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2006 Tour of Flanders: The New King of Flanders
The Tour of Flanders (the Ronde van Vlaanderen) is pretty much the big race of the season for Belgian bicycle racers... and there are a lot of strong Belgian teams and riders in the pro peloton, making Flanders into a great viewing experience for racing fans. Taking place on April 2, the Tour of Flanders fits between Het Volk and Ghent-Wevelgem.
The reigning World Champion, Tom Boonen, is of course the star of the show and the favorite right from the beginning, riding as he does for the strong QuickStep-Innergetic team. QuickStep offers Boonen remarkable depth of support, but even so, there are still serious challengers to Boonen at the start line. Leif Hoste, coming off a win in the Three Days of De Panne, takes up the challenge, as does US rider George Hincapie, whose determination and talent have been demonstrated many times in his strong Classic finishes. Other riders who can't be ruled out include veteran riders Peter van Petegem and Erik Zabel.
The opening credits are nicely handled, giving us a montage of scenes from old races, and no spoilers of images from this edition of the race. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen give us the introduction to the race from a cafe rather than the town square, because of the wet weather. We get a brief but useful overview of the race route, and then Sherwen moves out into the wet to grab a nice set of interviews with the riders, including George Hincapie, Tom Boonen, and Erik Zabel. A common theme is the weather, with the riders weighing in on how the wet roads will affect the difficulty of the race; as always, Sherwen also prompts them to speculate on potential winners and top places in the finish, which is interesting.
It's a 260-km race, but the DVD footage picks up the action at 134 kilometers to go, which is a good idea: with the inclement weather dampening spirits as well as the roads, the riders aren't in a hurry for the first section of the race. It's when the peloton gets to the climbs that the real action begins, as it often does. The Molenberg starts to shake out the strong riders from the rest, and then the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg continue to test the legs of the riders. Not surprisingly, it's the Koppenberg that ends up being both exciting and probably decisive in the race. It's such a brutal climb, with cobbles and all, that many of the riders end up having to walk their bikes up it - no kidding, "brutal" is exactly the word.
The rest of the race plays out with a fine show of both team tactics and pure strength, as a breakaway puts clear space between themselves and the peloton, with loyal teammates defending back in the chase group. It ends up being an impressive finish, the kind of cat-and-mouse action that really puts you on the edge of your seat. Personally, I enjoy this kind of finish a lot more than bunch sprints, so it's nice to see that the climbs of the Tour of Flanders worked their usual magic in breaking up (and shaking up) the peloton and rewarding the aggressive riders.
The footage runs three hours and 50 minutes, split over two DVDs. There's some good action here, though I don't think it really merits that much running time; some more editing would have made a good race program even more exciting. I did enjoy seeing the post-race coverage, with interviews; it adds a nice finish for the race experience.
The 2006 Tour of Flanders is a two-DVD set, with the two discs attractively packaged in a single-wide keepcase.
As with the earlier release of the 2006 Ghent-Wevelgem & Het Volk DVD, the image here is a hybrid of full-screen 1.33:1 and anamorphic widescreen footage. The introduction and interviews are in the 1.33:1 format, with the image switching to widescreen for the racing. The widescreen footage for the race itself is a really outstanding idea, taking advantage of the European adoption of widescreen television broadcasts and giving us a more involving viewing experience. I'd just like to see the introductory material windowboxed so that we wouldn't have to manually switch television modes (perhaps after wondering why those cyclists are looking so squashed).
Colors are bright and natural, letting us see the riders' team jerseys in all their neon glory. The image is a bit soft, but it's good quality considering that it's live footage of an outdoor sporting event. Some edge enhancement is visible, but not too much.
The stereo sound for the DVD is satisfactory overall. There's a slight problem with the sound at the start of the DVD; the sound isn't quite synchronized with Liggett and Sherwen's lip movement. Once the outdoor footage rolls, though, the lip-synching gets back on track, and there are no other issues with the soundtrack. Overall, the sound is clear and clean, with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen sounding "on form.
On Disc 1, there's a brief featurette that offers a visit to the Ridley bicycle factory, which is a producer of bikes for many Belgian racers, including Tom Boonen. It's an interesting, though quite brief, piece (not quite two minutes). The rosters for all the teams are printed on the inside of the DVD cover insert, visible through the clear plastic of the case.
The 2006 Tour of Flanders is a solid example of an entertaining Spring Classic, and will be enjoyed by fans who've kept up with Flanders in the past. I found the footage could have used some more editing (I wish that WCP didn't have a blanket policy of giving us four hours of footage no matter what happens), but it's still a race that pro cycling fans will enjoy adding to their collection. Recommended.