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Film Review: The Racer

18 Dec 2020

A rare cinematic appearance for the cycling world set against the infamous 1998 Tour de France

Cyclist Rating: 
Good cast, nice to feel included
Unrealistic race scenes, lack of Pantani and co

Cycling films don’t come along very often, and fictional cycling films don’t tend to come along at all, so The Racer is a real treat.

Set at the start of 1998 Tour de France, which featured Marco Pantani, Jan Ullrich, strikes and of course the Festina affair, it’s the prime time and location for a cycling drama. There was even drama in the first three stages in Ireland, the setting in which this race is based.

There was Chris Boardman crashing out of the race after two days in the yellow jersey; Pantani finishing 181st out of 189 in the prologue while his rivals bagged top tens; Festina soigneur Willy Voet getting arrested trying to cross the France-Belgium border three days before the start of the Tour with a load of performance-enhancing drugs he claimed were ‘for personal use’.

Alas, only one of these things happens in The Racer. So forget the riders, forget the teams, remember the doping.

The film centres around team Austrange’s veteran leadout man Dom Chabol (Louis Talpe), and his personal struggles in the role of a 39-year-old domestique with his contract finishing and the team focussing on its egotistical Italian team leader Tartare (Matteo Simoni).

Chabol’s ally in it all is soigneur Sonny (the legendary Ian Glen), a loud Scottish former pro who runs the team’s doping programme and helps add some good comedy value.

Austrange hasn’t offered Chabol a new contract and, with only a couple of days until the Grand Depart, the DS, Viking (Karel Roden, you might remember him from Mr Bean’s Holiday) cuts him from the Tour.

Among an identity crisis, a family crisis, an EPO-induced health crisis, a friend crisis, a team crisis, a race crisis and a romance with a young Irish doctor working for the UCI (Tara Lee), we follow Dom Chabol (short for Dominique not domestique) on a whirlwind few days far from the regimented spectacle we see at the Tour today.

There are hints of the real thing though, we get glimpses of brands including Mavic, Tacx, Fiat and very briefly Festina as well as an appearance from Didi the Devil on an Irish climb.

Talpe’s performance as Chabol is also worth noting. Apart from his bulging biceps you could chuck him in the peloton and quickly forget who the actor was. He’s got the look, the poise, the effortless language changes, the veins (a heavy fixture) and of course the tan lines.

The film’s portrayal of doping is admirable too, giving it a prominent and vital role without making it the main focus.

It also helps reveal the story’s real hero: Lionel Dardonne (Warm Kerremans), Austrange’s young rider who proclaims that he’d rather lose clean than win through doping.

If you’re looking for a realistic dramatisation of a bike race, The Racer can’t help you, however. From Chabol seemingly sitting on the front the entire race before smashing his leadout, to the tiny peloton and the lack of a breakaway, it's not the most accurate portrayal of real racing.

But that probably shows why there haven’t been many race-based dramas: ignoring the fact that you’d never get enough drama from the race itself for a fictional film, it’s not an easy thing to recreate. It’s not an easy thing to create in the first place.

Very little racing is actually relevant to the story, though, so if you can get past that or close your eyes during those scenes you’re left with an enjoyable watch and a viewing experience that, as cycling fans, we rarely get.

The Racer is available to stream on Amazon Prime now.

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