Season 2 of Tour de France Unchained reminds us why we love sport - TV Review

Netflix series released before the 2024 race begins

Wout Van Aert celebrates a stage win
Wout Van Aert celebrates a stage win (Pauline Ballet/A.S.O./Pauline Ballet)

Tour de France Unchained, Season 2


It’s a bit of cliche that the Tour de France is the most attritional sporting event in the world, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

The three-week event’s outsized dominance of the sport means that competitors simply have to make their mark.

Their whole season, and therefore income, depends on pleasing the sponsors and owners when the maximum number of eyeballs are on the sport.

And greater pressure brings higher speeds and more accidents.

It’s tough for the competitors but great for the viewer.

In individual sports, cycling is unique in its concentration on one event.

Tennis and golf have four majors each year, athletics and swimming have world championships, Olympics and continental championships. Boxing has five federations handing out belts.

Cycling has three ‘grand tours’ which includes Italy and Spain, plus five one day ‘monuments’ but none register outside of the limited cycling fanbase.

The Tour de France, however, ranks among the world’s major sporting events.

Screen time matters. Winning the race, wearing the yellow jersey, wearing one of the lesser jerseys and winning a stage are highly valued.

Even getting television time at the head of a race in a breakaway is important.

It’s the perfect petri dish for a Netflix sports documentary.

Tadej Pagacar
Tadej Pagacar (Pauline Ballet/A.S.O./Pauline Ballet)

And unlike some other sports, the big stars of cycling are keen to take part.

Series two of Tour de France Unchained, a vast improvement on the first series, has most of the main competitors.

Pending great Tadej Pogacar gives us plenty of insights, as does his main rival for the 2024 Tour, Jonas Vingegaard.

Netflix also signed up Belgian superstar Wout van Aert, French heroes Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphilippe, Australian contender Ben O’Connor, sprinters Jasper Philipsen and Mark Cavendish and British hope Tim Pidcock.

Not only is professional cycling attritional, it’s also highly dangerous. Crashes are commonplace and cause series injuries, but can also, tragically, be fatal.

The death of Gino Mader in a race shortly before the 2023 Tour de France is a central feature of the series and we see some riders as they are told the horrible news.

It coincides with the start to the Tour in the Basque Country. It’s an area known for treacherous narrow and hilly roads and combined with the pressure on the riders to perform on the biggest stage in cycling, accidents are feared

For Ecuadorian team leader Richard Carapaz a crash is fatal for his participation in the race.

He gets back on his bike to fight the pain to the finish of the stage before he finds out that he has a cracked kneecap and his race is over.

At the head of the race, Pogacar and Vingegaard fight each other on a different level.

Their teams play chess and take time off each other but ultimately the stronger man will win.

It’s about how deep into pain you can go, explains Ben O’Connor as he bemoans that he can’t get to the stage where he feels that he is destroying his muscles with the effort he’s putting on them.

Pello Lopez dedicates his stage win to his deceased friend Gino Mader
Pello Bilbao dedicates his stage win to his deceased friend Gino Mader (Pauline Ballet/A.S.O./Pauline Ballet)

Mercurial team manger Marc Madiot, one of the starts of the first series, is back with his passion, seeking attention and words of wisdom.

“You do the tour to find out who you are... and after three weeks you generally have the answer,” he declares.

It’s a bit dramatic, but also probably true.

Like all great events, the Tour reminds us why we love sport and that’s because it’s as close as we can get to meritocracy.

The best almost always win and when they don’t their failure at the crucial moment can be shocking and devastating.

Rory McIlroy would understand.