The final sprint of “L’équipier”

Kieron J.Walsh takes us into the peloton of the 1998 Tour de France, with a rider at the end of his career.

L'Equipier (affiche)
L’Equipier (affiche)

“Without a bike, I’m nobody,” knows Dom Chabol (played by Belgian actor Louis Talpe) who is “The Racer” (released June 29) in Kieron J. Walsh’s film. Dom, 39 years old, is a professional cyclist, an experienced rider but at the end of his career, not even selected by the sport director to participate in the 1998 Tour de France, which starts in Dublin, Ireland. Finally, he joined the 164-rider peloton at the last minute, knowing that this was “the race of the last chance” for him.

Because the number 18 is only a team member, a “servant”, a water carrier who has a sense of sacrifice, whose job is to supply his leader, protect him from the wind, help him win, calm his nocturnal anxieties, attack if necessary, prepare the finish for the sprinter… but above all not to win, even if this “professional loser” dreams of it at night. As the race began, he learned of the death of his father, but there was no question of him leaving the Tour, of giving up before the final sprint of his long career. Even if his physical condition forces him to call on the services of a young doctor of the Tour, a blonde and pretty doctor (Tara Lee), who will indeed take care of him.

The practices of systematic doping

“L’équipier” takes place during the first Irish stages of the Tour and recreates the atmosphere of the Grand Boucle, both inside and outside the race. It takes us into the peloton, on the saddle of the riders whose efforts and pain we share. This fiction does not directly evoke the Festina scandal, which was to explode later during this same Tour 1998, leading to the exclusion of Richard Virenque’s team; but Kieron J. Walsh tells in a rather gloomy way the practices of cycling at that time, a systematic doping. With a cigarette in his mouth and a beer in his hand, a guru trainer (played by Iain Glen, seen in “Game of Thrones”) has a well-stocked medicine cabinet.

Loaded with EPO and other substances, Dom Chabol has to get up at night to pedal, and bring his heartbeat back to a normal rhythm. In the hotel rooms, he meets his teammates for a self-infusion of their own blood; and when a UCI control is announced, they will have to drink a lot to eliminate, in a desperate detox operation. For his first tour, a young cyclist discovers the practices of his own team, the idealist preferring to stay clean than to win doped. But “the team member” has long since overcome this moral issue, he is ready to do anything to regain his former legs, his pedal stroke, even if he has to sell his health to the devils to do one more Tour de piste.

Patrick TARDIT

“The Crewman”, a film by Kieron J. Walsh with Louis Talpe (released on June 29).

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