Auds anxious to know what it’s like to ride in the Tour de France without actually crossing the Pyrenees with a vicious Charlie horse should look no further than “Hell on Wheels,” an exhaustive but frequently uplifting record of the 2003 edition. Presence of world-beater Lance Armstrong, seen extensively in final 15 minutes, should help this 35mm spectacular achieve a rollout to a wider audience.
“Cycling is the only sport that ennobles its audience,” says French scholar Serge Laget, who helps put the then-century-old event in perspective, with help from some nifty old clips. Most of Pepe Danquart’s exciting docu, however, focuses on the German team captained by Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag, with emphasis on the grueling cross-country trek. Beautifully lensed pic is enlivened by a great variety of shots, from intense closeups to breathtaking aerial views. The crashes are pretty thrilling, too. At more than two hours, “Hell” runs a tad long. But then, so does the Tour de France.