September 13, 2005 – The really wonderful thing about sport is that drama is inherent to competition. Anything can change in a split second and that change can drastically alter the direction of everything and everyone. Overcoming, a documentary about the professional Denmark-based CSC racing team’s attack of the 2004 Tour de France, shows us moment after moment of the unpredictable. Unconsciously you will slide forward in your theatre seat, believing it is the saddle of a bicycle. You are riding with Ivan Basso, Bobbie Julich, Jens Voigt, and other team greats. You are in the following vehicle with 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis, who is the team’s current sports director.
For cyclists in the Toronto area, and those who appreciate good filmmaking and real athletic talent, rush now to make sure you are at the Cumberland Four on Tuesday, September 13 at 9:00 p.m. or at the Paramount Three on Thursday, September 15 at 3:15 to see 108-minutes of excellence by Danish director Tomas Gislason. Everyone else: Contact the big Canadian film distributors and tell them to screen this fabulous flick.
Overcoming captures the magic of the bicycle and the magic that existed in the 2004 tour for this team. Gislason spent one and a half years with the team, filming their grueling winter training camp, the difficult task Riis faced of taking nine international individuals and shaping a team that is nearly unbeatable. But he also makes them human.
From the outside great athletes appear to lead a charmed life. How else, we imagine, could they reach such heights of excellence? Overcoming shows us the sorrow and heartbreak of human beings who also ride bicycles. Cancer visits the mother of one, injuries that spell the end of the race befall another, a third can no longer find the internal fire to fly necessary to race-all in fact, face dilemmas that test their will. But it is Bjarne Riis, sport director, yet mother and heart of the team that the film really centres on. He frets and fusses over each one of them.
Riis worries as he drives and communicates by radio, pushing the riders to really think; asking them to push beyond self-imposed limits. Gislason refers to him as a general and the cyclists as soldiers. But I see him as a far more caring person, wishing away any bad luck and obstacles for his cyclists that he may have experienced as a rider, and wanting all the unrealized victories and magic moments he never saw to be delivered to them. Gislason has captured a driven man.
My only quibble with the film is the presence of far too quickly cut scenes. Perhaps he did this for the American male market. For those of us who don’t care for music videos or “action” films, cameras that stay on a scene, especially the beautiful scenes of the tour de France are always a good thing. Still, there are many other scenes that play themselves out. We are not rushed through them and they are all, as Gislason says of Ivan Basso, quite beautiful.