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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: "Bicycle Dreams"

"Bicycle Dreams," Stephen Auerbach's documentary about the 2005 Race Across America, has been out for some time and has been reviewed by quite a few bloggers. It's my turn.

I've written frequently about RAAM over the years, mainly because RAAM passes through the St. Louis area almost every year. I've always wondered what goes through the heads of anyone who would attempt to bike across America in 8 to 12 days. "Bicycle Dreams" gives me a pretty good clue.

I'm old enough to remember the early days of RAAM in the 1980s and early 1990s, when ABC and NBC aired extended segments about RAAM on their sports anthology shows. Those segments made me aware of ultramarathon cycling giants such as Lon Haldeman, John Marino and Pete Penseyres.

The segments, normally aired weeks or months after the race, did a good job of giving viewers a taste of the race. Sadly, RAAM doesn't get the attention it once got from the networks, so "Bicycle Dreams" fills a major void.

Fortunately for us, "Bicycle Dreams" goes a step further than the networks were able to do.

Stephen and his crew worked around the clock to film RAAM. They had an advantage over the networks; they had 18 cameras in the field to give an more intimate look at RAAM.

While RAAM athletes have to be in incredible shape, "Bicycle Dreams" makes it clear that the mental battles are the biggest challenges they face over the course of the race. Even someone like Slovenian soldier Jure Robic -- a four-time winner of the race -- fights the effects of long days or riding with little sleep. For example, Robic speaks of seeing a dolphin's head in the road and speaks of forgetting what his wife and children look like. He even speaks of quitting the race -- something he wouldn't do until 2009.

Another competitor, Anna Catharina Berge, chews out her crew for allowing her to sleep for four hours, even though it was clear she was in desperate need of it.

While Robic gets his share of face time, the real centerpiece of "Bicycle Dreams" is Dr. Bob Breedlove, who died June 25, 2005, when he was struck head-on by a pickup truck near Trinidad, Colo., during the race. Bob lived in Des Moines, Iowa, attended Illinois State University, the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and the University of Missouri School of Medicine Orthopaedic Residency Program.

It's eerie to watch Bob on the roads, riding strong, commenting on his tactics to beat the heat of the Arizona desert, realizing that only days later, he would be dead. His death had a devastating impact on French rider Patrick Autissier, who did not finish the race.

Much of the photography is incredible, especially of the western part of the course. Other than sections of Kansas, the Midwest plays a lesser role in the movie. I recognized a lot of the Missouri River valley near Marthasville, Mo. The uprights of the Clark Bridge, a suspension bridge that crosses the Mississippi River at Alton, Ill., are clearly visible in one scene, although the film does not include images of the river or of cyclists crossing the bridge.

"Bicycle Dreams" has won awards at a wide range of film festivals, including the Fallbrook, Los Angeles Sports and Solstice festivals. It won for a reason: "Bicycle Dreams" both tells and shows the physical -- and mental -- exhaustion RAAM athletes endure.

As an independent filmmaker, Stephen Auerbach is relying on a grassroots campaign to spread the word about the race. You can purchase the film for $19.99 through the film's Web site, http://bicycledreamsmovie.com.

As a longtime follower of RAAM, I recommend "Bicycle Dreams."

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