This year’s 109th edition of the Tour de France could see cycling’s biggest race become the subject of a behind-the-scenes Netflix documentary following some of the sport’s leading teams – including Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl, whose boss Patrick Lefevere believes the documentary could take the sport “to the next level,” although he also described the money on offer to teams initially as “peanuts.”
Telegraph.co.uk reported on Thursday that the streaming service is looking to provide fly-on-the-wall coverage of the three-week race in a similar way to the hugely successful Formula 1: Drive to Survive series it launched in 2019 – although F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has hinted that it may not continue beyond this season.
According to the newspaper, any Tour de France-focused series would be produced by Box to Box, the company behind Formula 1: Drive to Survive, and the Grand Tour’s owner, ASO, is said to view the idea as a “no-brainer.”
Some eight teams are reported to be in talks to participate in the series. Those are AG2R Citroën, Alpecin-Fenix, EF Education EasyPost, Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma, Movistar and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, Movistar, Alpecin-Fenix – the highest-profile absentee, of course, being UAE Team Emirates, whose Tadej Pogacar has won the past two editions of the race.
Behind-the-scenes videos have proved popular among fans in the past, including Team BikeExchange’s Backstage Pass series back when it raced as Orica-GreenEDGE, which comprised relatively short videos posted to YouTube throughout the season.
More recently, Movistar featured in a Netflix series following the Spanish team during 2019 and 2020, and Jumbo-Visma has partnered the Dutch TV channel NOS for fly-on-the-wall documentaries during the past two years and is also said to be in talks with Amazon Prime to feature in its All or Nothing series, which until now has focused mainly on NFL and soccer.
The potential of securing extra income through such a series is one of the main attractions to teams, although quite how much they would benefit financially is open to question, with ASO jealously guarding the huge sums it receives from broadcasters and shunning any approaches at sharing revenue, and according to Cycling News, €50,000 per team is the current offer.
But as the Telegraph points out, the main financial rewards for the teams would likely come further down the line if the success of Formula 1: Drive to Survive is anything to go by, through attracting new fans to the sport and thereby raising its profile and ultimately leading to a season-long format that would act as a showcase for other races including the Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a Espana and the Spring Classics.
QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team manager Patrick Lefevere has confirmed in his weekly column in Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad that his team will take part, with filming starting at its service course as early as this week.
“Other teams make different choices,” he wrote. “For example, UAE Team Emirates is not participating, and I understand why. Financially – certainly for the teams – it is peanuts. ASO first passes the cash register and then, as usual, there is little left. I have now pledged verbally, but with moderate enthusiasm and with reservations. If the fee for the teams doesn't go up in the future, it's not worth it.
“As a team manager I always hear the same thing: ‘A documentary like this is good for the sport’. I'm the last to argue with that. Everyone knows what the Netflix series Drive to Survive has meant for Formula 1.”
Lefevere acknowledged that behind the scenes access could have its pitfalls – such as his sports director Davide Bramati being filmed from inside the team car celebrating a Tony Martin stage win, then promptly getting suspended from the race for a day since ASO noticed in the footage the team posted to social media that he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
“If you want to know the pros and cons of ‘behind the scenes’, you already have the whole story there,” said Lefevere.
“I know how it goes with documentaries like this. Agreements are made in advance about who and what may be filmed, but it always comes down to the same thing: you shake hands and they want an arm. You can actually see that already: we commit to a project behind the scenes during the Tour and next week – mid-March – they will film in our service course. No idea what that has to do with the Tour.
“It is clear that as a sport we have to provide content that goes further than the summary of the race,” he continued.
“To use another marketing term, it must be storytelling. The story behind the performance, the person behind the athlete … If you remove all the friction, you're showing something that everyone knows isn't realistic anyway.
Ideally, the upcoming Netflix series takes the entire cycling world to the next level. And then I hope that the contribution to the teams will increase accordingly.
“If not, I'll make my own series again,” he added. “And it goes to the largest bidder on the market.”
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.