This beautifully composed doc takes a rare look behind the scenes during the prestigious 2011 Tour de France, following top professional cycling team Leopard Trek and two of the world's best riders: Andy and Frank Schleck. An intimate cinematic portrait of the two brothers and a team under pressure, The Road Uphill documents the relationships, motivations and belief systems of the riders as they battle the physical, mental and emotional thresholds that they need to overcome to win world's greatest race.
"You have to hurt yourself. How far can you go before you collapse?" The camera lingers on Andy Schleck's expression; sweat dripping from his face as he pushes his body to the limit in preparation for the world's hardest race. Aside from enduring extreme pain and suffering, competing in races like the Tour de France also means dealing with huge risks. "We plunge downhill at up to 100 kilometres an hour on narrow roads covered in gravel, with walls either side." These dangers are brought into sharp relief when a few months before the tour, teammate Wouter Weylandt dies from his injuries while descending on the third stage of the Giro d'Italia. His tragic death rocks the team. "It made me doubt everything", Andy recalls.
Surviving the chaos and brutal crashes of the early stages, the peloton enters the mountains. The Schlecks fight their way through, but on stage sixteen they finally crack on the rain swept slopes of the Col de Manse. The next day Andy fights his way back into contention with a heroic ride - "a threshold race". After crossing the line, he sits, unable to speak, as the press hovers over him. "You can taste blood in your mouth. You can't eat or drink. You feel awful." On stage nineteen, on the infamous uphill switchbacks of the Alpe d'Huez, the previous day's efforts have clearly taken their toll.
Three and a half thousand kilometres into the tour, the race enters its final showdown at the time trial in Grenoble. The pressure on the brothers is immense as their lead hangs by a thread. Twenty five meters behind in the team car, manager Brian Nygaard shouts into Andy's radio: "Keep the concentration! Come on! Go, go, go!", but it's no use. Australian Cadel Evans puts one minute and thirty four seconds into the Schlecks, stealing victory. After finally finding each other, the brothers embrace amongst the maelstrom of photographers and reporters. It's a compelling moment; the emotion of what's been lost in the final stage is all too apparent.
Reflecting on the race, French journalist Philippe Brunel makes a sobering observation about Andy's decent of the Col de Manse. Although an insignificant part of the race, "on that downhill slope, he lost one precious minute. Had he had that minute against Evans in Grenoble, the outcome of the TDF could have been reversed." Later on, Andy is consoled by the fact that French cyclist "Poulidor came second 6 times. He never won the Tour. He's the most popular athlete in France. Of course I want to win it, but you don't always have to win. You can't always win."