It felt like a long wait for Unchained, with the series being filmed at last summer’s Tour, so when the series finally dropped on Netflix earlier this month, it was a rabid bunch of cycling fans who binged their way through it, just in time to watch season 2 in real time.

The timing was inspired in some ways, as the series will hopefully have reeled in a new set of fans who will be able to move from the dramatisation of last year’s race, directly into watching this year’s. While many of the storylines from 2022 were a given – the battle for the yellow jersey, the drama of the demise of Ben O’Connor, the incredible standalone classic that was Tom Pidcock descending and Thibaut Pinot well – just being Thibaut Pinot – the second season will be tricky in the sense that the show-runners need new material, whilst reminding newer fans of the main characters and key points that make the Tour de France what it is.

Working through the teams who participated in season 1, I will now attempt to piece together the possible narratives moving into season 2, so Netflix don’t have to. I also consider what might happen if the producers decide that the drama on the road just isn't quite cutting it, and decide to produce their own version of events... Let's visit the protagonists in alphabetical order.

The drama of Le Tour: won't somebody think of the wheels?

AG2R-CITROEN: The Fall and Rise of One Ben O'Connor

Last year’s narrative focused around the French team's first Aussie GC leader Ben O’Connor’s terrible luck. The Perth native suffered in several crashes and endured repeated mechanicals on the cobbles, and ended up with a hip injury that despite the best attempts of his DS Julien Jurdie to urge him to ride through the pain, forced him to retire after stage 9 of the race.

This year could very well be framed as redemption for Ben – he carries the exact same form, having come third at the Critérium du Dauphiné for the second year in a row – but on paper he’s in a far stronger position this year, with no cobbles, less time trialling and hopefully, better luck – because surely no-one can suffer that much ill fortune two years in a row?

PREDICTION: O’Connor will have a much more solid race this year. Unfortunately for Netflix, a solid GC performance, especially with the aim to finish ‘near the podium’ rather than to win outright, often leads to a quiet, potentially even anonymous role in the race, so assuming Ben does fare better this time around, they may have to look elsewhere to dig up headline stories.

NETFLIX VERSION: With both French teams sticking to GC ambitions there’s nothing for it but to lean into the French rivalry angle. With no love lost between David Gaudu and Benoît Cosnefroy at the recent French nationals the Netflix producers could probably amplify the tension here and manufacture a civil war narrative, with artfully edited shots of riders swearing, ostensibly at one another,

Failing that, just lean into the ‘King of Idiots’ (his words not mine), DS Julien Jurdie, who was more entertaining than most of the riders to be honest – a visit to a tattoo parlour en route to add some fresh ink would be fun, maybe an image to commemorate Bob Jungels' win in 2022, with footage of him chanting ‘1-0, to the Citroen’ all while thumbing his nose at Marc Madiot.

Mathieu van der Poel's spin-off series 'Dining Halls of the Tour de France' was sadly a flop

ALPECIN-DECEUNINCK: The Adventures of Jasper Disaster

In 2022, ominous Alpecin DS Christoph Roodhooft had reason to look like he was about to murder a pigeon. It wasn’t a brilliant first half of the Tour for the team as perhaps their biggest hope for a stage win on paper, Mathieu van der Poel, did not perform, tired from his outing at the Giro. Jasper ‘Disaster’ Philipsen was the team’s saviour, turning over disappointments on the earlier stages and turning around his inept reputation (as presented by Netflix) to raise his arms not once but twice, in Carcassonne and on the Champs Elysée.

This year is different. Both Van Der Poel and Philipsen are in scintillating form, with 11 wins between them so far this season. Moreover, they are winning together, not in spite of one another, so the show-runners are going to have a really hard time finding cracks to exploit in a partnership that clearly works just as well off the road as on it.

PREDICTION: This year Alpecin will be the stage-hunting kings, with both their headline riders in peak form. There’s potential for a buddy road trip vibe, with the pair potentially providing some comic relief, especially when presented as counterpoints to their ludicrously dour team managers. In a narrative laden with dramas, dangers and disappointments, ‘Jasper Disaster and Matje do France’ is what we all surely need and deserve, am I right?

NETFLIX VERSION: With little recourse to the in-team conflict narrative, given the friendship between Mathieu and Jasper, the story will focus on the inner demons of Christophe Roodhooft, revealing that like Jurdie, he too has a tattoo that reflects his career, except his is simply a list of his top ten results printed on his shin like a barcode.

While his team celebrate around him, Roodhooft simmers in the corner of the team bus as the days go past and his team rack up victories, before eventually boiling over and yelling ‘YOU’RE STILL A DISASTER!’ despite Philipsen having won three stages and ‘SECOND PLACE IN THE 2001 SLUITINGSPRIJS PUTTE-KAPELLEN STILL MEANS SOMETHING, GODDAMMIT!'

INEOS GRENADIERS: Tom and Ben's Tales of Yorkshire

The British team had Geraint Thomas dogging the heels of the two main protagonists at last year’s Tour, but it was the perfect day and daredevil descent of lone ranger Tom Pidcock that offered the Netflix producers the best story in terms of pulling power – it was a one-off, standalone story of superior skill, talent and daring, and one which they couldn’t have scripted if they’d tried.

This year it’s hard to predict where the storylines will come from with Ineos announcing a mixed bag of GC hopefuls and stage hunters, but there’s enough interest among the bunch to guarantee something show-worthy… they just might not recognise it until they see it.

PREDICTION: Having dealt with Fabio Jakobsen’s dramatic comeback in season 1, we know Netflix loves a comeback story. Egan Bernal’s miraculous recovery, from previously being a Tour de France winner, would be the perfect focus for the cameras, as Ineos don’t have the same GC focus as usual this year, but his story warrants sharing to a wider audience. Surely, it's a gimme?

NETFLIX VERSION: With Cavendish's bid for win number 35 not able to be part of the programme without Astana's participation, there's space for something British. Feeling isolated in a team that features five Spanish-speakers, cyclocross pals and team mates Tom Pidcock and Ben Turner bond over stories about their Yorkshire childhoods while drinking tea and then go out and pull some wheelies. A montage of shots of Steve Cummings looking mildly baffled and shaking his head.

EF EDUCATION-EASYPOST: Loose Cannons on Tour

EF were somewhat the loose cannons of the season 1, with nothing much driving their storyline outside of Jonathan Vaughters tackling the elephant in the room for the casual viewers by addressing the issue of doping head-on, and the catastrophe of Stefan Bissegger’s opening day time trial. There was a lot of emphasis on how they were apparently ‘desperate’ for success, but this year they’ve made a solid start and it’s a bit tricky to see what angle the producers might find.

With their line up still to be confirmed, characteristically late as usual, the team who were lively in the Giro will wish the cameras had been rolling in Italy, when Ben Healy became a one-man breakaway machine. With no Healy in France they will rely on the likes of the ever-reliable Magnus Cort to provide some entertainment, along with the feisty Alberto Bettiol and some GC hopes in the shape of Neilson Powless, Richard Carapaz and Rigoberto Uran. But it’s unclear not only how well they will go in France, but what they will add to season 2’s over-arching narrative.

PREDICTION: Despite the lack of obvious angles, there are plenty of characters in the team that the cameras could focus on. There’s none bigger in the team than Rigoberto Uran, such a huge superstar in his home country of Colombia that an 80-episode soap opera based on his life is beginning this year. It would be smart, and interesting for the largely Westernised Netflix audience, to see another side of cycling superstardom and take a look at Uran’s impact at home, and how big cycling really can be, in certain countries.

NETFLIX VERSION: After failing to drum up any enthusiasm over the racing side of things, they choose instead to focus on off-the-bike antics, dividing the coverage between Magnus Cort’s moustache styling tips and a montage of Alberto Bettiol in a variety of exuberant moods accompanied by loud music. Or failing that, a Vaughters v Armstrong cage fight.

Thibaut Pinot wrestles with his fame. Just let the man be at one with his goats, why don't you?

GROUPAMA-FDJ: De-Tour de France, with Thibaut Pinot

Having denied Netflix the potential in-fighting popcorn-fest of Gaudu v Démare with his questionable team selection for this year's Tour, Marc Madiot has a lot to answer for: both to the French public, should stage wins not be forthcoming, and to the fans, who had relished the opportunity to see the 10-time Grand Tour stage winner in action. They also owe an apology to Netflix, who are left with a repeat of last year’s team dynamics, and almost the exact same storylines on their hands.

PREDICTION: Netflix are going to struggle to dramatise this team this year unless Gaudu literally has a public meltdown about living in the shadow of Arnaud Démare (not ruling this out by any means). Instead, they may use the team for moments of light and darkness, building on the portrayal of Pinot as a romantic country-boy hero with the emphasis on it being his final season, and potentially using David Gaudu as the tragic figure following a Spring of poor form. With the added pressure of delivering success for France in a team that’s being built around GC hopes (with a side order of stage hunting for Thibaut), this is the likely through-line for the French team. Though with the recent crowning of all-round nice guy Valentin Madouas as French champion, a last-minute 'team saviour' side quest could be in order...

NETFLIX VERSION: Pinot takes Gaudu under his wing, protecting him from an uncertain future as the new great white hope of French cycling. They bow out of the race and go on a detour, filming an alternative Tour de France travelling through the farmland of the country and talking about cheese and wine. They return to Paris well-rested and mentally stable. Pinot gifts everyone on the team a baby goat. Some frolicking occurs.

JUMBO-VISMA: The Quiet American?

Of course, the protagonists of the 2022 Tour de France and subsequently of ‘Unchained’ were the Dutch team. While, as an insider familiar with the race and its characters, my concerns lay with the misleading representation of the team as in-fighting and turbulent, it’s likely those new to cycling were mainly left wondering why Wout van Aert spent half of his time in a green hulk skinsuit and the other half in a yellow one.

As defending champions and without the participation in the show of UAE Team Emirates, Jumbo-Visma are indisputably the main characters of this year’s Tour once again, just as they were in season 1.

While the show amplified and at times fabricated the inter-team conflict, which would have at least made more sense if it had focused on the Vingegaard/Roglič dynamic (though it still would have been fallacious), it also allowed for a blockbuster finale as the team came together to work for the win, a crescendo both in terms of the race itself and the on-screen drama, with Van Aert's tears after the final time trial sealing the 'samen winnen' deal, as all was apparently well again in camp yellow.

PREDICTION: With Wout van Aert openly critical of Netflix’s generous use of artistic license in his representation in season 1, and the fact that he may leave the Tour to be present for the birth of his second child, Netflix would be wise to focus their attention elsewhere in the team this year.

With a sole leader and a single goal, Jumbo are a less complicated beast in 2023 and not as ripe for drama, so it would be the perfect opportunity to portray the heroics of the domestiques at the Tour, and who better to represent the ultimate in selfless riding than mountain super-domestique Sepp Kuss. Despite van Aert’s heroics in 2023, Kuss will be a workhorse for Vingegaard this year, in his second Grand Tour of the year – the quiet American would make a worthy focus for the cameras, as they allow the casual viewer to really understand the sacrifices made by loyal helpers year in, year out.

NETFLIX VERSION: Despite the Jekyll and Hyde characterisation of Van Aert, there’s no doubt the cameras loved him. He will not be able to resist going on the offensive in the early part of the race – nor should he – so there will be ample opportunity for the producers to demonise – or lionise – him once again this year. And of course, with his long-time rival Mathieu van der Poel also in good form, it’s an absolutely bloody gift to the show-runners to have the two featured, together. So expect an early focus on 'ARCH RIVALS' and a resultant social media frenzy as the two are once again, erroneously, portrayed as sworn enemies. Because Big Bad Wout has to go postal on someone. You won't like him when he's angry.

Jonas Vingegaard looking sad: a key theme during the early part of Netflix Unchained season 1

SOUDAL-QUICKSTEP: That's Not My Tractor!

Lefevre’s Wolfpack were the other team to suffer from truth-bending editorial decision-making in season 1 of Unchained, with the team boss’s Jakobsen v Cavendish debate weirdly skewed into a Jakobsen v Alaphilippe debate which – let’s be honest – never really existed, as the Frenchman was still not fully recovered from his horror crash at Liège–Bastogne–Liège at the time of last year's selection.

Instead, they focused on the early win of Yves Lampaert and the return of Fabio Jakobsen (with far too much Tour of Poland crash action for anyone’s taste), and the episode featuring Fabio battling to make the time-cut made for brilliant television, giving a glimpse of what sprinters go through to make it to Paris, and exemplifying the hard-fought battle that brought Jakobsen to the Tour in the first place.

Nevertheless, the story was complete by the end of the season, so they will need something new to focus on in season 2, and it could be seen as inspired that they introduced Julian in season 1, foreshadowing this year's race which will almost certainly be all about him, where QuickStep are concerned.

With the early stages set up for a ding-dong battle between the feisty Frenchman and his punchy rivals, it would be an easy win for Netflix to follow the former World Champion and simply allow his natural charisma and character the screentime it deserves, regardless of the outcome.

PREDICTION: Plenty of piratical Loulou content, and if Netflix get lucky, an opening stage win and the first yellow jersey for the Frenchman. It could be a nice touch to include some of Alaphilippe's home life too, giving the public a chance to meet the powerhouse behind the Tour de France Femmes, Marion Rousse, in the process. If that doesn't yield enough content, then reintroducing the familiar character of Fabio Jakobsen and doing a deeper dive into the green jersey battle would work too.

NETFLIX VERSION: One of the producers gets wind of the fact that Tim Declercq's nickname is 'El Tractor' and takes things too literally. All of Patrick Lefevre's interviews take place on a combine harvester. He loses interest in his team halfway through the race and joins the farmers making Tour art in the fields, but he's thrown out when he goes rogue and carves a wolf into the wheat.

Meanwhile Tim quite literally tows Fabio over the Alps shouting 'I'm the real tractor!' But nobody notices as the French DS's are sword-fighting out of the windows of their team cars while in the gruppetto the cyclocross bros have started an impromptu synchronised wheelie display.

Everyone still makes the time cut.

Just a farmer's son from Belgium: Yves Lampaert at the 2022 Tour de France - ironically this year he'll be driven by Tim Declercq, and not the other way around


Of course, the Tour de France never goes according to the script, and even the best-laid plans are thrown out of the window when a random fan with a massive sign takes out half the peloton on stage 1, so Netflix will need to be opportunistic, and alert for potential storylines appearing from nowhere. And if none materialise, well… they could always engineer a few themselves... feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments!

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