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DVD Review: Road to Roubaix, December 23, 2008
Capturing the glory of April
Slogging through cold, wet mud and across brutally pounding cobbles doesn't sound like fun to most people but just the mention of it can bring a glimmer to the eye of cycling fans. Les Clarke plops down in front of the television with one of his new favourite DVDs that captures the beauty and spectacle that is Paris-Roubaix.
I love April. In Australia there's nothing particularly special about that month - winter's coming, the days are getting shorter. Therefore, when I tell people of my passion for this part of the calendar they give me a strange look. When I inform them why this is the case I can tell by their reaction whether they're into bikes or not.
If their eyes widen, they're fans of cycling, if they glaze over, I know that they're obviously not.
My eyes widened when I watched Road to Roubaix (Masterlink Films, 75mins) and I was enthralled right from the opening, stirring bars of the string-heavy soundtrack.
This is because Paris-Roubaix is the race that captures the imaginations of the cycling fans of northern France on the second weekend of April. And as such, those admirers of the sport who love their cycling uncompromising, tactical, physically exhausting and exciting must be advocates of the beauty of this hallowed event.
This same beauty is captured admirably by American filmmakers David Deal and Dave Cooper who blend captivating visuals with commentary from the likes of two-time winner Tom Boonen and his countryman Peter Van Petegem, former Tour de France director Jean-Marie LeBlanc, perennial contender George Hincapie and 1985 and '91 winner (now Française des Jeux directeur sportif) Marc Madiot.
Interspersed between these 'men at the coal face' there is opinion from those who have written about cycling, taken photos of it and otherwise documented it in its journey to becoming one of the most international sports in the world. Road to Roubaix uses this documentation to enrich the production, with archival footage combining well with vision of the present-day challenge of Paris-Roubaix.
It's stirring stuff, and becomes even more so as the film commences its climb to the climax: Stuart O'Grady's victory in the 2007 edition. And like the most successful sporting documentaries and feature films have done in the past, Road to Roubaix simply relies on the sights and voices of those involved to tell the tale. There is no cheesy narrator, no pretentious 'expert' and a distinct lack of cringe-worthy moments that normally manage to infiltrate sporting films.
There are moments reminiscent of Jørgen Leth's legendary 1977 production, A Sunday in Hell, plus others that evoke memories of the more recent Hell on Wheels (2004), an excellent production from German director Pepe Danquart. Cycling fans are likely to be well-acquainted with both of these - if not, they've become virtually compulsory viewing.
There are plenty of people who don't understand why we get excited about the month of April but this film could go a long way towards making our seemingly odd behaviour a little less perplexing. Road to Roubaix uses the right combination of cinematic techniques, score and insider knowledge whilst remaining accessible to those outside the sport to get them enthused about the world's most feared and famed one-day classic.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Masterlink Films
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Jeff Tse/www.jefftse.com/cycling