Focusing on a number of riders from the start line in San Diego, and watching their mentality across the journey, it’s an interesting documentation of the type of person who is motivated to take on the journey and how it affects them along the way both mentally and physically (one developing a life threatening blood clot en route).
To tell the truth, some of the people who express interest in the race at the start of the film are not likeable characters. Some appear arrogant and some are plain ridiculous in their commentary, but among them, of course, are empathetic and inspiring individuals, such as Patrick Autissier who from the outset combines determination and a sense of being humble. What starts to become clear early on is that for everyone there is a different nuance to their motivation, and all show a phenomenal amount of training and lifelong dedication to simply reach the point where they are ready to attempt the race, let alone complete it.
As Patrick poignantly points out, ‘you have to realize your dream before it’s too late. Life is so short, anything can happen,’ and as if the physical challenge, sleep deprivation, distance from family, terrain, weather and exhaustion were not enough, the team’s dedication to their cycling cause faces new challenges when family man and race veteran Bob Breedlove is killed. It is said he had a heart attack at the wheel and veered into oncoming traffic, but the film also states that there’s some speculation about whether the driver of the vehicle was at fault, but no convictions are made.
In truth what comes across is not just the determination of the riders and the physical pain that they put themselves through, but the ordeal that the families of the riders are put through as well, and in the end the film isn’t simply an idolatrous look at people who are pushing themselves to the extreme.
Breedlove – a surgeon, father and husband enters what is ultimately an extremely dangerous race in the knowledge that he took his family with him and they support him, and that gives an insight into his mindset to take it on as well as theirs to help him continue to strive for achievement. Meanwhile, another team member suffers from crippling pneumonia and has to drop out of the race; a fact that clearly crushes him.
The athletes acknowledge the impact of insecurity on the ability to achieve as well as other factors, and you get a curious insight into the outlook of people who have the mentality to put themselves through that much to prove something to themselves. It is clearly about more than winning a race.
As the film carries on, what started out as bulldozing arrogance mellows into a weary, respectful and philosophical outlook on life as well as challenge, and herein lies the heart of the film because this is where you learn more about the backgrounds of the people taking part in the challenge. All from very different careers, families, cultures and experiences, the drive is simply to push themselves.
‘People become afraid of ambition,’ one rider points out; ‘when you put your life on the line that’s when it begins.’ In the end it seems that the film is about much more than cycling, and equally that for many cycling is a lot more than just a sport.