With the annual Tour de France winding up this weekend, it seems like an opportune time to consider an inspiring moment from the most inspirational cycling movie ever made: Breaking Away.
Written by the late Steve Tesich, who earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, the movie was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Peter Yates), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Barbara Barrie), and Best Music (Patrick Williams). Breaking Away is notable for its great cast, especially Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, and Jackie Earle Haley, who portray the small circle of friends surrounding Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher). Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley play his supportive parents, while Robyn Douglass is the object of his affections. You can also see familiar faces like John Ashton, Hart Bochner, and P.J. Soles in smaller roles.
The story revolves around Dave, who lives in the small town of Bloomington, the home of Indiana University. Dave and his friends have graduated from high school, but are somewhat aimless. They can't afford to attend the university, but they can't ignore it either, and the off-handed arrogance of some of the wealthier college kids is a constant source of resentment. It feels like they're never be able to leave town, and will forever be known as "cutters," even though it was their parents (and older generations) who worked in the local limestone quarry, and not them. Still, they feel trapped.
Dave, however, is a bit different. He idolizes the Italian national cycling team, and even pretends to be Italian, much to the befuddlement of his parents. He might be written off as just an oddball, except when the kid straps himself to his bicycle, something happens.
In the scene embedded below, Dave has been training hard on his bike when he catches sight of a 18-wheeler bearing the Cinzano logo, the sponsors of the Italian cycling team. Until this moment, we hadn't realized the extent of his devotion to the sport, nor how fast he could go. The scene has no dialogue; it's all music and speed and furious pedaling, cut together marvelously by film editor Cynthia Scheider and directed superbly by the late, often great Peter Yates. Watching the scene will make you want to leap up off your couch and ride a bicycle -- or, at least, insert a cycling game into your video game console.