Tour de France: Unchained review - Tense and insightful must-see television

Netflix does it again with its behind-the-scenes Tour de France documentary, although Tadej Pogačar's absence is notable

The peloton at the Tour de France
(Image credit: Getty Images)
Cycling Weekly Verdict

It's a thrilling watch for both those who know cycling, and those who are new to the sport. It might prove too general for the committed fan, but there is something for everyone.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Exclusive access to the world's biggest bike race

  • +

    Really well explained, easy to follow

  • +

    Punchy episodes, does not go into too much detail

  • +

    New perspective given

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    There's no Tadej Pogačar and UAE Team Emirates

  • -

    If you already know everything about the Tour, there's a lot of explaining that grates

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There are a lot of superlatives at the start of Tour de France: Unchained. The Tour de France is "the biggest bike race in the world", it's a "massive circus", it's the "toughest", "it’s an event that touches everyone".

It is easy to worry at this point that the new Netflix documentary has built up the bike race too much. Sure, it doesn't get much bigger than the Tour, but how do you represent this in a way which is not overblown, or makes the race seem ridiculous?

Thankfully, Unchained presents the Tour in a way which is not overwhelming, for the lay fan, but also not patronising, for the committed cycling devotee. More or less, this is a documentary series, which appeals to both the casual Netflix browser, and also the people who have Eurosport on for every day of July.

Cycling is a niche sport, with protective fans, and so there must have been worries that a series that delves into the Tour in such depth for a new audience might alienate those already present. However, Unchained manages to bridge the gap between.

That said, in order to present the Tour in eight episodes, with access to just the teams they have, there is a lot of explanation to be done, along with whole sections of the race cut out. There is no space for Tadej Pogačar's jaw-dropping stage six sprint, for example. 

The setup is simple: a stage is introduced by talking heads, whether from one of the seven teams involved, or one of the three pundits, and then it unfolds on the screen. There are quick cuts from interviews, back to the race, over and over again. 

For some riders and staff members, there is footage from the months in the leadup to the Tour, whether that's Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) at his farm with his goats, or Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) with his son.

One glaring hole in the documentary though is the absence of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). UAE-Emirates were not one of the teams that allowed the cameras access. Therefore, the two-time Tour champion, and best cyclist in the world, is relegated to the side of the action. It would be better with the Slovenian in it.

No let up from the action

Yves Lampaert

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For someone who has already watched the 2022 Tour in full, it might seem a bit repetitive, but there is bonus behind-the-scenes access, and stories are told more deeply than previously.

The pace is kept high throughout, with no break from the action. There are crashes, the sense that this is a matter of life and death - which is basically said by Groupama-FDJ's Marc Madiot at one point - and the race keeps moving forward.

Bike racing can sometimes be boring, there are days in a 21-stage Grand Tour where nothing really happens, but in Unchained, boredom is not allowed. Every talking head stresses how important everything is, and it feels like every single moment counts.

Of course, every single moment in a bike race does count - it is what keeps us glued to our sport - but it feels misleading. If someone new to cycling watched the Netflix documentary and then tuned into the Tour de France, they could well be surprised an disappointed to witness the whole lot of nothing happening on a transition stage across Provence. 

The three pundits, Orla Chennaoui, Steve Chainel and David Millar, help explain moments without getting bogged down in technicalities. The peloton, slipstreaming, the role of domestiques and a leader, are all slickly and efficiently run through - the show must go on.

It is not all racing, however. There is time for human interest stories, with profiles of riders like Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal Quick-Step), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Thibaut Pinot.

One particularly touching moment is in episode three, when the programme follows AG2R Citroën directeur sportif Julien Jurdie, who speaks about his own experience of cycling and finding a family in the French team. Moments like this are as powerful as the crashes on the cobbled stage, or riders sprinting to victory.

Mission accomplished

This is not a boring, technical documentary about our favourite sport. It is a fast-paced, binge-able show, targeted at those new to cycling as well as returning fans. In that sense, I think it really works, bringing the excitement of the Tour de France to a whole new audience.

There are flaws, with the absence of Pogačar the biggest, and it appearing surface level at times. However, professional cycling is a confusing sport, and Unchained does an excellent job of breaking down the barriers to entry to show just how enthralling it is. 

Just one tip, watch it with subtitles rather than in English - that way you can really hear the emotion, and feel the passion. Roll on series two. 

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.