There are a lot of videos out there about cycling so what makes “L’Ultimo Chilometro” worth having? Well, besides the great old videos that open the film showing races past, it is the work of a fan, someone who loves cycling, and its aim is to disprove its own opening when decrepit Italian journalist Gianna Mura, who has covered the Tour de France since 1967, opines from his startlingly paper-strewn desk that with riders being directed through earpieces pro “racing has lost its adventure.” Present at the Tour the year Tommy Simpson died on Mont Ventoux, Mura has clearly seen a lot of changes and bemoans that the racers are now hidden in their buses away from the fans until five minutes before the start and that Cadel Evans has no panache and there are no real champions anymore and, well, as I have learned old grumpy Germans like to say, “Früher war alles besser,” or “Back then everything was better.”
That is probably pretty much how Davide Rebellin must feel since everything really was better before for him. He is one of the featured players in the film, seeking meaning after his two year suspension for doping and loss of his silver Olympic road race medal. He talks about his love of racing, his desire to win and how, at 41, he still wants to prove himself although he has trouble finding a team and getting in enough race time.
As the film and the 2012 season progresses, he finds a team but not the form that made him one of the finest Classic riders, with triple wins at La Fleche Wallone and victories at Amstel Gold, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, San Sebastian and Zurich over his career. He is a man with doubts and is clearly unable to come to terms with his doping suspension and the inevitable winding-down of his career. He did go on to win a French stage race in Languedoc-Roussillon in 2012 but in the video he ages visibly, distressingly, over the season. After he steps off his bike after a disappointing second-place finish in one race, the veins in his temples look like they will rupture; he is terribly gaunt and shell-shocked. He feels he can be a good example for children. At one point in the film he says that because he had concentrated so much on cycling he had given up too many other things in life, making him “half a man.” On the massage table, he is so emaciated he looks more like a 16th of one.
The opposite persona is portrayed by Ignazio Moser, an up-and-coming U-23 racer who, for the most part, looks painfully serious as he tries to build his career. He goes through some tough education, with a team coach who is clearly not willing to sugar-coat his views. Ignazio is a big, strong good-looking kid and is clearly a fine sprinter. But in addition to all of the pressures that come to bear on a young pro racer, he has an addition burden: the reputation of his father.
Francesco Moser was also a big strong sprinter, strong enough to win the Giro once (and the Points Classification four times), along with the World Championship, Milan-San Remo, La Fleche Wallone, the Tour of Lombardy (twice) and Paris-Roubaix three times, as well as the World Hour Record on an aero bike. He is shown larger than life in “the Last Kilometer” at his vineyard, working a backhoe in a manly way or lounging on a bench, squinting handsomely into the sun, or enjoying a glass of his own vintage.
His son is adamant he is not racing because his father’s name gained him entry and that is probably true but at every race young Ignazio enters in the film the announcers always refer to Dad. Papa does not seem wildly supportive of his youngest son’s racing, pointing out that Ignazio is probably never going to be as good a racer as he was and, besides, he can always come work on the farm. Of course this makes us root all the more for Ignazio.
And he needs all the help he can get as he races the U-23 version of Paris-Roubaix. One is always amazed at just how awful a race this is, brutally hard and unforgiving. The young riders give it everything but it takes more than they can deliver, at least for this year. He loses contact at 107 kms into the race and struggles in with a dejected group. The scene where he leaves the famous stone showers at the Roubaix velodrome is a downer as you see the name on the plaque when he walks by.
But Ignazio is made of sterner stuff that his Papa would think and one of the sparkling moments of this film, which has a lot of really excellent footage, is when the younger Moser challenges in a sprint finish. His expression after the race is wonderful and shows that the adventure is not dead yet.
Of course, there is another person to whom the adventure is certainly not dead: the Ultimate Fan. This would be the colourful Dietrich “Didi” Senft, the trident-wielding Devil who has appeared in costume chasing racers at every Tour de France since 1993, and probably every other major cycling race as well. The filmmakers catch him at the Giro this year (he was unable to attend the Tour de France for the first time in 19 years due to surgery in 2012) and he is really marvellous.
A highly-imaginative artist, he is addicted to bike racing, which he describes as both the most inconsequential and the most important of all things. His eyes shine, he does his full clown act for the camera, he is completely “on.” Gianni Mura hates people who dress up at the races (“like Indians,” he sniffs) but Didi Senft is having a great time and, it is obvious, takes care not to interfere with the pros as they go by. He cheers on amateurs as well and is infectiously happy jumping up and down on the side of the road. In a lovely film sequence he paints a bicycle with a big heart below it on the road, working quietly but intently at night before retiring to his wildly-painted van.
The director, Paolo Casalis, lets these interesting individuals tell their stories without interference and we have some additional cast members, including Rebellin’s sympathetic girlfriend Francoise and his father (another perhaps not-so-easy Italian Papa) as well as Cadel Evans, the non-champion, at a BMC team presentation.
A lot of the video selected is very expressive and of the highest quality. In addition to the feature’s 52 minutes of running time, there are a few nice extras, including at lovely little snippet of film made at La Storica, an April-run vintage ride similar to L’Eroica but run in Liguria and tracing part of the historic Milan-San Remo route. A word of warning: in spite of this DVDs many undoubted virtues, the English subtitling is not one of them. Word usage can be downright weird (“unuseful”) or simply wrong. Viewers are better advised to learn Italian, which is better suited to bike racing anyway.
To reach the Red Kite, the Devil’s Flag, when there is only one kilometer left: that is when the race is decided. “L’Ultimo Chilometro” crosses the line in style.
The Last Kilometer/L’Ultimo Chilimetro
By Paolo Casalis, with music by Mario Poletti
A Stuffilm Creativeye Production, 2012
Running time: 52 minutes, in Italian (except for Cadel and Didi, of course) with English subtitles (except for Cadel, of course)
Order at www.thelastkilometer.com for 15.90 Euros (shipped worldwide)
When not wishing he had the World’s Largest Rideable Guitar, just like Didi Senft, Leslie Reissner may be found attempting to fare la bella figura at tindonkey.com.