The most exciting Tour de France... ever. It's extravagant praise, considering some of the great Tours (including the phenomenal 2003 Tour), but it's absolutely accurate. The 1989 Tour boasts the narrowest winning margin in Tour history – only eight seconds – and the story of how those eight seconds' worth of advantage were earned is one of thrilling ups and downs, of a brilliant struggle for the right to wear the leader's yellow jersey, and of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat at, quite literally, the last possible moment.
The star of the 1989 Tour is the U.S. rider Greg LeMond, the winner of the 1986 Tour. To begin with, the fact that he's even starting the Tour de France at all is testament to an amazing comeback: in fall 1986 LeMond was seriously injured in a hunting accident, which almost ended his life as well as his professional cycling career. But the determination that served LeMond well in winning his first Tour helped him to get back in training and start the 1989 Tour.
But LeMond isn't the only favorite as the Tour opens. As the race coverage starts with the prologue time trial, we're given an excellent overview of the race favorites, foremost being 1988's winner Pedro Delgado and two-time Tour winner Laurent Fignon. It's the battle between Fignon and LeMond that will soon heat up the race, but Delgado is also a force to be reckoned with. Keep an eye out for the appearance of a still-unknown Miguel Indurain, who would go on to win the Tour for five successive years starting in 1991.
In many ways, 1989 marked the last of the "old-time" Tours, with all-out aggressive riding, and with individual decisions being made on the road by the riders, rather than by the team directors following in their cars. (As you're watching, note that the riders aren't wearing radios, as they do now.) Despite a disastrous start, Pedro Delgado, known for his aggressive attacks on the mountain slopes, and with a surprisingly strong time-trialing ability, sets the tone for what's a truly aggressive and exciting Tour, and LeMond, Fignon, and others take up the gauntlet. Adding to the thrills is the fact that the 1989 Tour route is both challenging and aggressive, with four individual time trials (including one that's uphill and the very last stage into Paris), tough mountains, and even a section on cobbled roads.
One mark of the excitement level in a Tour is how many times the yellow leader's jersey changes shoulders among the favorites. It's expected that it will shift from rider to rider during the early stages in which the sprinters take precedence, but after the tough mountain stages arrive, the question is whether one rider will hang onto it and build up a lead, or whether it will be hotly contested. In 1989, it's the latter, in spades. By my count, the yellow jersey switches between LeMond and Fignon no fewer than five times, which is nothing short of amazing. What's truly amazing is that each time the pendulum swings, it seems like the other rider has no chance to win back the jersey... but both Fignon and LeMond give it their all to achieve what seems to be impossible.
Even knowing exactly what's going to happen at the end, the 1989 Tour is incredibly exciting, because the racing leading up to the climactic time-trial stage into Paris is absolutely top-notch. The coverage on the DVD is quite solid, even considering that it's only 90 minutes; while the early stages are zipped through a bit too quickly, the mountain stages and the key time trials are given a solid treatment. In fact, the important mountain stages are handled very well, showing us not only the final climb but also the attacks and counter-attacks in the earlier part of the stage.
While I'd have loved to have more coverage than just 90 minutes, the coverage is nicely done given the length constraints, and the shorter running time means that this Tour is much more easily re-watchable than the epic 8, 10, or 12-hour Tours: this is a DVD that you can pop in for a single evening's viewing or to watch while you're riding an indoor trainer. It's also one of the most accessible Tours for new viewers: if you've never seen the Tour de France before, this is a great place to start.
The 1989 Tour de France is packaged in an attractively designed keepcase. It's not the same cover art as the VHS tape, even though that's the image that appears on WCP's web site.
The 1989 Tour de France is part of the "Remastered LeMond Series" and the benefits of the remastered transfer are evident. Considering that the source material is fifteen-year-old live television footage, I'm really impressed that the 1989 Tour looks this good on DVD (and it's well worth the upgrade even if you already own the VHS version).
The print is impressively clean, with no noise or print flaws appearing anywhere in the image; it's also free of any smearing or color bleeding. A touch of edge enhancement appears here and there, but only rarely, with the result that the picture, while soft, presents its detail very well. On occasion we do get some shifting in color tones or overall image quality due to the faults in the original source material, but this only happens a few times, and it only happens when the film changes cameras, never within a single shot. Overall, the colors look great: the picture looks fresh and bright, with team jerseys in all their colorful glory, and skin tones and landscapes looking natural.
The basic stereo soundtrack for the 1989 Tour is quite good. Phil Liggett provides a narrative voiceover for the entire race, and his voice is always crystal-clear and easy to understand. A musical score appears in the background, but fortunately it's quite understated and actually goes quite well with the manner that the Tour is presented.
An easy-to-use menu is the only feature here; we're given the choice of starting the race from the beginning or jumping to specific stages.
This really is the most exciting Tour de France of all time, with U.S. favorite Greg LeMond coming back from what seemed like an insurmountable time deficit to snatch victory by a mere eight seconds on the final day of the three-week race. World Cycling Productions' 90-minute coverage highlights all the key moments of this brilliant race, with its tooth-and-nail struggle between LeMond and Laurent Fignon. This great race has also never looked so good, as it's been remastered for DVD and boasts improved audio and video quality. This is a must-have DVD for anyone who's even remotely interested in bicycle racing: it's an essential part of the collection of any racing fan, and it's a fantastic place to get started on the magic of the Tour de France for anyone who's new to the exciting world of professional bicycle racing. This race well earns its rating as part of the DVDTalk Collector's Series.