World Cycling Productions Greg LeMond Four-Pack DVD
It might be hard to believe it now, but when Greg LeMond came on the scene, he could do everything well. He could ride the cobbled classics; he could ride the hilly classics. He could ride circuit races, and stage races. He sprinted well, climbed well, descended well, and time trialed well, and was always in the thick of things. He did it all with an easy smile and positive attitude. He had pals in the peloton; making friendships across team lines and nationalities. After the races were over, he'd talk with reporters for hours, in both English and French.
At least that's what we read. This LeMond of which we speak was one we never saw. In the early 1980s, Anglophone cycling news was much easier to come by than it had been since the 1920s. But it still meant LeMond's explosion on the European scene was something we mostly read about in short reports well after the fact. Broadcast television sports mainly centered on the big three and cable television didn't cover sports. The exception was CBS Sports' coverage of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour. LeMond was probably the reason CBS decided to cover the events, but since they had to educate an ignorant American public about cycling, they chose to turn the races into a oversimplified narrative with a heretofore unknown British announcer named Phil Liggett for the play-by-play and a TV reporter named John Tesh for the musical score. We didn't actually watch the races they way we do today. We were given a highlight reel set to music. As a result, we barely saw the LeMond we read about.
We've always wanted to see the LeMond we glimpsed on the printed page. His paper persona was one we admired and hoped to emulate. Through these many years, we've wondered what we'd think of LeMond if we got to see him race before the hunting accident and even then, what racing looked like before we could watch at least two hours of every Tour stage.
This is the hope we brought to the World Cycling Productions Greg LeMond Four Pack DVD set. True, it had only one pre-hunting accident disc, the 1986 Tour, but it had the 1989 Tour which we barely saw because of poor reception and the same of the 1990 Tour -- our antenna didn't handle the ABC signal well. And the set also has the 1989 World Championships, which we never saw.
Going in, we were most excited by the 1986 Tour. We wanted to see the day in Brittany when Hinault broke away on the flats, the day when Hinault escaped in the Pyrenees, the day when Hinault got greedy in the Pyrenees and LeMond won his first stage. Hinault's collapse on the road to the Col du Granon, and, of course, the stage to l'Alpe d'Huez, when Hinault broke away early, LeMond countered, and the two rode away over the Croix de Fer and cruised to victory atop the Alpe. The prospect of the 1989 Worlds was pretty great, too. A hard course, atrocious conditions, and an echappé royale that took off on the last lap and traded blows all the way to the finish line.
World Cycling Productions has long had these races amongst their offerings. The 1986 Tour was probably their first video. All these races had been offered as single-video packages before cycling was as popular as it is and the taste for watching racing developed. The video and sound were remastered for the package. Another plus is that they put in chapter breaks in all but the '89 Worlds, allowing the viewer to stop along the way without losing position.
For cycling historians and gear nuts, these DVDs are great viewing. In 1986, many teams are still wearing wool jerseys, less than half the riders seem to have clipless pedals, few wear sunglasses, and almost nobody dons a helmet. The bikes are almost all steel, index shifting is non-existent, and deep-dish wheels aren't even a dream. By 1990, the styles have changed, but the gear only seems to have changed slightly.
We should have realized going in that taking an entire Tour and compressing into a single DVD would not allow for the detail we've gotten used to. WCP sacrificed depth for breadth. While it was a disappointment upon first viewing, there are some upsides. We got to see every stage finish, something we never saw on television. And they put in a minimum of musical accompaniment; a little music video action but mostly Liggett and Paul Sherwen offering commentary. There are also a few interviews that give extra insight into the race. Robert Millar opines on the race in a few occasions and we see that even when it appears Hinault is dominating, LeMond is in a great position to capitalize on his own strength.
The '89 Tour is a classic in its own right and should be mandatory viewing for anyone interested in bike racing. The DVD is longer, too. 93 minutes, as opposed to the 55 of the 1986 Tour. The extra time is well-used. The big difference is there is more coverage of mountain stages. Not only do we see more of the race favorites, but we get a better picture of how the mountain stages develop. We see riders break away, fall off the pace, get back, struggle, regain their composure, and all the while are switching back to see of the kings of the road are racing. A great treat is seeing Pedro Delgado's domestique, Miguel Indurain, show his climbing form in the Pyrenees. Another is seeing the stage to Chambéry, where a recovering Greg LeMond wins the stage by outsprinting Fignon and Delgado. For the finale, the production doesn't oversell the LeMond victory. It doesn't need superlatives; you just need to see Fignon having trouble controlling his bike to know what a ride LeMond put in.
The '89 Worlds turned out to be the Fignon-LeMond grudge match. It was shown on ESPN back then, and the DVD is that broadcast sans commercials. The disc starts out with some color by interviewing LeMond and showing him training in the French Alps. We also get an appreciation of his great skill and amazing '89 Tour victory. When we get down to racing, the early parts of the race are shown, though we're largely treated to watch Thierry Claveyrolat climbing the main hill of the race with different members of his race-long break. The real racing is what happens on the last lap. And we get to see most of it. The finish is an edge of the saddle thrill ride where anyone seems capable of taking the jersey.
The '90 Tour was the end of an era, though nobody could have known it at the time. Luz-Ardiden stage winner Miguel Indurain would dominate the next five Tours, and all the Tour winners still active would never be as good again. Up and comers Miguel Indurain, Erik Breukink, Johan Bruyneel, Claudio Chiappucci, Dmitri Konyshev, Gianni Bugno are in the mix with LeMond, Steve Bauer, Pedro Delgado, Laurent Fignon, and Stephen Roche. With a few minor glitches, it seems like WCP finally has the right formula down for telling the Tour story. This Tour is one that seems like a sleeper. A four-man breakaway on Stage 1 takes 10 minutes on the peloton and provides three different race leaders. LeMond and the others have to snatch seconds here and there and are surprised by Chiappucci's strength.
Because they're stalking seconds and then minutes, the race lacks a certain element of excitement. The race favorites couldn't afford to go for stage wins because they were afraid that playing cagey wouldn't erase their deficits. Still, the l'Alpe d'Huez and Luz-Ardiden stages offer plenty of interest. And there is ample coverage of the day-long breakaways and sprint finishes. But, since we've been avid Tour readers, we have to admit there were two things we really wanted to see on this DVD and WCP didn't deliver. One was LeMond's attack and drive of the breakaway on the stage to St. Etienne where he, with Breukink, Chozas, Conti, and Hampsten crushed Chiappucci by putting five minutes on him in a mid-mountain stage and held off a chasing Bugno, Delgado, and Induarain. The second was LeMond's descent and chase on the stage to Pau where LeMond flatted out of the yellow jersey group, had no teammates, had to wait three minutes for a wheel, and Chiappucci decided to drive the group. LeMond's descent has been written about as beyond amazing; maybe the reason there wasn't coverage is that the motos couldn't keep up.
While we're in complaining mode, we also might as well mention the cover image on the box. It's a great shot of LeMond climbing in yellow, showing how marvelously low he could get on a bike. LeMond was probably more aero with his hands on the tops of his bars than most racers, including the very best, get on their drops. The only problem is the picture is from the 1991 Tour, which isn't in this set.
While we're critical of these DVDs, it's the kind of bashing that has to do with love. We loved watching these. We know we'll come back to them. The problem is they're not perfect. Because we weren't there, we can only long to experience that kind of perfection. The LeMond we read about will have to remain on paper and in our minds.