It’s now common knowledge that pro cycling is far from a glamorous sport – revelations about doping scandals and the fall of the mighty Lance Armstrong have given rise to many documentaries on the topic, dispelling any illusions one might have had about what goes on behind the scenes. But seeing up close the physical battering such athletes put themselves through in the fictional drama The Racer still makes for a tough watch.
In director Kieron J Walsh’s film, viewers follow nearly 40-year-old Dom Chabel on his last cycling tour (a perfectly cast Louis Talpe). Throughout, he essentially starves himself – or throws up what he does eat – to maintain his slight, taut physique, hooks himself up to bags of blood pre-race and wakes up in the middle of the night with heart trouble.
Even when he is racing, his is the thankless task of helping his teammate clinch the winning yellow jersey as a domestique or support rider, never to cross the finish line first himself. Is it all worth it? This picture certainly leaves the audience seriously asking this question. But can Dom move on from the sport that his whole life and identity has been pinned to for the last couple of decades?
It’s a sweat-drenched, intimate look at what the reality of being a pro cyclist entails while also delving into issues of identity, toxic masculinity and how men cope with reaching a certain age.
Director Kieron J Walsh told us what inspired him to make a film about cyclists, his approach to making the feature and what he thinks people will take away from it.
We also spoke to actress Tara Lee about her role as the event doctor who becomes romantically involved with Dom, her Irish roots and what the movie has to say about toxic masculinity.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 22nd December 2020.
The Racer is in cinemas and digitally on demand from 18th December 2020.