'PRO THE MOVIE' Documentary gets up close with top cyclists

Pro is the new documentary from pro cyclist-turned-filmmaker Jamie Paolinetti.

It's the second cycling film conceived and directed by the veteran bike racer, and like Paolinetti's first film The Hard Road, it gives viewers an up-close look at pro bike racing through the eyes of the men (in this case) who race at the top level of the sport.

A little background: Paolinetti raced for 14 years in the United States and internationally against some of the biggest names in the sport. He retired at age 30 in 1994, after his fourth season racing for the Chevrolet/L.A. Sheriffs team. Bobby Julich, who features prominently in Pro, is a former teammate on the L.A. Sheriffs squad.

After retiring, Paolinetti studied filmmaking at UCLA, eventually setting up his own production company. In 1997, he un-retired to race for a few seasons with the Los Angeles-based Netzero team as a rider/coach.

Netzero's 2001 season was the subject of The Hard Road -- offering an unflinching look into the decidedly unglamorous lives of pro bike racers on the U.S. domestic circuit.

The new film, Pro, comes at the sport from another angle, going to the very top of the U.S. scene. The centerpiece of the film is the 2004 Wachovia U.S. Pro Championship race in downtown Philadelphia.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2004, the U.S. Pro Championship is the longest-running and richest single-day bike race in the United States, and the most prestigious race on U.S. soil. (The inaugural race in 1985 was won by Olympic speed skater/cyclist Eric Heiden.)

The brutal 156-mile circuit race challenges the fitness of even the top cyclists in the sport, and features 10 climbs up the notorious and grueling "Manayunk Wall." Although it draws an international field, the race is a showcase for top U.S. talent, as the first American across the line is crowned U.S. Pro Champion.

No doubt utilizing his extensive connections in U.S. bike racing, Paolinetti and director of photography Alec Boehm put the camera in the center of the action, focusing on riders as they nervously mill about before the race, gather for team chalk talks in hotel rooms, and ultimately battle it out on the road.

Unlike The Hard Road, which focused on the personalities and struggles of a relatively small team, Pro highlights a host of big-name riders familiar to anyone who follows U.S. bike racing: from defending U.S. Pro Champ Mark McCormack and powerhouse Chris Horner to Euro-pros Fred Rodriguez and Bobby Julich; from veterans like John Lieswyn and Jonas Carney to younger pros like U.S. Postal rider Mike Creed (who although he's 23 is deceptively seasoned, having raced as a pro since his teens).

The film's timeline follows the teams through the weeklong series of races culminating with the U.S. Pro Championships and also including the Wachovia Invitational in Lancaster, Pa., and the Wachovia Classic in Trenton, N.J.

Full of tons of pristine digitally shot bike-racing footage, Pro is also interspersed with many interviews and profiles of individual riders like Julich, Horner, Saunders and Aussie Henk Vogels, offering insights into what motivates and drives them to compete at the top level, as well as offering a primer on bike racing strategy and team tactics.

It's a detailed and engaging film, a must-see for any cycling fan. If Pro has a weakness, it may be a little too "pro" for viewers unfamiliar with bike racing's unique arcana or its pantheon of current stars.

Fans of the sport will recognize most everyone, but others may find it hard to keep track of who's who, since no riders are identified -- even in interview segments -- by on-screen titles.

Still, the film succeeds in allowing cycling fans to mingle with the sport's top athletes and vicariously pick their brains, while at the same time putting you in the best possible seat to see some hard-fought racing action.

Register online for local screenings of Pro:

  • Feb. 8: Boulder, CO

  • March 26: San Diego, CA

    For more information on Pro, local screening schedules, or to buy the DVD, visit www.prothemovie.com.

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