Behind The Lense With the Grubers
BEHIND THE LENS: MOMENTS IN TIME FROM THE TOUR 2019
Go behind-the-scenes with Jered and Ashley Gruber, renowned cycling photographers, and read their stories for unique insight on what took place while documenting this year's epic Tour de France.
Story and Photos by: Jered & Ashley Gruber.
1. THIBAUT'S TOURMALET WIN
I think my favorite shot of this year’s Tour is an Ashley shot. In fact, I think it’s one of the best finish line shots we’ve ever taken, maybe the best?
I love it. It has everything one could ever want in a finish line photo—monster backdrop, ecstatic fans, a perfectly placed helicopter, a triumphant national hero. Everything about it just makes me happy, all the way down to Thibaut Pinot’s shadow on the ground. It’s sublime.
I’m so happy Ashley made the bold move to go to a different spot—something that was extremely difficult to do on that day, because French President, Emmanuel Macron, was at the finish, which made doing pretty much anything difficult.
2. TOURMALET VIEW
About three racing minutes down from Ashley on the Tourmalet, I watched a beautiful, valley-enveloping wave-of-a-cloud hurtle towards the finish line atop the Tourmalet. I was blown away at what seemed like a time-lapse video, but in real-time.
“I WAS BLOWN AWAY AT WHAT SEEMED LIKE A TIME-LAPSE VIDEO”
I walked up a little bit above the huge, joyous crowd and took the simplest of shots—wide, with the mountains in the background, the sea of cloud nearly upon us, the race happening in the middle of all of it. I wouldn’t say this is anywhere near the shot that Ashley took, but I still love it. It was the best of The Tour mountains this year. That finish on the Tourmalet was perfect—beautiful, difficult, iconic—and packed with great fans.
One of my favorite moments of The Tour was missing maybe the most important moment of The Tour. Of course, I’m referring to the day the Tour went over the Col de l’Iseran en route to an uphill finish to the ski resort at Tignes in Stage 19.
I was standing on top of the Iseran. I couldn’t decide what to do. Shoot the top of the Iseran, or shoot the finish? I decided to shoot the finish. I didn’t necessarily want to do that, but I felt it was the right thing to do.
The race was happening, The Tour was happening, and I wanted to shoot it on the final climb in the pouring rain. So, I left.
I drove off the Iseran committed to my plan, but I couldn’t help stopping over and over again on the way down. The road was beautiful. I felt compelled to take pictures.
“…MY WELL-THOUGHT-OUT DECISION SUDDENLY TURNED TO A VIOLENT WHITE BLANKET OF ICE BALLS.”
Turns out, that’s all I had to show for the day. I drove into the storm, and my well-thought-out decision suddenly turned to a violent white blanket of ice balls. All I can do is shrug. I wouldn’t change a thing. Somehow, that was one of my favorite moments of the Tour.
I loved The Tour’s Grand Depart in Brussels. The first stage made me feel like we had gone back a few months in the season, back to April and the Tour of Flanders.
The Tour’s visit to the Muur van Geraardsbergen in July was a perfect first day event. Nothing really happened in terms of the race here, but the fans packed along that narrow stretch of curvy cobbles were perfect.
I’ve always wanted to shoot in this spot down below the iconic angle, but it never really seemed to work out until this moment. I’m so happy I finally got to shoot there, because it gave me such a special view of one of the sport’s most iconic stadiums.
I often complain about individual time trials. For most everyone, save the GC contenders and the stage hopefuls, ITTs are a whatever day—make it to the end, don’t miss the time cut, just get through it.
“IT’S A TENSE, DIFFICULT DAY FOR EVERYONE”
Team Time Trials, however, are packed with suspense. It’s a tense, difficult day for everyone—the riders and staff alike. Everyone is firing on all cylinders. It’s not always the most fun day to be around, but it’s one of those rare occasions when everyone is required to be at 100%.
And for the pictures … I find them beautiful. The speed, the formation, the effort, the setting. In this case, the setting was Brussels, and the urban part of Brussels that the TTT flew through (average speeds were close to 60 kilometers per hour that day!) was a lot of fun to shoot in.
I wasn’t sure of it at the time but looking back I think we made some nice images that day, and this one in particular still stands out to me.
I love huge Gothic cathedrals. I spent most of a semester back in college learning about the cathedral in Reims. It was the same year I started riding bikes. For some reason, that class has stuck with me, and whenever I see the names Amiens, Chartres, and Reims I get a little excited.
I’ve been close to Reims Cathedral before because of the Tour, but I’ve never really had the chance to experience it. I didn’t get much of a chance that day either. We arrived with about one minute to spare.
There was no room to shoot. The best I could do was stretch to my absolute tallest, raise my arms to their absolute longest, and do my best to get the field in focus and reasonably composed. It wasn’t an enjoyable image to make, but even in that moment, I was still so happy to be there.
I can’t wait for the day when I actually get to go inside.
7. THE PURPLE BUILDING
I’ve probably said this before, but it’s so easy to just aim at the bike race and take pictures. It’s something I have to fight, fight, fight—always. It’s like a rip tide—everything pulls you inexorably toward a very simple, safe shot.
It works. A nice shot with the riders all lined up through town or the countryside is lovely, it’s never bad, but it never seems to last when I look back later. It’s nice for that moment, but then it’s forgotten, like an ok donut.
“IT’S NICE FOR THAT MOMENT, BUT THEN IT’S FORGOTTEN, LIKE AN OK DONUT.”
The best I can hope for, even when it ends in failure, is an attempt to MAKE a picture. I’ve been trying since we started The Tour, but this is the one where I really felt like I got it right.
It’s not the best picture in the world by any means, but it felt like a victory. Because to me, I made something there, and that felt—and still feels—good.
8. THE CROWD
Early on Stage 9, the race climbed the steep, difficult Mur d’Aurec-sur-Loire. I figured there’d be a good crowd on the climb, but I didn’t think too much about it. I stopped about two kilometers from the top and sent Ash to shoot it.
I had a nice, open, clean shot all worked out when she texted: you need to come up here NOW. I wavered and questioned, but eventually relented.
When I finally made it up there, I rounded one particular bend in the road to see the most amazing Tour de France crowd since the Yorkshire Grand Depart in 2014. It was immense.
It was an absolute pain to shoot—a lot of people means zero space and a need to be ten feet tall. In fact, it was such a pain to shoot, we went out and bought a step ladder the next day in hopes of making a shot like this a little bit easier.
Of course, nothing like this happened again, and we carried a ladder around in our car for the rest of the Tour to never actually use it. Ha.
9. CALEB IN PARIS
I think The Tour’s decision to start the final stage at 6 p.m. with a finish around 9:30 p.m. was absolute genius. The Champs d’Elysees at sunset on a perfect summer day is an extraordinary thing to behold.
It was extraordinary. The sun setting behind the Arc de Triomphe with Caleb Ewan raising his arms in glory—that was a lot of fun to shoot.
It was without question the prettiest light I’ve ever shot a finish line in. For us, that makes for two very memorable finish line efforts in one Tour! That’s notable all by itself.
“IT WAS WITHOUT QUESTION THE PRETTIEST LIGHT I’VE EVER SHOT A FINISH LINE IN.”
Finish lines at the Tour de France are generally not beautiful things to behold. It’s not the Tour’s fault, it’s just that the Tour is so BIG. The infrastructure around a finish line is so enormous, there’s not all that much room for pretty, so to get two really special finish line shots in one Tour … that’s pretty cool in my book.
10. THE ARC DE TRIOPHE
I might have included this shot in LAST YEAR'S LOOK BACK. If I didn't, I should have. I love this shot.
After I took it last year, I knew for sure that I wanted to go back and take it again, especially with the beautiful sunset light. I love how big the crowd is (common theme here: I love huge crowds at bike races). I love how the field stretches into the massive circle around the Arc, and of course, I love the Arc. It’s an amazing thing to behold in person.
“…MULTIPLE PEOPLE TOOK PICTURES OF ME TAKING THIS PICTURE.”
This one was another feat of stretching. I stood to my full 6’2, stretched my arms as high as I could, then put the camera on a monopod, extended it to its full length, and somehow got myself to be quite the tower of awkward. I must have looked really ridiculous, because multiple people took pictures of me taking this picture.
11. THE TWO CHILDREN
These girls made my day. I had already been on a sublime day of sorts on the back of a moto with my favorite Tour moto driver, Laurent, but this is where things went to 11.
We stopped, and immediately these girls smiled and waved. While taking a shot of an old car, the one girl jumped in and smiled at me through the window. I stayed there for ten minutes and basically took pictures of them.
It wasn’t the camera hungry way that some people chase the camera either. They were just so, so nice. Their happiness infected me in the best way. I got the email address from the dad and was so excited to send them the pictures later on.
Of course, the shot of them cheering on the race is fine, but really, this image stands out to me for just how happy it’s possible for me to feel while taking pictures at a bike race.
It’s also kind of the headline shot for how much I enjoyed taking pictures of people watching the Tour de France this year. It has long been a side project of mine, but this year, it really became a focus. It brought me a lot of joy.
I hope that never goes away, because the people on the banks of the Tour de France river are endlessly interesting and beautiful to me.