Paul Kimmage: Different look at the Tour has me typing a sentence I never expected to write
The sound of heavy breathing.
A woman and two men are rushing towards a parked car on a mountain road. The word ‘Doctor’ is inscribed on their shirts. The words ‘Medical Assistance’ are inscribed on the car. They jump hastily inside — the men in the front, the woman in the back. Her name is Elena. She is speaking Italian.
“The one that started off again did not seem too well,” she says. “And all in the same spot. A real mess.”
The driver accelerates. A police outrider joins them and flicks a siren. They are racing down the mountain at speed.
An internal radio is cackling with information. The second doctor, Massimo, has reached for the handset. “The only one put in the ambulance is an Orica rider with a broken collarbone,” he says. “All the others got up and carried on.”
“Thanks,” the controller replies. “What’s the number of the Orica rider?”
“I think 152. I’m not quite sure but I’ll let you know.”
Horns are blaring. They have almost reached the cavalcade and Elena is biting her lip. She looks tense. Anxious. They’ve been informed of another incident. “Shall I go?” the driver asks.
The screen fades to black and the first credit rolls:
“A film by Arunas Metalis.”
This is how Wonderful Losers: A Different World starts.
The second scene. A balding, unshaven man is squatting with a weight between his arms in a desolate country yard. It’s almost spring. The fields are dusted with snow. We see him power-jumping on some tyres, lifting heavy weights and climbing bare-footed across some rocks towards an icy mountain stream.
He removes his watch and sits bare-chested in the flow. He breathes in deeply and rubs his hands. And breathes in deeply and rubs his hands. A thin smile breaks across his face. He’s at one with his world. At peace. Content.
The third scene. The sharp, rhythmic beat of a heart monitor.
A man in a grey T-shirt is rocking back and forth on the edge of a hospital bed. His right arm and knee are covered in bandages. He finds a spot on the wall to stare at and tries to lift his left arm. It is broken. The camera is on his face now. He is lying back in the bed and reliving what happened.
“The other riders rode over me and it was . . . (pauses). The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, no. My Giro d’Italia is over.’ The second was, ‘Man, maybe I hurt my arm!’ Now, I laugh, but I didn’t back then. It was a strange thing. Because it happened so fast. It took me ages to get there, and only three-four seconds to lose it.
“When you go for a sprint, you’re not really aware of people as you’re going so fast. You hear, ‘Haaa . . . aaa . . . !’ There are sounds around you but you don’t understand much. I still remember one great moment. When I was so low on the ground that I couldn’t see anything, I closed my eyes in pain.
“I couldn’t see the crowds, so many people! But I remember one thing — when they pulled me onto the stretcher, there was an applause that lasted until I got into the ambulance. Then I really felt that the public was shocked by what had happened. And it was so emotional.
“I remember when I got up . . . a big round of applause! It was as if I had won but I was going to the ambulance.”
The fourth scene. We’re back with the doctors, speeding through a tunnel as they return to the peloton. Horns are blaring. Elena is still tense. One of the riders who got back up after the crash has pulled alongside. His thin lycra jersey has been mangled by the asphalt. His left arm and torso are covered in mud.
Massimo leans out of the window and instructs the rider to hold the car.
“It hurts,” the rider says.
“The right arm.”
“Under the shoulder.”
Massimo examines the wound and wipes it with a bandage. “It’s only a scrape,” he says. ‘Does your mouth hurt?”
“No, it (the shoulder) hurts inside. Do you have any painkillers?”
Massimo takes a Voltaren from Elena and pops it into the rider’s mouth.
“After the race we can have a look at it,” he says.
“My arm is really swollen,” the rider replies.
“It’s just a contusion,” Massimo says.
“I can move it only a bit,” the rider contests.
“No, if it was a fracture you couldn’t move it,” Massimo says. “Same with the shoulder — if the bone breaks, you can’t move it.”
The rider lets go of the car and returns to the race.
The fifth scene: Daniele Colli — his arm still unbroken, his dreams still intact — is moving through the peloton with some bottles for his team-mates. Ten minutes of Wonderful Losers have passed and the theme of this beautifully abstract portrait of life as a professional cyclist has been set.
I was in Portugal last Sunday, riding my bike with some friends, when it opened at the Lighthouse during the Dublin International Film Festival, but I have watched it with relish several times since. Shot over several years during the Tour of Italy by the gifted Lithuanian Arunas Metalis, this is not a usual tale of winners and losers, the dopers and the damned, but an aspect of the sport that is seldom written about, and rarely observed.
There’s a chance you won’t have heard of the main protagonists — Colli, Svein Tuft, Paolo Tiralongo and Jos van Emden. They are ‘gregarios’, ‘domestiques’, bit-part players who spend their careers in the shadow of the greats. And Metalis makes no attempt to explain them.
Tiralongo finished eighth in a Tour of Spain?
Tuft is Canadian?
Van Emden is 33?
Colli is from Lombardy?
Too much detail.
It’s what they do that makes them interesting. And what better way to observe them than through the eyes of three doctors following the Giro in a car. Matt White, a former team-mate of Lance Armstrong, is interviewed, but there is no mention of doping in the film. The only pills and vials on show are the supplies in the doctors’ satchels.
“The world I’m involved in, everyone is a bit crazy,” Tuft explains. “They’re trying so hard to be perfect and everything else and I just think . . . we’re not robots. We’re not machines. We’re just humans.”
And at the end you almost want to cry — it’s the bravery that gets you.
Five years have passed since I last covered the Tour, in 2013. The 100th edition of the race was the first since the fall of Lance Armstrong and brought the promise of a new beginning, but some of the performances would have made even Lance blush, and I resolved never to return.
Wonderful Losers has set me thinking about July:
The team time-trial at Cholet.
The cobbled stage to Roubaix.
The return to Alpe d’Huez.
The summit finish on the Col de Portet.
The time-trial to Espelette.
What if I went back?
Five words I never expected to write.
Sunday Indo Sport