Recap so far
Here's some inside info on the journey thus far. Getting here our travel went smooth. We built our bikes in the Nice airport and rode them to the RV rental place a dozen k's away. Then it was off to a grocery store and a cell phone shop. This seemed to work great but nothing comes easy. Turns out our cell plan wasn't so good and the Blackberries we bought in the states were not working at all. After many conversations at the cell store involving e-mails and texts sent to us in French we sorted it out. Ken called T-mobile on skype and we nailed that down a day later. You might think telling the guy "We need service in Europe" would be all you'd need to do but nope. We needed the International Roaming plan and then someone had to turn it on for our phones. Infuriating.
Then it was on to Monaco with Ken behind the wheel. This was a bit of a jerky trip as he could not dial in the touchy clutch and the narrow roads terrified us all. We got to Monaco and scored a good parking place on the waterfront near a helicopter landing pad. Seemed good but there was no electrical outlets which one kinda needs when making a movie. We ran the RV engine (much to the distain of our neighbors) as much as possible but still ran down the truck's batteries trying to charge our camera batteries.
I spent the second night outside on my sleeping pad to escape the sauna that was the RV at night (the days were sometimes over 100°f ). Silly boy, what was I thinking? Barely into REM I was tripped over by a gang of mega-wealthy Euro's returning from a night on the town back to their billion $ yacht. Think I mentioned this already in a different blog. It was a painful blessing in disguise, I was covered in really nasty mosquito bites so back into the sauna I went, defeated and itchy. Not sure if they carried malaria or what but I now look like I have chicken pox. My theory is that when mosquitos are used to tasting caviar and champagne then they suck on Amurican blood filled with cheap French beer and nutella they puke it back up, creating a mini volcano of - well lets just say it's unpleasant.
Amidst riding our bikes with 40lbs of film gear in backpacks 4k's to the riders' hotel through sketchy streets filled with amazingly beautiful, aloof people then back to the start/finish areas we got to know the decadent city fairly well. While working hard to get all the filming done, we put in a massive effort to find a store that sold generators. By the time Curtis and I navigated the streets to a narrow alley some 800 feet above where we thought it was (the city is built into cliffs with tunnels and steep switchbacks), they were of course closed. The sweet little Honda unit we wanted so badly was just inside the door on a shelf. This was Friday and normally they would be open on Saturday but nope, not with the Tour in town. Our driver/interpreter Jeremy showed up as planned and we were thankful he seemed very nice and extremely helpful. But even with his help we could not find a place to park and plug. We did what we could even moving to a new parking place which was set up for RV's with big outlet trees but nope, it was shut off. Another hot night.
I was quite happy to leave Monaco. As Kim Kirchen told me, "I do not fit in here, I have a different relationship with my money than these people" ... I felt like telling him i had divorced my money.
Next day was more like the 'real' tour. Left Monaco in the Sougniers car ahead of the race. Ahim and Aldis were like Frick and Frack - made for great footage as they provided some needed comedic relief the entire ride. We parked at the feed zone and I got some nice shots in slow-mo with the riders blasting through, many forgoing their muessette (sp?) bags due to the fast pace. Then we quickly jumped back into the car, raced to the finish line and I got Cav scoring the win by sneaking into the still photographers area (a huge no-no but they didn't seem to mind).
That night we tried to capture the riders toasting but I missed it. I asked if they would toast again and Cav grunted a "No" to me. Missing moments like that is painful as hell. Then we pushed it at dinner and made the director, Alan a bit pissed at us for bringing cameras too close to the tables. Understandable. One of the hardest things we face is knowing where the line is with people we do not have a friendship or even a basic rapport with. We are trying so hard and want so bad to make this thing the great film it can be so when we get pushed back it's very hard not to take it personally. I spoke with Alan the next morning and he was totally cool which quite thankfully ended some very serious stress for me. It has been emotionally intense in all directions.
Next day I again traveled with the Ahim the sougnier. We talked of windsurfing and relationships. Finally, friendship forming and one small step forward. At the feed zone he parked in the shade and from there I went backwards on the course to film the riders coming around a corner. After 2 hours of cooking in the sun and waiting in the weeds with huge spiders, the race flashed past and I got the shot. I quickly made my way back to the car and it was gone. I heard spectators chanting my name and I took off down the road running as fast as a guy with 50 lbs of camera gear on his back can run. "Jason, Jason, Jason!" they shouted. After 200 meters I saw a team staff member from the second car screaming my name, the crowd repeating him and cheering as I ran. Ahim had moved the car just before the race came through to the end of the feed zone (in the opposite direction I had gone) so he could get out and back on course quick. I not only caused him to be late but the #2 car as well. 2 huge steps back.
We sped to the finish much faster than the normal breakneck pace. Spectators were beginning to pull out in their RV's and Ahim was yelling and honking. I was terrified we would hit one of the stupid spectators who jump out without looking or crash and it would be due to my mistake. I sat there and sweated more than I had waiting in the sun. I was mortified, embarrassed and furious with myself but Ahim patted my knee and seemed cool about it. Then we took the wrong round-about exit - more steps back. It is very hard to explain how it feels to screw up like that then watch the fallout. I was nauseous for hours.
While my escapades were unfolding off the course the riders were ripping the peloton apart. If you don't know bike racing it's hard to explain what happened but it was something for the history books. The peloton knew that High Road would win if they got Cav to the finish line as a pack so half way into the race they slowed and would not take pulls forcing High Road to do a bunch of work at the front in the wind. This would force High Road to work, tire and then the peloton could attack. High Road saw this and instead of being defensive they turned the tables in a move some say the tour has never seen: a team not known for mid-race attacks found all their riders on the front expected to work. Instead they attacked! Each rider put out all their power and it worked. About 20 riders back, a small gap opened and a break in the drafting cracked the field apart. The team directors saw this on the live tv coverage, radioed the riders and the riders decided to go for broke. They put the hammer down and didn't look back. All 9 team mates finished in the top 20 and Cav took the win.
At dinner that night we decided just Ken and I would go, making less impact on the scene. We stayed in the far corner and waited with camera on. Once all staff and riders arrived they toasted and cheered and I got it on film. After a few glasses of wine and luckily for me the sougniers took to joking about my mistake which of course meant they were somewhat ok with it. Not only will that make great film for the out takes (Aldis doing an impression of me running up the road terrified was quite funny) but the friendships between us all grew a little more. Another step forward.
Yesterday was the Team Time Trial - out of 21 days of racing this would be one of the most publicized stages. It's amazing to see 9 riders in a line going as fast as they can. The course was brutal and technical with many dangerous turns, narrow and pot-holled roads and cobbles. Not to mention the crowds. The team pre-rode the course in the morning and I was in one of the team cars getting great shots. I was feeling a little confident so I was hanging out the window - the riders not more than a meter from my camera. Then my sunglasses dropped. God dammit. The smallest mistake can create a disaster but luckily for me no such thing occurred. Another step backwards.
We peppered the #1 team car with cameras, rigged the mini-crane in the team pit and waited for the riders to get back from lunch. Then Ben Stiller appeared right in front of me, extended his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Ben." I was stoked but kept my excitement in check and chatted with him about our documentary. He was really interested and kept talking to me about the project. Again, hard to describe the emotion of the moment - words just don't do it an ounce of justice. Photographers and cameras surrounded us as we talked. I explained our goals, talked about the cool little POV cams, the RV conditions and he kept asking more questions. He also suggested we film the making of for the DVD then asked who was distributing our movie. Oh man I was about to burst. "No one yet." He told me about his production company, said he'd love to help us out and gave me his assistant's e-mail. I told him about the premiere being at Tour of California and he and his wife both said they would love to come. Jeremy was shooting stills while we talked, Curtis shot some video, Ken and I were amped. We gave him copies of our previous films on DVD which he and Christine looked at them and looked interested - who knows. I'm sure everyone they meet does the same.
I followed Ben onto the bus - hallowed ground and virgin territory for a cameraman. Ben talked to the team but mostly listened to them talk about the historic day before. I'd say he talked to George and the team for about 5 minutes but we somehow got about 20 minutes with him and even got a quick interview where he showed me "Blue Carbon"...Zoolander's newest look. I'm still pretty high from that but after he left it was back to work for us all. The team held their own in the TTT getting 4th place but more important no crashes - some teams lost many riders to bad crashes. We opted out of dinner and instead enjoyed so home cooking in the RV with good wine. Let's call it 4 steps forward.
The RV is currently careening along the beaches of the Med as we race towards another start-town. We are a bit late as the RV needed to be emptied this morning and that took a bit of time. The crowds are off the hook and so is the traffic. We hope to get a person in a team car again but we're not sure. I hope to get a minute to walk on the beach by days' end but such luxuries are at the bottom of a long list of priorities. Today has a flat finish and could be another great day for Cavendish so we have to fire all day on all cylinders. Again. Wish us luck, we need it.
The day went by in another blur. Got great light-hearted footage with the Sougniers, was on an RV in the feed zone perched on top. The winds were cranking and when the peloton came by the camera helo was so close the prop was almost knocked me off the RV roof. I was a bit nervous about that but I think I was in their shot. Will have to check that some day. I had a black Gripped Films shirt on. After the finish we took some time to clean the RV, eat picnic style then we drove to Girona and poached a parking place in an ASO-car filled hotel lot. Thanks to our sweet-talking translator the manager not only let us stay there but also offered the pool, showers and breakfast to us. She even gave us internet passwords but my mac doesn't seem to work well with the Euro wireless so I didn't waste much time trying. Instead Ken and I broke out the bikes and went for a spin into town. After having the tastiest Gelato of my life we met some Americans at an Irish bar and talked bikes, racing and movies. Gave me a nice vibe.
Woke up and moved the RV to the start line, Girona. I filmed the riders getting ready for another day while Curtis scored what looks like a great interview with an old British pro cyclist. Ken was back at the hotel online taking care of business (his PC trumped our Mac wireless connections). Got good shots but now we are racing to the finish in the rain. It's nerve racking to be in the RV letting someone else drive. Not to take any credit away from JZ. So far he's rockin out behind the wheel of this pig.
Later same day: Mic went down bad so things were tense. Ken and I filmed the finish and I had a clean escape towards the team bus where Curtis was camped. Ken on the other hand got caught in the horde of spectators and said he was beginning to get claustrophobic. I shot the arrival of Mic as well as his departure to the hospital for x-rays. Then it was off to the team hotel in an industrial part of Barcelona. More internet problems kept us from contact with the outside world. If it wasn't for our crackberries we wouldn't exist. It's a frustrating thing when you have a password and login info but the signal just won't connect.
I woke up tired. My eyes were puffy and my face felt swollen. I had forgotten my braces at night so my teeth hurt from grinding. A quick breakfast and we were off, this time I was in the RV as we all headed to the base of the final climb, some 25k up and up and up. Our plan was to park as high on the mt. as we possible yet still being able to make a quick getaway. We would ride bikes to the top and then ride down quickly. For the most part it worked well and we all got decent shots but since I was lowest on the mt. I got back to the RV quickest and told JZ I'd ride to the hotel thinking it was all downhill. I followed the caravan of bikes and cars through the first couple round-abouts towards where the police were directing traffic - then I started to climb. I had been copying files in the rv on the way there without paying attention to the route so I didn't think much of it till the road went drastically vertical. I hammered out a few K's but with 40lbs of camera and tripod on my back my enthusiasm was thin. In both previous films there were moments when I was directionally challenged so why should this be different? I wasn't quite lost - I just wasn't where I wanted to be. And didn't know quite where I was. Ok I was almost lost. So down the hill I went, asked a different cop where Andorra was and received a point in a new direction. Before long that road went up the other side of the valley. Wonderful. I went back to the roundabout and waited for the boys to come down with the RV and pick me up. Well Ken txt'd me saying they weren't close to starting to leave. I sat there for a bit then Lance and Levi roared past with entourage following so I thought ok - I'll follow. Got to a new intersection and they were long gone. This is taking too long to write - I finally got to Andorra after a screaming 25k downhill complete with 2 tunnels that completely sketched me out. Once I arrived I scored decent interviews with the mechanics, shot the team dinner and set up interviews for tomorrow amidst the mayhem of another day of racing. Now I am tired as hell and only have 6 hours to sleep. The internet at this new hotel also does not work and it's really chapping my ass. I'd like to skype my sweetie but no hope... damn I really am tired.