Behind the Lens: Moments in time from The Tour
Jered Gruber, renowned cycling photographer takes us back in time to the 2018 Tour de France and shares each story behind some of his favorite shots.
Story and Photos by: Jered Gruber.
1. YELLOW GREG AT ROUBAIX/YELLOW GREG IN THE ALPS
The first came on Stage 9, the much-anticipated Roubaix stage. The Tour has done Roubaix stages in the past, but this year was WAY more than they had ever done. Instead of taking in a couple of sectors here and there, the Tour put together a route that approximately mirrored the final 80k of Paris-Roubaix. It was intense, and it was fantastic.
“But then, Van Avermaet made the day's big break,
“Olga would feed her little cats,
as she called us...”
As if that weren't enough, Olga fed us throughout the Tour. We would normally arrive to the team hotel well after dinner, so it was always Olga who would feed her little cats, as she called us, with the day's leftovers.
3. ROSELEND DAM
I rode across the Roselend Dam on one of my all-time favorite days on a bike a few years ago with a group of my friends on one of those ultra-rare occasions when it's somehow possible to bring most of our favorite people to an amazing place for a week of bike riding.
“Sure, it's a gorgeous spot, but I would have shot
I like to think that I don't do that as a grown-up uncool kid. I like to think that I extend the invitation to do cool rides as much as I can to as many people as I can, so it seemed only fitting to call that one time I invited only a few certain people to ride... the Secret Handshake Ride.
there if it weren't...”
Sure, it's a gorgeous spot, but I would have shot there if it weren't, just because it made me happy to relive one of those rare times when we were able to bring our friends from back home to play in the Alps.
4. FLYOVER IN PARIS
By the time the Tour de France hits Stage 21, there's not much left of us. We're a spent force, creativity has been left spread out along the race route over 20 stages, two rest days, and the pre-Tour extravaganza.
We're empty. But Paris manages to do the impossible — it never ceases to amaze, to open our eyes, to make us feel fresh again.
In my opinion, there are three race finishes in professional cycling that stand head and shoulders above all of the others: the Strade Bianche's finale in the heart of Siena, the Roubaix velodrome, and Paris.
“By the time the Tour de France hits Stage 21,
At the heart of the finish in Paris is the Arc de Triomphe. For the last couple of years, I've had the chance to shoot the race from the top of the Arc, and it's always one of my favorite parts of the Tour de France.
there's not much left of us.”
I love watching the racers far below from such a spectacular viewpoint. I love getting distracted by the skyline of Paris — Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the gold dome of Les Invalides — it's a wonderful spot to just stand.
5. ARC SHOT
It's rare that I have a shot in mind before I arrive to a spot to take a picture. Ok, that's not quite true, but it's rare that I have a real specific shot in mind.
I thought it would make for a sweet image — and one that I hadn't seen before (which at the Tour de France is something that begins to feel quite significant when it feels like every nice spot along the route gets at least adozen photographers).
“It's nice to feel like I made a shot,
The trouble with the shot though was that I'd need to be at least twice my height to make that shot work. So I got my monopod, extended all the legs to max length, attached the camera to it, reached as high as I could with my arm, straightened my back, got on my tippy toes, and tried to take a picture that wasn't completely sideways. I couldn't see anything but the crowd in front of me.
rather than took one.”
So, like the wheel tunnel shot (below), I wouldn't say this is the best shot I've ever taken, but I'm happy with myself for taking a picture that required a little more than just pointing and shooting on the final day of the Tour. It's nice to feel like I made a shot, rather than took one. I like that feeling.
6. THE SHOT FROM THE SHOP
I was happy when I took this picture. The lady with the flowing pants smiled a calm, warm smile. The place smelled of incense and candles. The door opened in that nice way. And the shot that I had been running to was kind of forgotten. I went in.
7. THE WHEEL TUNNEL
Some days at the Tour don't offer much — endless fields that are almost worth shooting, but not quite, pretty towns that are almost worth stopping for, but not quite.
“...we drove by, hit the brakes, parked, and ran
This town had gotten a large chunk of its population to bring a bike wheel to the race, attach a yellow balloon to it, and when the race came by, they all raised them at once, so that the riders went through a wheel tunnel of sorts.
out to figure out how to take the shot.”
This sounds like it should have been quite obvious to see, but before the race arrived, they weren't really doing much with the wheels, but Ashley picked out the wheels in the hands as we drove by, hit the brakes, parked, and ran out to figure out how to take the shot.
8. AUBISQUE BIG VIEW
I love the Pyrenees. I can't quite put a finger on exactly why I prefer them so much more than the Alps, but I think it might have something to do with one of the main features of this image: the clouds.
“At one point, the mountains in the
While Ashley and I sat on the grass, chatted, and enjoyed a completely un-Tour moment while sitting next to the route of the Tour, the clouds began to build and rise and tumble and turn. They came from low in the valley below, up to us, then moved away. And as the clouds boiled quietly, a couple dozen vultures soared, wings still, gliding along in smooth circles. It was beautiful to watch.
distance had disappeared entirely, and we
were almost in a white-out.”
A few hours later, the race came, and so did the clouds in earnest this time. At one point, the mountains in the distance had disappeared entirely, and we were almost in a white-out. There was just enough of a parting as the leaders passed to get the hint of the dramatic backdrop, and as the later riders arrived, the clouds gave a little more in the late afternoon sun.
9. AUBISQUE TUNNEL
A couple years ago, as part of a crazy ride back and forth across the Pyrenees called the Cent Cols Challenge —10 days, 2000k, and 50,000m of climbing — we rode a part of Stage 19's route. It was one of the biggest days either of us has ever done on a bike.
“The day was something like 220k
I didn't know about this beautiful section until it was upon us. I saw riders dip in and out of sight, flowing across the winding cliffside road, through a tiny tunnel cut out of the face, to a longer tunnel, wet, with the reflections of the silhouettes in front of me, moving toward the light.
with 6500m of climbing”
I have fond memories of that spot, and like the Roselend Dam above, I can be a sentimental photographer when we retread the steps of old. In this case, it was Ashley who took this picture. She walked the 7km from the top of the Aubisque back to the tunnels and took this beautiful shot.
10. THE TRAIN
A mentor of ours likes to say: honor the impulse. He says it in a way as to encourage us to follow our nose. I guess eyes, in this case. Don't think too much, but when you see something interesting, go after it, pursue it, and see if there's something more there.
Driving along the route of the Tour on a more or less forgettable flat stage can be all about patiently waiting. And then, when you're completely not in the mood to stop (inertia is a powerful force in this case), to actually stop when you see something interesting.
In this case, we saw an old train on the side of the road. We parked, walked around it a bit, smiled at some kids playing inside the hot metal box, and were generally happy with it.
“I nearly missed the race passing on the right.”But it wasn't until Ashley came and grabbed me and took me to the engine room that we got excited. Inside of that boiling hot room, with the ancient engine grumbling loudly and with all the smell that you'd expect, I saw a picture of some sort.
I waited and waited inside the engine room, pouring sweat, not wanting to move, because it was hard to get to this spot, and the race was coming — eventually. I couldn't hear anything, so when I got distracted for half a second by some fans off to the left, I nearly missed the race passing on the right.
Up until that moment, I didn't realize how much of my race awareness is based off of sound. When that goes away, and you're not looking directly at the road, it's amazing how easy it would be to miss the race.
Fortunately, I did not, and there's this image to show for it. Again, not earth shattering, but certainly something that I'll remember, and for me, that's a success.
I just want to remember some of the work we did each year. I know that most of it is completely disposable and forgettable, but I do take heart when I make a picture that at least I will remember down the road someday when I look back at this curious line of work that we've managed for ourselves. :-)
It almost feels like there's a certain amount of shame in taking pictures of sunflowers among photographers. Cliché is a word often used to describe sunflower pictures.
“FINISH LINES SHOTS ARE BORING.”I don't get it.
Finish line shots are boring. Shots of the peloton just riding across France are boring. Shots of sign-in are mind-numbingly boring. How can sunflower shots be criticized? In what galaxy is it possible to look at a sunflower shot with disdain? They're so happy!
I love them. Ashley loves them. We love taking pictures of them.