‘They created a character’ - What riders really thought of Netflix's Tour de France: Unchained

There was a lot of tension in the series, but how real was it?

Jasper Philipsen cycles down a ramp at the Tour de France
(Image credit: Getty)

Netflix’s new Tour de France documentary series, Unchained, was released to high acclaim last month, after almost a year of anticipation. 

Around the world, cycling fans - both old and new - tuned in to watch exclusive footage from last year’s race, and catch a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.

There was tension, sorrow and drama in droves - all of which landed well with the public. But what did the riders themselves make of it? 

“I’ve seen two episodes,” Ineos Grenadiers rider Tom Pidcock told Cycling Weekly. “I think it’s ok. It’s a very difficult thing to get right, isn’t it? You have to appeal to the general public who don’t understand cycling and the people who do get cycling.”

The story of Pidcock’s victory on Alpe d’Huez is told in episode five of the series, together with his daredevil descent of the Col du Galibier. “I had to wait until I got home to watch it with my girlfriend, because I don’t like watching myself,” the Brit laughed. “I enjoyed it. It was exciting to watch, to be honest.” 

Other riders weren’t so pleased with how they were depicted. In episode six, the show introduces Alpecin Deceuninck’s Jasper Philipsen under the moniker ‘Jasper The Disaster’, painting him as a clumsy, forgetful character. 

“I didn’t really know what to think of it,” the Belgian told the press on the eve of the Grand Départ. “Of course, they created a character a little bit. But I think they did it nicely during the series, so it’s not that I’m against it.

“They always want to create some stories. It was a bit strange for me in the beginning that I was created like that, but it’s not that they made it a negative story or anything, so for me it’s ok.” 

Philipsen’s sports director Christoph Roodhoft was also surprised by the nickname. “For me, it does not exist,” he said. “The words were too strong that were used for him. It fits his name but it’s not that bad.”

Jonas Vingegaard and Wout Van Aert cycling in the rain in a group

(Image credit: Getty)

The storylines from inside Jumbo-Visma‘s team bus have also caused a stir. In the series, Wout van Aert’s stage win ambitions are shown to be in conflict with Jonas Vingegaard's bid for the maillot jaune, a narrative the Belgian said was “disturbing” and “focused on commotion”, in an interview with Sporza

His teammate Sepp Kuss agreed the tension was fabricated. “First and foremost, they get along really well with each other,” he said of last year’s green and yellow jersey winners. “When you make a show, you have to have a bit of drama. It’s like anything - in the press, or in a movie, or whatever. You have to create something.” 

On the whole, though, Kuss is enjoying the series, even though he doesn’t feature as much as his teammates. “It’s ok,” he smiled when asked if he was disappointed with his screen time. “I think it’s normal. you have to focus on the real star riders and yeah, I play an important role on a lot of days, but I’m not a big name, really. And that’s fine with me. In terms of the story, it’s good to focus on the real guys that animate the race.” 

Another rider shown little on screen is British national champion Fred Wright, whose Bahrain Victorious team was not filmed for the series. “I’ve watched the first few episodes. At the [Critérium du] Dauphiné, we were watching it playing ‘can we spot ourselves?’,” he said. “I spotted myself a couple of times. I was like, ‘Oh, there I am! There I am!’

Asked what impact he thinks the series might have, Wright said: “I think it’s great as a gateway for people who don’t know anything about cycling. I think I saw Neilson Powless say, and I kind of agree, that it’s good for people to see how much of a team sport it is. All the stuff that goes on around it - it’s not just the guys that win, or the guy in the yellow jersey, there are so many other stories.”

“Hopefully it has the same effect as Drive to Survive and gets more fans to the sport,” Wright continued, “because it’s a great sport, innit?”

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