Cycling's 'Drive to Survive' is coming to Netflix, but will it hit the mark?

As further details emerge, the series has the potential to do for cycling what it has already done for Formula 1

Connor Swift
(Image credit: Getty)

When Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton in the final lap of the final Grand Prix of the 2021 Formula 1 season to claim the title, the immediate thought that came to mind was how scintillating the view from behind the scenes and the unpacking of the subsequent fallout would be when the next series of Drive to Survive appeared on our televisions.

The Netflix show has undoubtedly been a boon for the sport, and while not quantifiable, broadcaster ESPN has seen their Formula 1 audience double since  2019, so could cycling be bracing for a similar boom?

While the makers of that show, Box to Box Films, are also the team behind this planned cycling series, there is no guarantee of similar success. However, the promise of expanding the sport to new audiences and the sounds of a medium-to-extremely-large cash register opening has piqued the interest of Tour de France organiser ASO enough to allow talks to proceed.

The current plan involves eight WorldTour teams, with filming set to centre around this summer's Tour de France and the series to air in May 2023. 

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VeloNews reports the eight teams currently involved in the project are Jumbo-Visma, EF Education EasyPost, Quick-Step AlphaVinyl, Groupama-FDJ, Ineos Grenadiers, Ag2r Citroën, Alpecin-Fenix and Movistar.

The reaction from those teams' bosses has so far been mixed. Quick-Step's Patrick Lefevere says he has verbally agreed for his organisation to participate but if the money he receives for it doesn't increase in the future then it might not be worth their time.

“I have now pledged verbally, but with moderate enthusiasm and with reservations. If the fee for the teams doesn't go up in the future, it won't be worth the squeeze. ASO first passes the cash register and then there is usually little left," Lefevere said in his Het Nieuwsblad column.

“As a team manager, I always hear the same thing: 'A documentary like this is good for the sport.' I'm the last to argue with that. Everyone knows what the Netflix series Drive to Survive has meant for Formula 1. Many people have discovered or rediscovered the sport."

This view is not shared by EF's Jonathan Vaughters, however, who told CyclingNews the deal was "pretty good" but also worries that cycling may be too nuanced of a sport for the filmmakers to create as much of a success as they have with Formula 1.

One glaring omission from the list of teams involved, and therefore riders, is UAE Team Emirates and Tadej Pogačar, who have won the last two editions, and the Slovenian appears on course at this early stage to have a very good chance of doing the triple this July.

However, when Drive to Survive was starting out, the focus was on the mid-tier teams as two of the big boys in Mercedes and Ferrari weren't involved; the battle for the Championship, won by Lewis Hamilton, was barely featured. Then, once the series proved to be popular, the teams changed their minds and got on board.

The success of the series, as Vaughters says, will largely hinge on the ability of the producers to convey the sport of cycling to a layman audience rather than how thrilling this summer's Tour is. With Movistar's Netflix documentary series, the show was a hit with fans who get to see the inside story on the gaffs that take place on Spain's haphazard team, while novices happening upon the show would likely have been nonplussed as sporting directors scrambled to pull  Hector Carretero's freezing cold clothing off of him mid-race by the side of the road.

"Cycling has a spectacular ability to score own goals," tweeted cycling journalist Andy McGrath, the incident of ASO temporarily banning Bas Tietema's Tour de France YouTube videos, which put cycling in spaces it doesn't usually exist, springs to mind.

Whatever the outcome, and whether the series actually gets made, we'll have to wait and see. Just remember us when you're Netflix famous, David Gaudu!

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