With its two-in-one DVD of the 2002 Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races, World Cycling Productions again produces a perfect combination: these are two major one-day races held within days of each other in the racing calendar.
Both races are commentated by WCP's Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, and run approximately an hour and forty-five minutes each. This amount of coverage is perfect. While races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix offer enough constant action to warrant their four-hour individual treatment, both the Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege concentrate their action in the last two hours or so of the race, which is when the coverage kicks in.
The Flèche Wallonne is one of the "semi-Classics": though it's not a World Cup race (riders don't earn any points toward the World Cup standings), the race has a long and distinguished history, with many great riders taking part. The 2002 Flèche Wallonne takes place on a Wednesday, April 17, and the Liege-Bastogne-Liege takes place on Sunday, just four days later. To make things more interesting, a special prize is given to the rider with the most consistent placing in both the Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. This creates an interesting dynamic: on the one hand, the riders are eager to do well here to win the "Ardennes weekend" prize, but Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the more prestigious race, so some riders will be conserving their energy for a stronger bid on the later race.
The route for the Flèche Wallonne is an interesting one, characterized by hills scattered over the course rather than by just a few major climbs. This gives the racers many opportunities to break away, while not being tough enough to really shatter the peloton. The most dramatic part of the Flèche Wallonne is its steep uphill finish, which offers a substantial challenge and means that the finish won't come down to a pure bunch sprint. The race can be won and it can also be lost on that steep ascent to the finish line.
The 2002 Flèche Wallonne has to go down on the record books as one of the most memorable editions of this race in years. The typical way that the Flèche Wallonne unfolds is for a small group to break away partway through the race, with the main peloton chasing, and for the race to be decided from amongst the riders in the small group. Well, that's certainly not what happens in 2002... though not for want of trying. This is one of the most aggressively-ridden races in years, but the results are entirely unexpected. The two hours of coverage provided in this DVD offer a great view of all the important moments in the race, including the very exciting finale.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege holds honors as cycling's oldest Classic, at 111 years old, and it's traditionally very hotly contested. Winning this race is a great prize in its own right, in addition to the fact that as a World Cup race, a high placing here means points toward taking the top of the ranks in the prestigious World Cup competition. In fact, the pressure of the World Cup ranking means that even riders who don't find the course congenial often feel compelled to compete, such as Domo's Johan Museeuw: as the current World Cup holder, he appears here to work to retain his title, even though his personal preferences is for races like the cobbled Paris-Roubaix. Domo's main contender for victory in fact, though, is probably Axel Merckx, the son of the legendary Eddy Merckx.
The blue jerseys of U.S. Postal make an appearance here in force, as Lance Armstrong is out to take a victory after two second places in past editions. While he rode in the Tour of Flanders earlier in the season, in that race he was solely acting as a support rider for teammate George Hincapie, the team's favorite to win. In Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Armstrong returns to his role as leader in a bid to win. Riding for Fassa Bortolo, two-time winner Michele Bartoli will be eyeing victory as well, though his high placing in the Flèche Wallonne could have tired him out. And let's not forget powerhouse team Mapei, whose squad includes world champion Oscar Freire and past winner Paolo Bettini.
What makes Liege-Bastogne-Liege exciting is its climbs: eleven of them. What's more, these are long climbs, often continuing upward for several kilometers, entirely unlike the steep but very short hills of the Tour of Flanders. Consequently, a different type of rider may be in his element at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and certainly different tactics are in order.
The 2002 edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege has a relatively uneventful first forty-five minutes or so, but the action starts in earnest when the riders get to the major climb of La Redoute. Attacks and counter-attacks then start blowing the race apart, with a six-man breakaway having a good shot at victory if they can stay away from the attempts of the main peloton to chase them back. With two Saeco riders as well as two strong Mapei riders, Paolo Bettini and Stefano Garzelli, team tactics are sure to play an important part in the outcome of the race... and as it turns out, the victory hinges on an impressive and completely unexpected team strategy. The conclusion of the 2002 Liege-Bastogne-Liege is certainly an exciting and memorable one.
The 2002 Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a Region 0 DVD, 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.
The video for the Flèche Wallonne looks a little washed-out in the early portions of the race, in both the helicopter and motorcycle-held camera footage. Colors are a bit faded and not quite natural-looking. Fortunately, the problem clears up about midway through the race, and by the end, the riders' colorful jerseys are looking the way they should. In the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race, again some of the colors are slightly faded, but in this case it seems to only occur with some of the cameras, not all of them; the helicopter camera, for instance, seems to present natural, bright colors.
As with the Flèche Wallonne coverage, the colors of Liege-Bastogne-Liege return to their normal vibrancy toward the last kilometers of the race. I suspect that the slightly faded look is due to issues with the original transmission of the television image, not the DVD transfer. These races are filmed "on the spot" and in sometimes tricky conditions, and it's normal to see greater variations in image than in a film that's done under controlled conditions.
The image for both races is extremely clean, with no noise whatsoever in the picture, and a nice amount of detail is present. The races are presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio of their television broadcast. All in all, the image looks very good, and will certainly impress viewers who are used to seeing the races on VHS.
As is the case with WCP's other DVDs, the audio quality here is excellent. The soundtrack is a "live" one, presenting the commentary from Liggett and Sherwen along with the ambient sounds of the race, and no music, resulting in an audio experience that makes it seem that you're really watching it live. The sound is crisp and clean, with both the commentators' voices always natural-sounding and entirely understandable. The environmental sounds of the race, such as the motorcycles, the shouting crowds, and the humming wheels of the bicycles, are included enough to add a nice flavor, but never overpower the commentary.
Each of the two races has its own DVD, and both discs are neatly packaged in an attractive single-wide case. The menus are easy to use... except for the fact that the winner of the race is prominently displayed in the background, which is frustrating to viewers who like a little suspense while watching the races. There are no special features on the DVDs.
The 2002 Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege DVD from World Cycling Productions offers two great classic cycling races in one exciting package. The nearly two hours of coverage on each race is the perfect amount for these races, and the races themselves are great fun to watch. The 2002 Flèche Wallonne turns out to be an unusually aggressive race, with constant attacks and a great deal of tension. After a slower start, the Liege-Bastogne-Liege turns out to be a gripping race as well, with tactical maneuvering and outstanding team tactics coming into play. It's highly recommended.