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

Greg Van Avermaet provided two of my favorite images from this year’s Tour — both while wearing the yellow jersey.

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.

Seeing the yellow jersey at the head of the race on the cobbles is so different than anything you typically see — and I loved it. It feels like one of those images where you're supposed to pick out what's wrong with it. Yellow jersey? Cobbles? What? Give me more. :-)

“But then, Van Avermaet made the day's big break,
and then rode out of his mind...”

I think the truly special exploit that Van Avermaet pulled off at this year's Tour happened one stage and two days later, in the Alps. The first day through the big mountains was supposed to be where Van Avermaet duly handed his jersey over to a real GC contender. There was no way he'd hold on to it. But then, Van Avermaet made the day's big break, and then rode out of his mind to not only hold on, but actually GAIN time by day's end.
I love the image as well. The sun had done a wonderful disappearing act in the moments leading up to the race's arrival at the top of the day's final climb, the Colombiere. As Van Avermaet began the descent to Le Grand Bornand, the sun shone almost as a spotlight — only on the yellow jersey. It was beautiful.

2. OLGA

Olga was the hero of our Tour. She single-handedly kept us afloat with a never-ending supply of love and amazing energy. Each morning, we'd wake up, stumble downstairs in a daze, and it was Olga who would hug both of us each morning, then sit and chat with us, filling us with her positivity and happiness and love, bringing us up from the depths and into the world, as if anew.

“Olga would feed her little cats,
as she called us...”

We'd make our way through the day, arrive back at the hotel after 11 p.m. completely used up, and there was Olga, again, there to give us a hug, a smile, a laugh. We'd go to bed tired, but happy. Whole again.

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.
We have a lot of people to thank for helping us through the Tour, but there is no one who comes close to Olga. Thank you, Olga. Thank you for the love, thank you for taking care of us, thank you for being you.

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.
inGamba Tours helped us put together that ride. We jokingly called it The Secret Handshake Ride, because when I started riding bikes, I remember how no one seemed to want to ride bikes with me, and I'd always hear talk of how the cool people (i.e. the fast people) were doing rides that no one else knew about — they were the SecretHandshake Rides.

“Sure, it's a gorgeous spot, but I would have shot
there if it weren't...”

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.
This spot has long stood as a special one for all of us, so when we saw that the Tour would climb the Col du Pré, cross the dam, and then climb the final part of the Cormet de Roselend, I knew there was only one spot to shoot that day, and it was mostly for sentimental reasons.

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,
there's not much left of us.”

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.

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.
And each year, while I'm standing up there, the Patrouille Acrobatique de France performs the traditional tricolor fly-over right over the top of the Arc and down the Champs. I love turning around, looking up, and waiting to see the jets go straight overhead, trailing the blue, white, and red in their wake. I feel like a little kid.

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.
In this case, I had noticed last year, how cool the Arc looked from behind the crowd that encircles the road around the Arc. I thought it looked so impressive — people spread 10-deep around the circumference, the beautiful Arc in the middle, and then the peloton rapidly making the circle between crowd and Arc.

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,
rather than took one.”

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.

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.
I don’t know if I will remember much of that stage in 10 years, let alone tomorrow, but I do know that I will remember this little shop, and the lady that made a sprinting, out-of-breath foreigner feel completely at home and welcome in her little shop in Brittany.

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.
This town, however, had something entirely different. I've never seen anything like it, and if it hadn't been for Ashley's hawk eyes, I never would have seen it at all.

“...we drove by, hit the brakes, parked, and ran
out to figure out how to take the shot.”

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.

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.
It was awesome. I wouldn't say this is the best picture in the world or anything, but it was memorable, fun, and a definite bright point in an otherwise pretty blah day. This is one of those shots I will always remember. I can't say the same for most of what we take during a Grand Tour — and that's something worth mentioning. :-)

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.
I love the constantly changing weather of the Pyrenees. I love how when we arrived at the top of the Col d'Aubisque, the final climb of Stage 19's monster stage, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

“At one point, the mountains in the
distance had disappeared entirely, and we
were almost in a white-out.”

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.

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 with 6500m of climbing. We arrived at the Cirque de Litour — the flattish connector between the Soulor and Aubisque built hard against the mountain's face — just a little bit before darkness fell. There wasn't a soul up there, save for our small band of tired faces, legs, bodies, and minds.

“The day was something like 220k
with 6500m of climbing”

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.
It was extraordinary — one of my favorite moments during that arduous, soul bolstering journey.

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 wasn't sure what it was going to be exactly, but I liked it, and it got me excited. I mean, when am I ever going to shoot inside of an old train again? I assume not soon.

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. :-)

11. SUNFLOWERS


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 sunflowers. I think they are absolutely intoxicatingly beautiful. To drive along the road for ages and not see anything of any interest or of any kind of remarkable color save for brownish and greenish for hours on end, and then to come across a field of sunflowers — is to stumble on an oasis of wonderful.

I love them. Ashley loves them. We love taking pictures of them.

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