Off Road to Athens
Cycling fans take note: finally a filmmaker recognizes that riders are more than just well-conditioned muscles that do cool things on two wheels during a grueling race. In the spring and early summer of 2004, director Jason Berry follows the top eight American mountain bikers—four guys, four woman—over eight races in seven countries as they accumulate points to earn the three spots (two men, one woman) on the American off-road Olympic team. Gone is the usual race-time spectacle—not that Berry doesn't include plenty of compelling footage of the races themselves, from the fan-crowded Houffalize in Belgium, to a difficult 105 km track in Bad Goisern, Austria. Instead, Off Road to Athens also nicely captures the behind-the-scenes life of World Cup competition and the fraught camaraderie that comes from traveling together and competing against each other—and the Kafkaesque way the United States Cycling Federation decided its Olympic team would be assembled and how it settles a dispute. Best of all, Off Road works even if you're not a mountain-biking enthusiast, offering an engaging peek into a little-covered sport and its athletes. If you are a rider, the ankle-deep mud caking a steep climb at the very start of one rain-soaked course will make your thighs ache just looking at it.