A really good documentary can make you care about subjects you’re unfamiliar with or normally wouldn’t be interested in. What I know about cycling and the Tour de France would fit on the head of a pin, but for 98 minutes, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story recounted in The Last Rider. Director Alex Holmes (Maiden) nicely conveys why his subject’s experience was life-changing for him, as well as why it was important for the sport in general. This is a terrific tale of someone overcoming adversity.
That subject is Greg LeMond, who appears on-camera to provide perspective on his journey. We hear about some early struggles, notably being sexually abused as a teen. Cycling gave him back a sense of validation that the abuse robbed him of. As an adult, he quickly rose to the top of the field in his chosen sport. Successes followed, as did frustration, most notably being betrayed by friend/fellow competitor Bernard Hinault.
Then calamity struck. LeMond was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law during a hunting trip. He survived, barely, but had 35 shotgun pellets left inside his body. For a while, it seemed as though his days as a racer were over. LeMond didn’t quit, eventually making another stab at the Tour de France, which he’d already won once. This put him in a rivalry with Laurent Fignon, an arrogant French cyclist with no intention of losing.
The Last Rider does several things well. Utilizing archival footage, it’s an inspiring comeback tale, skillfully recounting how Greg LeMond re-emerged on the scene after a potentially career-ending injury. It also provides compelling insight into the world of professional cycling. Aside from LeMond’s personal recollections, fellow racer Perico Delgado is here to explain the obsessive mindset of racers. Stamina, endurance, and a bit of ego are essential to win. Finally, it’s a wonderful love story between LeMond and his wife Kathy, who is an additional interviewee. She stuck by his side throughout, offering consistent support.
If you don’t know any of this, the documentary is especially exciting, as unexpected events occur that change LeMond’s luck, for better and worse. His rivalry with Fignon is particularly tense. Deeper down is a look at how his entire family was impacted by the shooting and how his ability to return to cycling offered healing for everyone. That gives the film an emotional level that adds to its uplifting nature.
The Last Rider is packed with details about the interactions and strategies of Tour de France participants that help make Greg LeMond’s resurgence even more impressive. And it is impressive, as this gripping, entertaining movie reveals in crystal clear style.
out of four
The Last Rider is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.