Jørgen Leth - A Sunday In Hell

Jorgen Leth - A Sunday In Hell main image

A Sunday in Hell (En Forårsdag i Helvede) is widely regarded as the greatest cycle racing movie of all time - and I can only concur. It is a brilliantly measured but captivatingly fascinating telling of the story of the 1976 Paris-Roubaix.

The race has everything that you could need in a 1970s movie - classic 1970s support cars like the Citroen DS23 and Peugeot 604, disruption by industrial action, bad hairstyles and scenes in a cafe with wallpaper to die for. The eventual race winner was Marc Demeyer, who did die, aged 31, from a heart attack which was, rightly or wrongly, considered by some to be the result of using performance enhancing drugs.

The star of the movie (if not of the race) is Eddy Merckx, who first appears, imperious, in a baby blue safari suit and shades that would make Victoria Beckham blush. Then he imperiously bosses his mechanic around while repeatedly fussing over the adjustment of his saddle. When the race gets going he puts in a relentlessly series of imperious turns at the front, before holding court in imperial style, giving interviews while naked in the shower. A true emperor.

The movie dates from a time when the undoubted derailleur of choice was the Campagnolo Super Record, and contains a number of shots of this classic gear. I believe that Freddy Maertens (and Marc Demeyer) rode the race using a heretical Shimano Crane - but a Crane is never in shot.

Someone has uploaded the opening sequence (in which Francesco Moser’s mechanic prepares his bike fiitted with a Campagnolo Super Record derailleur) onto YouTube. Try it for a feel of the movie’s measured pace and understated style.

  • Artist: written and directed by Jørgen Leth.
  • Producers/Labels: Jørgen Leth?
  • Themes: Film
  • Trivia related by brand: Campagnolo
  • Date: 1976
  • Derailleur brands: Campagnolo
  • Derailleurs: Campagnolo Super Record (1st style)
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