‘What We’ve Missed’

Team photographer Jered Gruber reflects on the pause in racing

Words: Jered Gruber

Images: Jered and Ashley Gruber

This originally started as a little project to look back at what we’ve missed this year — which races, that kind of thing.

 

We’re headed back to Europe in less than a week, so there’s everything to do right now. In other words, this assignment came at the perfect moment: anything to procrastinate on that big, scary return to Europe. I also love a deep dive head first into the archives — roaming the virtual hall of images in our library.

 

After an hour or so, I realized that most of the time, it wasn’t so much the race that I missed, but parts within it.

 

I don’t miss the Tour de France so much as I miss the young fans, or the life around the race with the team, or that final stage in Paris, or last year on the Tourmalet.

 

I don’t miss the stress of Roubaix all that much, but I do miss the recon, and I do miss the Roubaix showers.

 

In no particular order – here’s what we’ve missed so far in this odd 2020 season:


Hotel Life

For most of the season, we do our own thing separate from the team. It’s easier that way. For the Tour de France though, we’re all in. We’re there from three or four days before the race starts allllll the way to Paris. I wish we didn’t spend so much time in the press room working on race photography, because looking back at what we shot last year, so much of what I remember fondly is from that time around the race.

 

I love walking into a massage, self-conscious of my presence and trying not to be annoying, but hoping for a nice shot. Instead, I leave twenty minutes later after chatting with rider and soigneur for almost the entire time – forgetting why I came there entirely. The Tour de France is such a stressful, serious undertaking. Any moment when I can forget why I’m there is a gift. Any moment I can feel relaxed and present in that moment — a gift.

 

I love getting out a few minutes early before the riders head to the bus to watch the moving process. Walking down stairs, bags appearing before riders, that slow amble across a parking lot.

 

Before the Tour last year, I went to Simon and Tanel’s room to take a few shots of Simon in the Normatec’s on his bed. Five minutes later, I was shooting Tanel shaving his legs the day before the Tour. Side note: both of them are so nice to be around. 

 

I’ve shot numerous massages with Simon, and we end up just talking about his love for photography. We’re in the middle of this madhouse bike race, and here I am looking at shots from back home that Simon has been editing. He even sends us images to check out and comment on. I love that. It’s so…normal.

 

At the Vuelta last year, the riders played UNO every night! It was amazing. I loved it. It was a part of every single evening.

 

In races, where absolutely everything is abnormal and special and VERY important, it’s the normal that brings me joy.


Rigo’s Hands

They’re in perpetual motion when he speaks. They never stop moving. Once Ashley noticed it (and shot it) the first time, it has been impossible not to see ever since.

 

Also, this is a good moment to spotlight the fact that Rigo is one of the most relaxed riders we’ve ever been around. He exudes chill. For a high strung, frantic photographer who feels like he should be in seventy-three places at once — it’s comforting to come into contact with the Rigo bubble.


The Colombian fans

…and if I talk about Rigo, I can’t help but think about Colombia. If I think about Colombia, I cannot help but think about that country’s fans. They’re the best.

 

I don’t think there’s anyone out there who is more patient, more gracious, more exactly what you’d expect after reading the segment above – than Rigo. He’s chased everywhere he goes by very, very passionate fans. And no matter how hard the day, or how long the upcoming drive, he always has time for them.


Kids at the Races

It’s such a simple thing, but I love watching happy kids at bike races. I love kids on bikes, I love kids at bike races. I can’t help it. It’s just so pure.


Superhuman staff

Obviously, what the riders do on a daily basis is out of this world — and they’re given justified attention for their inspiring efforts: images, words, video, autographs, on and on and on. On a day to day basis though, I’m most impressed with what the staff does. Theirs is a never-ending job that won’t live on in the annals of cycling lore.

 

There is no sweet highlight clip on YouTube with millions of views of Olga charging out of the food truck to hug Sergio after his win at the Vuelta last year. There’s no way to search Google for that moment when all the mechanics toasted that win. There’s no article on that Rest Day Alberto lounged so hard, you could be forgiven for thinking he was getting ready for a rager in Ibiza that night.

 

From early, early in the morning until deep into the night, they’re all out there, doing their things: filling bottles, making sandwiches, filling musettes, washing clothes, preparing breakfast and dinner (and lunch on rest days), massaging, figuring out how to make battered bodies work again, answering countless emails, cleaning bikes, prepping TT bikes, grocery shopping, poring over route maps, planning. It’s mad. It’s hard work, and they all do such an amazing job.

 

They’re also the people that keep us sane. They’re the friendly faces that keep us tethered to normalcy when we get deep into the weeds of the stress we create for ourselves, chasing our tails, looking for a way to make that day’s images last for more than those fleeting few minutes of that one day.


The Mechanics

Obviously, the mechanics fit in with the Superhuman Staff, but I feel like they deserve a picture or two unto themselves. It’s a part of our daily life – passing the truck, saying hi, taking a few pics, and moving along. I miss that. It’s so simple, but I always feel good when we pass the mechanics’ truck. Always. I don’t know what it is with mechanics, but they have a special kind of warmth, and I appreciate that.


The Alternative Calendar

I remember moaning about having to shoot GBDURO last year. I just wanted a few days off to recover from one project and get ready for the next. It felt like a big hassle. What were we doing? Chasing Lachlan around Scotland? How interesting could that be? Turns out I’ve probably never been more wrong about a project. It still stands as one of our all-time favorite projects, and for me, it’s why the Alternative Calendar is so interesting, so fantastic. On paper, it doesn’t seem like that much, but when we’re out there, it feels so good, so nutritious. We crave making images that manage to last beyond that one day – beyond that one project. It’s hard. We take hundreds of thousands of images each year, but so few live on as special shots — GBDURO provided a few of those for us — and stories that we’ll continue to tell for years and years and years.


Post-race chaos at Italian races

We love Italy. Outside of the Classics, the Vuelta, and the Tour, we always seem to find our way back to Italy. There’s something about that country that sings to us, and we feel right at home there, more so than pretty much anywhere else.

 

It’s also slightly mad. There’s nothing more amusing/frustrating than the post-race chaos of an Italian race. I remember being an IN-RACE photographer at Lombardia one year and not being able to get back into the race caravan after shooting on the Ghisallo. It took us 40k to catch back up after being swamped by fans exiting the race. Some of that certainly was because of my own inexperience, but it’s always like that.

 

A random semi-fan/credentialed person stands directly in the middle of the road to take a cell phone shot of Nibali as he wins Sanremo.

 

Logan Owen tries to find his way through the throngs after Strade Bianche — just looking for the bus and a safe haven.

 

It’s a constant battle, but we love that chaos. It can be so infuriating, but I appreciate that more than the precision control of a race like the Tour de France.


Italy

I said most of what I wanted to say about Italy above, but feel like there’s so much to offer beyond a shot of Logan Owen lost in the crowd. I love the variation in the country from south to north, east to west. We can’t wait to get back.


Recon Days

I drag my heels a lot when it comes to recon days, but they’re such a good time. Generally, they’re easy-going, fun days. When I look back at old images, I feel good when I find my way to the recon galleries.

 

I love shooting recons in Flanders on the little scooter we co-own with our friends Holly and Gregg at the ChainStay in Oudenaarde. I love buzzing around chasing the riders — barely going any faster than them — feeling free and peaceful.

 

I love the Strade Bianche recon, because it’s Strade Bianche, and it’s my favorite race, and a chance to shoot low key on those roads is a gift.

 

I even love the Roubaix recon, even if it’s the most stressful of them all. I love standing on that old railroad trestle every single year and shooting down on the Arenberg Forest. It’s peaceful up there. It’s beautiful. If I had ONE single wish in all of cycling, I’d shoot from there the day of Roubaix…but THAT will never happen.


Paris

Every year we get there on our hands and knees, exhausted, trying to finish this last day and then recover. Every year, I’m astonished by how much I love this day. It’s beautiful, it’s special, it’s one of my absolute favorite days of the racing season. It’s disarming to realize how emotional it’s possible to be in that moment. Everyone who takes on a full Tour de France — no matter what the job — is owed a moment to look back and appreciate the odyssey that got them there.


The Wins

Being a part of a team makes every day that little bit more meaningful — the basic hellos and warmth we feel just having friends around makes all the difference. It catapults up five levels the day of a win. It’s intoxicating. I love watching how much one rider’s win is everyone’s win. It’s an eye rolling cliche, but it’s absolutely true: no one wins alone.


Alberto

How can you not love Alberto Bettiol? The man has so much good energy.

 

I will never forget Taylor and Alberto heckling Rigo on the final podium in Paris of the 2017 Tour.

 

I will never forget Alberto bounding into the team hotel in 2019 hours after winning Flanders. He ran in.

 

I will never forget Alberto being faux-annoyed that I wasn’t taking enough pictures of him, so he started posing ridiculously for me on the bus.

 

I feel bad singling out riders though — because all of them have given something to us along the way. I hope, hope, hope we’ve offered up at least something in return.


The Big Mountains

I will forever be entranced by the mountains. I guess that’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, but I will happily get in line with the millions of people before me who have confessed their love to them. I love when racing tilts upward. I love when the race happens. I love returning to these great stadiums year after year.


Roubaix Showers

It took me years before I finally got the courage to shoot in the Roubaix showers. I actually can’t even take credit for it — Ashley shoved me in their direction and told me to go and not come back. So I went. I spent five minutes in there and realized it was my favorite part of Roubaix. I know it’s a photographer’s circus in there, and it’s a mess, but I love it. It’s so…Roubaix. There’s nothing that says Roubaix to me more than the showers.


The Early Break

I love watching the early break go. Even when we really try to do it, it’s tough to manage. It’s so interesting, so hard, so dynamic.