Tour de Pharmacy review: An enjoyable, ridiculous, yet uneasy satire of cycling's dark past

We review the latest HBO mockumentary, this time aimed at cycling: Tour de Pharmacy

When a HBO mockumentary is released lampooning a fictional 1982 drug-fuelled Tour de France (four days after the current world champion was disqualified from the current Tour), you can’t help but laugh in uneasy contemplation of both the timing, and whether it flies too closely to the burn.

Taking place during the ‘iconic’ (but sadly fictional) 82’ Tour where all but five riders were disqualified for doping and caught bribing UCI president Kevin Bacon, we follow a motley crew of actors alongside creators Andy Samberg and Murray Miller on their whirlwind Tour de Pharmacy.

Riding in at a brisk pace of 39 minutes, packed to the roof with star cameos and vulgar gags, this jaunt from the genius behind Popstar: Never Stop Never Popping is less a full-blown feature and more a handful of comedy skits dumped together with loose affinity.

Who knew that the theft of Mike Tyson’s bike in his younger years led to a career in boxing as “I was better at punching people than cycling, and when I caught that thief well…”; it’s unique quirky moments like this (and also humorous blatant lies throughout the mockumentary) that create a believable grounding for the fake 1982 Tour in the annals of cycling history.

Standout moments include Orlando Bloom getting punched for causing a huge peloton crash in an early stage, and its hard not to laugh at similar thoughts perhaps going through the mind of Geraint Thomas in previous stages of the 2017 Tour.

It’s only when WWE wrestler John Cena (playing Austrian cyclist Gustav Ditters) body slams a fellow naked cyclist that the fight calms and racing begins once again…

Tour de Pharmacy never holds a punch, as cyclists die from falling off cliffs with their genitals out, and ‘modern’ interviews interspersed for exposition feature outlandish cyclists such as Dolph Lundgren and Jeff Goldblum.

Our very own publication is parodied at one point as ‘Peloton Weekly’ asks if the Tour will be cancelled due to a lack of competitors, though overall the biggest cameo and jarring piece of satire goes to Big Tex himself.

“The last thing I need is to be seen on TV talking about doping again,” Lance Armstrong coyly jokes halfway through, in half-blacked out interview lighting that leaves little to the imagination about who the ‘mysterious drug informer’ actually is.

Is this documentary a stop on the redemption tour for Lance after his ultimate acceptance of his actions? Or does his role in the film feel nothing more than a cheap smirk at the years of harm, disrepute and discredit his actions caused the sport of cycling?

Satire often reflects the uncomfortable truth that we can’t voice ourselves, instead choosing to poke fun at something that could cause offence.

The irony of casting an actor from a background of pro wrestling - a ‘sport’ which features just as much finger pointing as cycling - is hardly lost.

The fact that Tour de Pharmacy was created shows the vast difference between public perception and our own ideas of pro cycling, and perhaps we’re a long way to go until being received as a clean sport by the man on the street.

Ultimately though my thoughts would be to watch this with your non-cycling friends, and reassure them that just like the film Borat, the antics in Tour de Pharmacy are hardly commonplace or reflective of real life.

In a mockumentary where only five cyclists compete at the slowest pace possible in the fictional 1982 Tour de France (as nobody wants to do all the drafting work at the front), you can’t help but chuckle at the obscenity of it all.

With the BBC commentator cycling alongside the riders performing ‘live on-bike’ interviews during the race, it raises the question whether Carlton Kirby and Sean Kelly should take a hint for the 2018 Tour de France and jump on the back of a moto alongside Greg Van Avermaet.

Andy Samberg in the Tour de Pharmacy (HBO)

Tour de Pharmacy is an outright bonkers mockumentary that is sure to strike a nerve with the hardiest of cycling fans, though raises both serious contemplative moments and serious smiles in the deconstruction of cycle sport. For the most part, it’s an overly enjoyable watch.

Ultimately, we end on Lance Armstrong proudly stating “put any year of the Tour under a microscope, and you’ll find some dirt”.

Whilst this obscenely ironic farewell is a bitter pill for the audience to swallow, uttered by the perpetrator who is the biggest reason for the global controversy that spawned this HBO work of satire, you can’t help but reflect on past decades of the Tour and consider that there’s a glimmer of truth in this closing moment.

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