ahead of time who wins. I'd love to see slightly more neutral shots used for the art, just so that the "live" experience could be preserved.
For special features, on the second disc (Het Volk) there's a short promotional piece on Cycle Sport magazine, which is published by World Cycling Productions. It's really cheesy, and I do mean really cheesy, with enthusiastic "testimonials" from Paul Sherwen and a harmonica-playing cameraman. On the bright side, we get to meet a couple of writers for the magazine as well as famous race photographer Graham Watson (very briefly). Further on the bright side, the magazine itself is very good (I'm a subscriber).
The 2002 Ghent-Wevelgem / Omloop Het Volk offers a very satisfying viewing experience for bicycle racing fans. With a total of four hours of coverage (two hours for each race), we get an in-depth look at the race that allows viewers to see all the attacking, defending, counterattacking, and breakaways that make for an exciting race. Both of the races hereare full of interesting racing action, especially Het Volk, and offer great repeat viewing value as well; this DVD set is highly recommended.