Movie: Wired to Win

posterWired to Win features the best cycling footage I have ever seen. Shot with four cameras mounted on motorcycles, lifts, and helicopters, the IMAX footage is unparalled. From shots that put you right in the peloton to shots that soar over the French Alps and Pyrenees, you are overwhelmed with the awesomeness of the Tour de France. Despite all this footage, however, this is not a movie about the Tour de France or even cycling. The focus of the film is a series of 3-D educational clips about the function of the human brain and how it copes with sensory input and adversity.

The producers of the film were lucky because they choose the 2003 Tour de France, which was one of the most exciting in recent memory: the Stage 1 crash that hobbled riders like Tyler Hamilton and film-focus Jimmy Casper, Beloki's horrific crash on descent in Stage 9, Armstrong's musette crash in Stage 15, Hamilton's solo Stage 16 victory with broken collarbone, Ullrich's crash in the final Stage 19 time trial that clinched Armstrong's fifth consecutive victory, and Baden Cooke's nudging of Robbie McEwen for the sprint jersey on the final stage in Paris. There were plenty of stories with which the producers would choose to weave a narrative about how the brain deals with adversity in order to win.

The producers chose to focus on Francaise des Jeux riders Jimmy Casper and Baden Cooke. Immediately following the footage fo the Stage 1 crash, we get to see Jimmy Casper being stuck into an MRI machine to scan for brain injury -- a perfect segue into an 3-D model of the brain explaining how fMRIs can show us where different functions of our brain are located. Casper's story is later mined for a clip showing how the brain deals with pain as we see Casper struggle to stay in the Tour de France after his crash.

I had a little trouble with these 3D brain clips, especially ones that flew you through fields of neurons firing. Seen at an IMAX scale, the appearance of flying through the brain translated into an actual sensation of flying in my body. I had to close my eyes after several of these clips in order to keep my dinner down.

There is a tension in the film with respect to Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton was originally the focus of the film, but after his blood doping conviction the film was recut to focus on the Francaise des Jeux riders. There are still some shots that showcase Hamilton, but there is no narrator pointing out the bandages for the broken collarbone, there is no mention of Hamilton's name whatsoever. Given the focus on Jimmy Casper's injury in the exact same accident as Hamilton's and Casper's eventual abandon several stages later, it would have been a great narrative complement to Caspar's story in the film. Unfortunately, Hamilton's later conviction took what would have been a great story of battling adversity and muddied it with the red flag of doping.

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