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Film review: Mark Beaumont's Around The World in 80 Days

17 Feb 2021
Verdict:

Compelling account of Mark Beaumont’s 2017 record-breaking ride around the world

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Enthralling • Behind-the-scenes chronicle of the drama both on and off the bike
Against 
Supporters’ tweets appearing on screen felt intrusive

Mark Beaumont is less than 72 hours from completing his record-breaking round-the-world cycle ride when he projectile vomits mid-pedal stroke.

His performance manager Laura Penhaul, observing from the support vehicle behind, says: 'That’s the first time he’s done that on the whole trip and I’m just wondering why.'

Her tone is calm and measured with no trace of the incipient panic of someone about to see their meticulously-crafted plans shrivel up and fall by the wayside.

Penhaul has already had to deal with a lot during the previous 76 days of Beaumont’s record attempt. As well as feeding and massaging him after every four-hour stint of riding, she has monitored his vital signs with regular swab tests – 'If we see that his immunity profile is dropping off we tell everybody to be extra careful about their hygiene,' she explains.

She has also had to perform first aid and emergency dental surgery on Beaumont after he rode into a Russian pothole, and has had to keep an eye on his mental state as his mood fluctuates depending on his progress into relentless headwinds, through driving storms, across unmade roads or at bureaucratic border crossings.

Around the World in 80 Days, the two-part documentary about Beaumont’s epic feat of endurance and adventure, was released this week and is as gripping and dramatic as anything you’ll find on TV.

It’s less about a supremely-conditioned athlete pumping out big watts for 16 hours every day and more about the human drama revolving around him and his small support crew who are practically living on top of each other in two small motorhomes for two and a half months.

There is friction – are they going the right way, have they covered enough miles that day? – conflict – Beaumont tells his camera crew to 'Fuck off' at one point – and tears.

 

The opening shot sets the scene straight away as a bruised and dazed Beaumont slumps down in front of Penhaul after riding his bike into a pothole at night after just 10 days on the road. He can barely speak and eventually reaches out to Penhaul like a puppy wanting comfort – he buries his face in her shoulder and convulses in tears as the realisation of how close he came to losing his dream dawns upon him.

This is gripping, raw drama without any of the airbrushing that accompanies most modern sporting feats these days.
Beaumont, who has an international hedge fund for a sponsor rather than his local bike shop, can sometimes come across as polished and corporate – a consequence of earning part of his living from after-dinner speeches to bankers and financiers – but here we see his raw edges exposed.

He’s famous for being a record-breaking athlete but here we catch glimpses of his more human, vulnerable side. He can be sulky as well as heroic.

 

The grumpiness we can understand. Who wouldn’t be, having to get up at 3:30am every morning to spend 16 hours riding 240 miles into conditions ranging from incessant headwinds to raging storms?

But his strength of mind and body are truly remarkable. At one point while crossing the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, the support vehicle gets stuck in sand. Instead of leaving his team to deal with it while he concentrates on keeping on schedule, Beaumont returns to the scene and helps push the vehicle out.

 

Later in Australia, there’s an even more extraordinary scene after the support vehicle is involved in an accident with a car.
Later on, as he starts riding after another pre-dawn alarm call, Beaumont shares a touching detail that gives an insight into how the smallest of incentives can motivate even an elite athlete.

'This first shift is all about waking up, I’m so stiff. After four hours I get to have a power nap – eight to 10 minutes sleep, something that really sorts me out. It’s something I look forward to.'

Beaumont had full editorial control over the documentary so it’s easy to imagine him picking out only the bits that show him in 'superman' mode, but this isn’t the case. In other scenes, he comes across as irascible and careless, or just fed up and grumpy.

'How are you feeling with your perceived effort?' Penhaul shouts to him from the warmth of the motorhome as he battles through a vicious storm in New Zealand. His reply is withering and blunt:'“I don’t know how to answer that.'

Later on, he confesses to camera: 'When people I meet ask me how I’m feeling, it kind of irritates me. I don’t give a shit. It doesn’t matter how I feel. It doesn’t matter.'

His camera operators – Helmut Scherz and Johnny Swanepoel – have played a blinder. Not only do they capture the drama of the human interaction, they also reflect the changing environments the team passes through.

The drone footage of evolving landscapes – with tellingly few mountain ranges, thanks to the 'flat' route that was plotted by Beaumont’s right-hand man and mechanic, Alex Glasgow – is impressive, while the ground’s-eye views of Beaumont being close-passed by, variously, huge Russian lorries or galloping Alaskan bison, are unforgettable.

 

The only minor blemish on their work is the unnecessary intrusion of supporters’ tweets appearing on screen at regular intervals.
During the last leg from Lisbon to Paris – in which your correspondent makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo appearance after riding with Beaumont for several hours – the challenge starts to take its toll.

At one point, Beaumont collides with a crash barrier on a main road after becoming disorientated at night.

But Penhaul has a secret tactic for when he starts to feel sleepy on the bike: 'I give him his toothbrush so he can clean his teeth.'

As Beaumont approaches Paris with the record in sight, his mood brightens and he tells the camera: 'I plan to do nothing inspiring next month. I will just sleep for an inspiring length of time.'

Around The World in 80 Days (Parts I & II) is available now on the Global Cycling Network app and web player. The app is available at the special price of £19.99 for a year’s subscription until 28th February.

Price: 
£19.99 annual subscription to GCN (special price available until 28th February)

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