The 1986 Tour de France was a historic battle for dominance, with a wide-open race that soon narrowed to a "clash of titans": teammates Bernard Hinault, the experienced veteran and Tour winner, versus ambitious young Greg LeMond. "Who will win?" remained an open question for almost the entire race, with the riders aggressively attacking, opening and closing large time gaps over their rivals. This Tour was notable in other ways as well: most memorably in Greg LeMond's first-ever overall victory for the United States, but also in the first yellow jersey ever taken by an American, and high levels of participation by top English-speaking riders. Andy Hampsten rides here in his first Tour, fresh off his victory in the Tour of Switzerland, and we also see Scotland's Robert Millar taking a prominent role in the race.
It's an exciting race, and in 2004, the year of this DVD's release, this Tour takes on an even greater relevance. In 1986, Bernard Hinault had five Tour de France wins to his credit, and was aiming at a record sixth Tour... the same position that Lance Armstrong will be in, come July. In 1986, "The Badger," as the tenacious Hinault was known, made a glorious struggle for the victory but was ultimately unseated not by any of his more obvious rivals, like Tour winners and favorites Laurent Fignon and Stephen Roche, but by an ambitious rider hungry for his first Tour win.
Running only 55 minutes, the DVD coverage of the 1986 Tour de France is obviously very compressed, and as a race fan, I definitely wanted more. Nonetheless, the program does a very good job in covering the key stages of the race, and in depicting the struggle among the leaders for the victory. The program opens with an excellent summary of the favorites for the race, so viewers will know which riders to keep an eye out for; we also get a quick summary of the different jerseys and what they stand for. This summary was actually quite useful, as in 1986 there was a red sprinter's jersey as well as the familiar yellow leader's jersey, green "most consistent daily finisher" jersey, polka-dot jersey for the King of the Mountains, and white jersey for best young rider.
The opening week or so of flat stages is zipped through quickly, but when we get to the mountains the program slows down to give us a good sense of the events on each stage. A profile of the stage is provided before each mountain stage, and the key moves are shown. Much to my chagrin, we get some really cheesy pop music slapped onto some of the race segments, but fortunately it doesn't last all that long. The final time trial and the last stage into Paris are also given reasonable coverage; various interviews also give a glimpse of the infighting between Hinault and LeMond.
All in all, the 1986 Tour coverage is very fun to watch, and anyone who's interested in bicycle racing will find it enjoyable. The 1986 Tour DVD isn't as polished or complete as the later races in World Cycling Productions' library, but it's one of a tiny handful of races from the 1980s that are available in any format or length whatsoever; I'm delighted to have it on DVD.
The 1986 Tour de France DVD is packaged in an attractive DVD keepcase. The cover design is quite stylish; it's not just the bland reproduction of the VHS tape's cover as the image from WCP's catalogue would lead you to believe.
The 1986 Tour de France has been digitally remastered for its transfer onto DVD, and it shows: the image quality is significantly better than the earlier VHS release, and overall it's amazingly good considering that this is live television footage from 1986. Thanks to the remastering, the image is pristine, without any noise or print flaws at all (apart from the occasional picture breakup that was part of the original broadcast). Colors are muted and do fluctuate at times, but overall they look reasonably natural, and the haloing effects that appeared in the VHS version are gone. There's no apparent edge enhancement, and overall the image looks quite sharp and clear.
The audio quality is unfortunately not as good as the image quality here, falling a notch below average. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen (in his very first appearance as Liggett's co-commentator) sound tinny and muted in the live coverage. The overall voiceover by Liggett is clearer and cleaner sounding, but it's still not as good as I'd have liked. And let's face it, the music is downright awful; it will make you truly appreciate how World Cycling Productions no longer adds background music to their racing coverage.
There are no special features on the DVD, but it's clear that some thought went into the menu design. A straightforward menu screen gives the choice of playing the program from the beginning, or selecting specific stages.
If you enjoy bicycle racing, you won't want to miss the historic 1986 Tour de France, notable for its first-ever U.S. win by Greg LeMond, as well as by the fact that it was an epic struggle between LeMond and the legendary Bernard Hinault. While the audio quality on the DVD is less than stellar, the image quality is quite good, benefiting from a full remastering. It's a race that can be enjoyed by newcomers to racing as well as devoted fans, and is highly recommended.