The Best Cycling Film Ever?

For vintage bike lovers, there are really only four contenders. This is for those yet to have the pleasure of watching these films.

The Top Four

The four contenders are:

A Sunday in Hell

A film of Paris-Roubaix 1976 directed by the Dane, Jørgen Leth, this is the most dramatic of the four, and the music of  Gunner Møller Pedersen adds intensity.

The drama is the duel between  Eddy Merckx (Molteni) and Roger de Vlaeminck (Brooklyn), but featuring the other prominent riders of the day, Francesco Moser (Sanson-Benotto), Hennie Kuiper (TI-Raleigh), Walter Godefroot (Ijsboerke), Freddy Maertens  (Flandria-Velda) and Raymond Poulidor (Gan-Mercier).  However, the race was won rather surprisingly by Marc Demeyer, team mate of  Maertens who crashed out of the race.

Watch it now

La Course en Tête

All about Eddy Merckx and released in 1974, this film contains some lovely training scenes of Merckx on his rollers and out on the road behind a moped, as well as loads of racing action.  Is it all about the man?  Well, yes, but the whole atmosphere of professional bike racing is beautifully captured, and Merckx’s ‘Pumpkin’-coloured bike also gets its share of close-up air time.

I will for ever be grateful to the film maker Joël Santoni for choosing David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London to provide the music, which is a joy from start to finish.

Watch it now

Stars and Water Carriers

The 1973 Giro d’Italia is the subject, with a famous duel between Merckx and the diminutive Spanish climber Fuente. All the Italian aces are also present, led by Felice Gimondi of course.  And Italy is beautiful.

Another film by Jørgen Leth, and therefore with Danish rider  Ole Ritter much in evidence, the English commentary is a bit stilted, but who cares!

Watch it now

(Leth also made “The Impossible Hour”, about Ole Ritter’s attempt on the hour record, and this is sometimes sold as a package with this film.)

The Greatest Show on Earth

All these films are marvelous, but for me this is the best one.

It depicts the dramatic duel between Merckx and Gimondi, in the 1974 Giro.  Merckx won by 12 seconds.  Fuente features prominently again and anyone who likes watching a gifted climber will love this.

This film is the best because of the sheer excitement it conveys through the brilliant camerawork, the breathtaking action, the stunning beauty of Italy and the soundtrack.

Watch it now

Other  films

There are loads of others worth watching but my favourites include:

Anquetil – The Man, The Mystery, The Legend

This covers his early career but also the drama of his great double win.

Watch it now

Pour un Maillot Jaune

The story of Felice Gimondi’s win in the 1965 Tour de France.  A bit of an ‘art’ film by the celebrated French film maker Claude Lelouch.

Watch it now


I notice that more and more interesting clips and entire films and TV programmes are being posted on YouTube.  Some are in French or Italian, but worth searching about a bit.

Here are two recommendations:

Poulidor premier Qualité HD 1080p

In French but great pictures of the great man and his beautiful pink Mercier.

Watch it now

Vive Le Tour (1962)

Featuring Bahamontes, Van Looy et al.

Watch it now

Many of these videos are available on DVD from Bromley Video.


About Tony Varey

Tony Varey took up cycling at school in the 1960s and became an avid follower of the sport. Struggling to understand the rapidfire RTL race commentaries on a transistor radio certainly helped his French! He then left it behind and followed a career in the oil business including time in Latin America and the Middle East before returning to cycling in his fifties. His enthusiasm has recently been invigorated by the rediscovery of the joys of riding vintage steel-framed bikes around the lanes of West Sussex.

2 thoughts on “The Best Cycling Film Ever?

  1. Sorry Tony but for me there is a huge omission – Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist. A sad, sad movie about Marco Pantani, the Pirate, winner of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in the same year! ’98 may be a bit modern for you ;-)

    You can watch it on YouTube here.

  2. Yes… he was a great rider, but I am biased. I left him out because he rode bikes with modern brake levers and indexed shifters.
    He didn’t turn professional til 1992.

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