Chasing Legends review

Chasing Legends poster

For anyone who follows cycling the narrative arc of Chasing Legends would appear to be pretty simple: HTC-Columbia’s attempt to win the green jersey for Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France 2009. We know how it ends, but for those who want to avoid a particularly obvious spoiler, look away now

He fails to win the green jersey due to a controversial relegation.

Right you can look again now. According to the press release:

“The film is being released in the UK and Ireland for one night only, on October 21st , and will be accompanied by a live Q&A, beamed by satellite from London’s O2, featuring cycling star Mark Cavendish, commentator Phil Liggett and director Jason Berry.”

Given the Q&A, it’s probably worth making the effort to try and see it in cinemas rather than wait for the DVD version, unless you reckon the DVD will include it at a later date.

Clocking in at around the 90 minute mark, this documentary is the journey from Monaco to Paris seen largely from inside the HTC-Columbia camp.

So we are treated to the odd couple of Holm and Aldag bickering in the team car like a teutonic Statler and Waldorf. We get to see inside the pre-stage team meeting and the mechanics and soigneurs at work.

We also get plenty of Holm’s incredibly fluent swearing in English which shows a man at home with the vernacular. There’s also plenty of face time with the team in interviews so we can marvel at the curious accent Bernie Eisel has developed from spending too much time sat between Mick Rogers and Mark Cavendish on the team bus.

We also get some genuinely surprising insights into the inner workings of the Tour and parts of the race that rarely graces the television coverage.

We see what photographers sees courtesy of a camera mounted on the helmet of Tim De Waele as he snaps his way round France. It’s breathtaking to see the speed with which the race passes and how fleeting the moment is.

For cycling fans, seeing how the likes of Renshaw and Eisel endure the mountains is pretty inspiring. There’s a bleakness to their suffering and determination that is not often seen on screen elsewhere.

Perhaps the central figure in the film in George Hincapie, described as a “14x Tour de France Veteran”. He is at the centre of the action throughout, be it as rider protecting Cavendish or the victim of Garmin’s “spite” in chasing down the break to ensure he doesn’t take the yellow jersey.

This is probably the most fascinating section of the film as it explores where blame was apportioned at the time and how the fallout affected some of the longest friendships in the sport. Even among the HTC-Columbia team, not everyone seems to point the finger fully in the same direction.

Given the title I wonder whether the legend aspect should have focused more on Hincapie, the faithful lieutenant, or Jens Voigt, ever watchable in his interviews and in the vignette about his terrifying crash that stopped him reaching Paris.

For cycling fans it’s pretty obvious who the legends are: everyone who rides and finishes the Tour and those who support them. For those not invested in cycling to the same degree, the film is more open to interpretation.

The soundtrack is a little bombastic for my tastes and there are places where the action speaks for itself and doesn’t need dramatic scoring or voiceover to hold our attention.

A few sequences fall in awkward places and I did find myself wondering why George Hincapie was being interviewed in front of his Christmas tree for a documentary set in July.

Those niggles aside, Chasing Legends does a competent job of telling a story about the Tour de France 2009 without being simply a race recap or fanboy Tour diary.

It’s well worth seeing if you are a cycling fan or love spectacular footage of France. Certainly it benefits from being seen on a big screen where the spectacular nature of the event really thrives rather than on the small screen where you don’t really get the full value of the sweeping cinematography.

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