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Our Guide to Netflix's Tour de France: Unchained

Tour de France: Unchained is Netflix's new docuseries following the 2022 Tour de France. In this guide, I explain what you need to know before you watch, including the key riders and teams.

Our Guide to Netflix's Tour de France: Unchained

Written by:Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Guides

The key protagonists: Jonas Vingegaard (yellow) and Tadej Pogacar. Photo: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet 

The release of Netflix’s “Tour de France: Unchained” is nearly upon us. If you’re a bike racing nut like me, you’re prepared to binge this series in one sitting. If you are a Tour de France newbie and have no idea what to expect, then let me be your guide. I’ll explain what you need to know to follow this exciting new docuseries. 

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What is Tour de France: Unchained?

Tour de France Unchained guideRacing for the finish. Photo: ASO/Pauline BALLET

  • An 8-episode Netflix series documenting the 2022 Tour de France
  • Created by Quadbox and Box to Box Films, the makers of F1: Drive to Survive
  • Each episode will be around 45 minutes in length

If you've missed it in the last five years, F1: Drive to Survive has been one of the biggest docuseries hits Netflix has ever produced. It follows the racers and teams, giving viewers an inside look at the world of F1 racing. Tour de France: Unchained is essentially the road cycling version of Drive to Survive, and it’s even being produced by the same people.

During last year’s Tour de France, camera crews were embedded within several teams, capturing all the behind-the-scenes action. If Drive to Survive is any indication of how Tour de France: Unchained will be presented, we’re going to get A LOT of action and drama. 

So Tour de France: Unchained is reality TV?

Yes, it will be as much reality TV as it is documentary. If you want a more objective view of the race, stick with watching the extended highlights for each stage of last year’s Tour to see how all the action actually unfolded. Tour de France: Unchained isn’t going to go stage by stage. It’s going to focus more on characters and storytelling, and like all reality TV and documentaries, a lot of the story is going to be crafted in the edit.

Is that a bad thing? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. I’m all for it. As an F1 fan, I recognized when Drive to Survive manufactured conflict through editing, music, or voiceover to amp up the drama. But I also appreciated the unprecedented access it gave me to the teams and racers. There’s so much stuff you’d simply never see otherwise. And more than anything, it got me super hyped about the sport. I expect Tour de France: Unchained to achieve something similar. 

What Do You Need To Know To Watch Tour de France: Unchained?

The beauty of docuseries like these is that you need very little knowledge of the sport or its protagonists to enjoy it. Talking heads will provide plenty of exposition, walking viewers through the intricacies of the race, the riders, and everything in between.

There will be a basic explanation of what the Tour de France is, its history, and how it works, but if you want more detail, check out our Tour de France Explainer which covers the racing format and all the ways for riders to “win” (there are many).

Teams You Should Know

Jumbo Visma Tour de France UnchainedYou'll get to know Jumbo-Visma really well. Photo: A.S.O./Jonathan Biche

Camera crews were embedded with 7 of the 22 teams at last year’s Tour:

  • AG2R Citroën 
  • Alpecin-Deceuninck 
  • EF Education-EasyPost
  • Groupama-FDJ 
  • Ineos Grenadiers
  • Jumbo-Visma 
  • Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl

These are the top teams competing in the Tour. They have many of the best riders and drive much of the race drama. Each episode is likely to focus on one specific team and their story, and we’ll get interviews with the riders and team directors.

Jumbo-Visma and Ineo Grenadiers are the big-budget teams fighting for the overall Tour de France win with insanely strong teams made up of the world’s best riders.

AG2R and FDJ are hometown favorites. These smaller French teams lack the budget and star power of Jumbo and Ineos, but they will throw out a few haymakers, fight for stage wins, and win hearts along the way.

Quick-Step is another big-budget team that specializes more in winning individual stages than the overall, but they haven’t had as much success in recent years. Can they regain their former glory?

Alpecin is a relative small fry, a Continental team, but they also have Mathieu van der Poel, one of the biggest stars the sport has ever seen, and Jasper Philipsen, one of the peloton’s fastest up-and-coming sprinters. Can they bring the fight to the big teams?

EF Education is the American underdog. They wear pink and, in true American fashion, they tend to have a bit more attitude and personality. Can they fight for wins or are they all flash?

A very notable omission is UAE Team Emirates, the team of 2-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar. While won’t get behind-the-scenes action from Pogacar or his team, he’ll definitely still get plenty of screen time as the defending champion. 

Riders You Should Know

Thibaut Pinot Tour de France UnchainedThe great French hope, Thibaut Pinot. Photo: ASO/Pauline BALLET

  • Tadej Pogacar
  • Jonas Vingegaard
  • Primoz Roglic
  • Wout van Aert
  • Geraint Thomas
  • Tom Pidcock
  • Thibaut Pinot
  • Mathieu van der Poel
  • Jasper Philipsen
  • Fabio Jakobsen
  • Yves Lampaert
  • Neilson Powless

The protagonists fighting for the overall Tour de France win are Tadej Pogacar (UAE), Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo), and Primoz Roglic (Jumbo). Tadej is a phenom, a two-time winner, the defending champ, and likely the best rider of his generation. It’s a 2 vs. 1 situation with Primoz and Jonas fighting as co-leaders at Jumbo-Visma. Both have finished on the Tour podium and are hungry to take down their young rival. Geraint Thomas (Ineos) will be in the mix too. He’s also a former winner, and the oldest contender.

Expect plenty of focus on the three crossover superstars: Wout van Aert (Jumbo), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin), and Tom Pidcock (Ineos). They are currently three of the best riders in the world, and their intense rivalry has lasted over a decade, carrying over from their early days competing in cyclocross all the way to WorldTour road racing. 

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) is France’s great hope. France hasn’t won a Tour de France since 1985. It’s been a long drought, and though Pinot has shown great promise, he keeps falling short. Will his Tour end in redemption or more tears?

Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin) are super fast sprinters hunting for their first Tour stage wins. Jakobsen nearly died in a horrific crash a couple of years earlier. Philipsen has consistently been the bridesmaid. Can they get the monkeys off their backs and finally nab a dream victory?

Neilson Powless is one of the few Americans in the race, and he’s also riding for an American team (EF). America has had a rough time in the sport since he-who-shall-not-be-named (a.k.a. Lance Armstrong) went down. Powless is probably our best chance at modern Tour glory. Can he deliver? 

Team Directors You Should Know

Marc MadoitMadiot addressing the press. Photo: ASO/Pauline BALLET

  • Marc Madiot 
  • Patrick Lefevere
  • Jonathan Vaughters

The Tour de France isn’t just about the riders and teams, the team directors play a big role too. They pick the roster, plan strategies, and generally keep the team motivated and together. Madiot, Lefevere, and Vaughters are among the most outspoken, so I expect them to get a lot of screen time with talking heads. They’ll definitely be the source of a lot of drama, especially if they’re unhappy with how their team is performing.

Madiot runs FDJ, a French team, and carries a heavy burden on his shoulders due to the lack of French success over the years.

Lefevere runs Quick-Step and is known for stirring the pot with his media comments criticizing his own riders.

Vaughters rund EF and has been very outspoken in the past about making cycling a cleaner sport. Unsurprisingly, this has made him a polarizing figure. 

My Tour de France Cliché Cache

As I said, Tour de France: Unchained is reality TV. Producers like to amp up the drama, suck you into the story, and leave you hyped. The formula has already been applied to plenty of other sports — F1, tennis, golf, etc. — so cycling fans probably have a pretty good idea of the cycling clichés we might see and hear.

If you want, you could play a drinking game where you take a sip every time you catch a cliché. You might get very drunk though. Here’s my list:

  • Waxing poetic about the magic and spectacle of the Tour. Oh, the beauty.
  • Explaining how unique cycling is, e.g., fans can get up close with the athletes! Wow!
  • Describing the Tour as a “traveling circus.” Soooo many hyped fans. 
  • Comparing bike racing to combat or riders to soldiers/warriors. Badass...
  • Talking about the extreme amount of calories riders have to eat. So crazy.
  • Gratuitous crashing, maybe in montage form.
  • Gratuitous shots of riders suffering, maybe in montage form.
  • Explaining how cycling is actually a team sport: drafting and sacrificing results for your team, so selfless...
  • Small teams complaining, “We don’t have the budget of the big teams.”
  • Lamenting the fact that there has been no French winner since 1985.
  • Doping and/or Lance discussion. You know they have to.
  • A talking head saying it’s “A script not even Hollywood could write”... every damn time.
  • Plenty of shots of Team Directors cursing, celebrating, or screaming into their radios in the team car. How else do we know it matters?

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