'Fan photos have quadrupled' - has Netflix's Tour de France Unchained made riders more popular?

The show's stars have seen their profiles boosted by the new documentary

Fabio Jakobsen takes a selfie with a fan
(Image credit: Getty)

There was a feeling, or rather a hope, that increased interest in cycling would follow Netflix’s new Tour de France: Unchained documentary series.

Experts call it The Netflix Effect. Ask any F1 fan, and they will tell you how their sport surged in popularity after the release of Drive to Survive in 2019. Today, in fact, half of F1 fans in the US credit the series for their introduction to the sport. 

Could the same happen to cycling? A month has now passed since Unchained hit the streaming platform, and although we are yet to see a seismic shift, the show’s stars have noticed a profile boost. 

“When I came here to the Tour, normally at the airport I take one or two, maximum three, pictures with fans,” Soudal-Quick Step’s Fabio Jakobsen tells Cycling Weekly. “This time, it was 15 to 20. It has almost tripled, quadrupled, I would say.” 

Jakobsen’s story is a constant thread throughout the series. The narrative in episode one centres on his life-threatening crash at the 2020 Tour of Poland, which left him in a medically-induced coma. The series then tells of his victory on stage two of last year’s Tour de France, and the dramatic day he beat the time cut by 15 seconds

“I think it’s a good series on Netflix,” Jakobsen smiles. “I’m just me, I give my best, cycling is my sport. It’s nice that they’ve made a show like that.” 

A look at Google trends shows interest in Jakobsen soared when the series was released on 8 June. Search popularity of the Dutchman's name - both in the UK and France - went from 0 to 100, the lowest to the highest score available on the index. A second spike followed a few days later, as more viewers turned on the series. 

A graph showing a surge in Google search popularity for Fabio Jakobsen

Google search popularity for Fabio Jakobsen spiked to the highest value when the Netflix series came out. 

(Image credit: Google Analytics)

The same phenomenon happened to AG2R Citroën sports director Julien Jurdie, one of the unexpected stars of the series. In his native France, nobody had searched Jurdie's name for weeks, before the Netflix series landed and his popularity skyrocketed. 

“I had quite a lot of apprehensions about watching the documentary. When I got involved, I really wanted to show my values and those of the team, and be as fair as possible in doing so,” he tells Cycling Weekly. “We had camera crews following our every move for weeks, and I knew that it would all be distilled into just a few minutes.” 

Read more: What riders really thought of Netflix’s Tour de France: Unchained

Prior to the documentary, Jurdie was a relative unknown to cycling fans. But after his moving recount of his father’s death, and unveiling of his Tour-inspired tattoos, he’s now a fan favourite.

“Personally, the feedback I have received has been good, so that reassured me,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of messages that I wouldn’t have otherwise received. They’ve been quite touching and sincere.

“I’ll be honest, though, I live in Saint-Étienne, I walk around Saint-Étienne, and nobody recognises me. In the world of cycling, I’ve felt something. When I’m at Tour stages, some people now ask me for photos or shout my name. It’s really nice.” 

At this year’s race, Netflix camera crews once again embedded within teams, following the every move of the riders and staff. There will be some returning characters in season two, like Jakobsen and Jurdie, and some new, like Astana-Qazaqstan’s Mark Cavendish

At the end of the day, for those competing at the Tour, boosting their popularity is low on the agenda. But if there's a Netflix Effect to be had, its impact is certainly welcome.

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Tom Davidson
News and Features Writer

Tom joined Cycling Weekly as a news and features writer in the summer of 2022, having previously contributed as a freelancer. He is the host of The TT Podcast, which covers both the men's and women's pelotons and has featured a number of prominent British riders. 

An enthusiastic cyclist himself, Tom likes it most when the road goes uphill and actively seeks out double-figure gradients on his rides. 

He's also fluent in French and Spanish and holds a master's degree in International Journalism.