Review: 1982 Tour de France documentary

July 13, 2017 § 41 Comments

I just finished watching a documentary on the 1982 Tour de France called “Tour de Pharmacy.” It’s an HBO production that explores the issue of doping in one of the most controversial tours ever, the year in which an American, Slim Robinson, first wore the yellow jersey in Paris.

I dislike documentaries in general and cycling documentaries in particular, but this one did a pretty good job of pointing out the prevalence of doping in the sport before it was commonly known or acknowledged in the U.S. by general audiences. In addition to some fairly decent commentary by Lance Armstrong, there are a few interesting interviews with the head of USADA, who lists the banned substances commonly in use at the time. It’s a pretty amazing pharmacopia, and highlights how entrenched doping was even in 1982.

Tour de Pharmacy looks at the world’s biggest sporting event through the experiences of five riders, including one French rider who actually died during the race from a drug overdose. The transformation of an Austrian rider in a single year from pack fill to buffed-out “all rounder” who climbed faster than most sprinters closed the final 200m, was particularly impressive … and scary. Less interesting were some of the side stories, including a love interest, as well as the story of a rider who ultimately served jail time over a collision during the race that killed a sports commentator. These stories have merit in that they show how multifaceted the Tour is, but they detract from the focus of the narrative, which is about the normalization of drug use in the pro peloton more than fifteen years before Lance’s first Tour win in 1999.

As a cyclist you won’t help but notice the changes in equipment that have taken place in the last thirty-five years. Brake cables that come out of the hoods, downtube shifters, toe clips, and of course steel frames and no helmets dominate the visual effects. As the documentary shows, riders were more colorful then, used saltier language, and took things just a bit less seriously.

Tour de Pharmacy does an acceptable job of investigating how drugs operate beneath the surface to turn athletes into freaks, all for the vicarious pleasure of spectators and for profit. Another interesting aspect is the spotlight that the filmmakers shone on corruption at the UCI, and how collusion, fraud, and conspiracy at the top were what enabled such large-scale doping. Back in 1982, the UCI’s credibility was nil.

Sad to say, not much has changed.



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§ 41 Responses to Review: 1982 Tour de France documentary

  • Bruce says:

    Nice catfishing Seth!

  • velobob says:

    Tour de Pharmacy is a mockumentary that chronicles the prevalence of doping in the world of professional cycling. In a similar fashion to how “This is Spinal Tap” dealt with rock music and musicians, “Pharmacy” points out some of the ridiculousness of pro cycling in a funny and at times lewd, obscene and absurd film.

  • Dan says:

    Etiquette is a thing of the past. back in my junior days of the early 80s it was almost incumbent upon the older riders to teach the young punks with a heavy hand. back then it was OK to threaten children with violence. I learned about half wheeling from a crusty old cat 2 guy on my team and I believe his phrase was “if you half wheel me again I will put you on the ground and spank you with my silca matching frame pump. to this day I do not half wheel. Most people who started riding after Lance do not know what half wheeling is. FWIW I raced in the race before the junior race and most people in our community are salt of the earth people. Colorado racing is awesome and this kind of shit reflects poorly on all of us. you are always welcome to come ride with us. -DKB-

    • fsethd says:

      I think there’s a lot more etiquette in smaller group rides, where people know each other and lines of communication are more easily established. But yes, I too was taught about half wheeling the old fashioned way.

    • “…half wheel…” aka overlapping wheels.

      While in a paceline (or just an informal group of riders), your front wheel overlaps the rear wheel of rider in front of you. They swerve a little, perhaps just to avoid a piece of gravel, and you eat asphalt.

      Here’s an interesting set of rules. See #3.

      • Kevin B says:

        That’s not half wheeling – at least as I was taught. Half wheeling is when you’re riding side by side with someone and you keep moving your front wheel ahead of theirs and forcing them to speed up to stay level with you.

        • fsethd says:

          Yes, that’s half-wheeling. It’s not overlapping wheels. Half-wheeling happens when you and another rider are on the front or you’re riding two-by-two with another rider and no one else. Pretty soon you’re both doing thirty … no one’s happy!

      • Learn something every day!

  • Sibex Czar says:

    I see your ploy here. When you mock the mockumentary, you end up with the forest between the trees, and that is probably exactly how the 1982 tour went.

    Still it was an amusing movie.

  • flehnerz.uwyo says:

    91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Sounds like a dope movie to me!

  • dpcowboy54 says:

    Gasp! Does this mean your 7-Eleven heroes like Hayman and Phinney and Boyer could have possibly been juiced? My world is shattered.

    • fsethd says:

      Orange juiced. Please. People were pure back then. Pure as the West Virginia snow.

      • dpcowboy54 says:

        I will never forget the “aha” moment I had when a certain National Team roadie invited me into his room at the OTC in Colorado Springs (’78 I think) and we were going to listen to some music (Aerosmith I think) and he had this briefcase just jammed to the gills with bottles and pills, and syringes, and vials, and, well…at least I learned early….

  • Jeff says:

    Since when do you subscribe to cable tv? Someone supply you with an illegal copy of this mockumentary?
    Thanks for mocking the mockumentary though 😜

    • fsethd says:

      I signed up for a free month of HBO on my iPhone to watch it, then canceled to avoid having to pay my first month of $14.99. That’s several months’ worth of blog subscriptions, you know.

  • Jeff Dinkin says:

    Prior to this great film, I hadn’t realized the first American TdF winner was black. Forget Jackie Robinson!

  • Jeff says:

    I thought it was fake. But then some one told me that really was Lance.

  • Tyler Fradkin says:

    First time poster, long time reader. This is a great review for a great doc!!

  • dangerstu says:

    Sounds like it’s worth the cost of signing up for free and canceling just to learn the truth about cycling outside of the lilly white US of A.

    I think one positive, of Prance Dopes-a-lot coming out of the medicine closet, is we no longer have not had to listen to, the Bobke phrase “dirty doping Euro scum” over and over and over again.

  • Dogg says:

    It was pretty funny…now bring on Game of Thrones, YO!!

  • Joe Camacho says:

    The precision and accuracy is astonishing… This may become my go to film when friends ask “what is bike racing all about?”

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