The Racer review – Tour de France takes the tablets
In 1998, a doping scandal rocked the Tour de France when a team masseur was caught with a pharmacy of banned substances in the boot of his car before the first stage in Ireland. The incident is the inspiration for this solid, workmanlike Irish drama with a strong performance by Louis Talpe as Dom Chabol, a fictional Belgian cyclist looking down the barrel of retirement at 38; he just can’t imagine life beyond cycling. And like most of the peloton, he’s doping; everybody’s doing it.
Talpe looks every bit the pro cyclist, lean and light, not a pinch of fat on him. And he plays Chabol with a charisma-free dullness that’s convincing for a sportsman with tunnel vision, blocking out everything non bike-related. The details of life on the cycling circuit feel well-researched, too by director Kieron J Walsh, though his script, co-written with Ciaran Cassidy, goes heavy on exposition to explain the finer points of cycling. Chabol is a support rider, or domestique; it’s his job get the team’s flamboyant Italian leader Tartare (Matteo Simoni) over the finish line. So when Tartare takes a wee mid-race (staying on his bike) Chabol gives him a little push so that he won’t drop pace. Chabol is an unsung hero, sacrificing his own dreams of winning the yellow jersey for the greater good of the team.
Off the bike, the drama gets a little shaky. The night before the grand départ Chabol receives a call from his sister. Their dad has died, but it’s obvious he has no intention of quitting the tour to fly back for the funeral. Meanwhile, the cycling authorities are stepping up random drug testing. On the plus side, he meets a gorgeous young Irish doctor Lynn (Tara Lee) who takes him to the pub for a Guinness or five. What the film does very well is show how doping became so normalised. It’s as much a part of the team’s routine as a post-race rubdown.