Ryan Le Garrec is a French Videographer who has been following the Ultra Cycling calendar for the past year. He has provided some of the amazing images and video that has appeared in the Hunt Beyond newsletter and social media so we took the time to sit down with Ryan and find out a bit more about the man behind the lens.
Tell us a little about your history with filmmaking. How did you get started and what are some career highlights?
As a child I always wanted to put my eye to daddy’s big camera. Kids look up to firemen and policemen, but I looked up at the war reporter and the superhero of my childhood, my dad. He was literally dodging bullets and bombs to tell the world what’s going on and report about people suffering the evil side of the human race. That and the fact I found cameras super sexy sparked a very early interest for filming.
My dad bought me a camera and then it was years of frustration. I think it took twenty years until my dad stopped telling me that I was wasting film, but by that time I was shooting digital anyway! I guess that’s why I am attracted by the mistakes, the wrong or accidental shots, the blurred ones, the out of frame, the over or under exposure, the misbalanced composition and the brutal framing. I try to fail on purpose as I don’t believe my eyes are as good as the accidents that can happen. That for me is the real magic of the camera. My best shots are accidental in photography, and my favourite shots in video are usually what any editor would cut away, the shaky end of a long take or the settings you do as your shot is already rolling.
Ryan Le Garrec, Bikingman Portugal 2019
I think my career was like that, accidental and magical. I tried to do everything you should do, went to cinema high school, cinema university and then cinema school in Belgium. But I blew a fuse, I didn’t want to learn the ropes of safe broadcast shooting, I didn’t like the rules to start with. In film school they gave me a 16 mm Bollex camera for an exercise and i came back with a music video which I edited using my kitchen window as a light box. I had a terrible grade for it and my editing teacher suggested I should go to Scandinavia and try and find a better and more arty school. That was a tap on my back, he almost said I was doing the right thing but in the wrong place.
Eventually I ended up working for a Swedish company and moved to Stockholm. One night I ended up meeting Damien Rice after his gig in Stockholm. We had a nice chat, he wanted a cigarette and gave me a tea bag in exchange. He was mostly interested in the girls that were hanging out with me, but we quickly bonded and shared a few principles about art and life and our conversation had quickly gone from small talk to deep shit. He came back to Sweden a few months later to see the dance show I was working on and hired me to follow him on tour. I toured for a few months around Europe and kept working with him on and off for years.
Ryan Le Garrec, Riding to the Muur
Eventually I had a break down. It had just gone so fast and so far, and I had no idea what I was doing from one day to another. I was hanging with famous people and meeting amazing artists, but I didn’t know who I was and what I was. So I stopped touring and film making and started working in bars and restaurants going from glitter to gutter. One day I met my future wife working as a waiter in a restaurant. She saw something in me that I didn’t see anymore and she fought for me like no one else ever did. She saved me, and I eventually ended up working in tv, which to me was the worst thing that could have ever happened. It turned out to be an amazing experience, once again breaking rules, changing the show I was part of and becoming co-producer of it.
One day I bought my wife a bike to travel around town and she looked so happy on it that I also got myself one. Eventually I made a report on bike messengers in Brussels and thought “what a cool job!”, two weeks later they hired me to be a messenger and the rest is history!
What is your history with cycling, how did you get involved and what do you enjoy about it?
I started riding a bike because I don’t drive and the bus, subways and trams in Brussels are really not fun. As a cycle messenger I discovered the effect of endorphins and long days on a bike.
One day my friend took me to the Muur in Geerardsbergen. It was my first ever long ride, 100 km in the rain to ride up that crazy steep hill. I had no idea about cycling, I didn’t know what the Ronde van Vlandereen was and I was mostly riding fixie so had to learn to use gears. I arrived home with cramps and I loved it. Road cycling became my passion and my weekends became an exploration of Flanders iconic roads. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places and races in the world, but nothing beats cycling in Flanders. There are ghosts in the fog and bergs, ghosts of cycling legends, tales of bravery at every corner and the cobbles would tell a tale if they could talk.
I started riding further and further. Long rides gave me something that messenger days had given me a glimpse of, a feeling of freedom and silence. I think cycling is like sailing in this way, it connects you back to nature, it connects you back to yourself.
Ryan Le Garrec, Dawn Barnable, Bikingman Oman 2019
You have ridden TransContinental race. Was this your first experience in the world of ultra-cycling? What did you learn from the experience?
This was my first ever experience with ultra cycling and what a stupid idea it was! I had never crossed a mountain, never slept rough, never ridden long days back to back, never carried anything on my bike other than a gilet and a camera.
Overall it was a terrible experience, I over trained before the race and slipped a disc in my back two weeks before the start. I should not have taken the start but am a bit stubborn and went ahead anyway. I could barely stand for more than ten minutes at a time and ended up getting lost a lot. One day I sat dehydrated on the side of a road and thought I was going to collapse on the spot so I begged for food at a nearby house who gave me cookies and candies. Once back at the side of the ride I suddenly felt a strong urge to sit on the toilet, so went back to that very house and begged to use the bathroom! That guy and his family were so kind to me, they looked at track leaders and told me with excitement, “hey you are not last, you can still do it!”. About ten days later I was about to reach CP3 and hadn’t met anyone on the race yet. The check points were closed by the time I reached them and I was in a dark lonely place. The traffic became really gnarly, and I was really scared. My wife was pregnant and alone at home and I felt incredibly selfish and stupid, so I scratched, pedalled my bike back to Vienna and jumped on a few trains till I reached home. It took me a while to digest that epic fail, I’m still not over it and need to make amends badly.
Ryan Le Garrec, Riding Bikingman Portugal, 2019
Over the past 12 months you have followed and filmed ultra races all around the world. How does the experience of shooting an ultra race differ from riding? Are there any comparisons?
Well you don’t get saddle sores shooting from a car, you don’t get dehydrated in a car, you don’t lose weight in a car, you don’t suffer from heat and exhaustion but you’re not too dirty and you can take an extra set of underwear or two!
But, if you do the job with respect to the race, you won’t sleep much to keep up with the leaders and to be close enough you will need to sleep as little as they do. You will eat from gas stations and you might long for a bed and a shower.
I don’t think there are many comparisons, but if you have been riding a race, you have an idea of what’s going on for the riders, although I can’t compare myself to top riders obviously, but I have a profound respect for the races.
Ryan Le Garrec, Tour Divide 2019
I know also that our position as media in unsupported races changes the game in a way, so you have to be aware of this. With my colleague Lander we had the idea to follow the head and the tail of the races, to give a real account of what it takes not only to win but also just to finish. Lander has toured on his bike and has been a messenger in Brussels so he knows what it is to spend a whole day on the bike.
When we followed Tour Divide, there was a lot of controversy about media. I think it’s fair to wonder if media isn’t changing the game?
I think it’s all about the attitude you chose to have as a media in the end.
I think we have to accept that the sport is slowly changing and that more and more people are taking part in it. Maybe this is because of media show casing these events or maybe it’s the other way around, more interest for the riders and followers so more media coverage. If there had never been any pictures of TCR from Camille McMillan or video from Ertzui, I would still have ridden my bike for long days, but I’d probably never have considered racing the TCR. I remember hearing about it and it just felt crazy but seeing the images that came out, it just looked sexy.
Media coverage has pros and cons, people will complain about media, no matter what you do. Ask my dad about it, he covered all the wars between 1980 and 2000. People will always complain about media but media will not complain about people, at the end of the day we’re here to tell a story whether it’s a war or a bike race.
Ryan Le Garrec, Brush Mountain Lodge, Tour Divide 2019
Which was your favourite race to shoot or ride?
I haven’t filmed enough races to have a favourite but there are events that are really attracting me and that I haven’t yet covered such as the Japan Odyssey, the B-Hard in Bosnia and the Inca Divide in Peru. I also wished I had ridden or filmed Paris Brest, the oldest race in the world. This year it felt like a missed opportunity not to go given that I am from France, my family is from Brittany, my dad’s country house is near Mortagnes on the course of the race and I lived in Paris, it feels like a ride I have to do.
I think I am also attracted by the events that are not officially described as races, I find that beautiful, the idea of Long Distance being more of a team sport or personal adventure rather than a competition is also appealing to me.
Ryan Le Garrec, Josh Kato Tour Divide 2019
There are magical moments in all races though. One afternoon we met Chris Seistrup in the Great Basin on Tour Divide. The sky was black but the sun shone under the clouds, it was a crazy light. The landscape looked like the moon and it felt like the end of time. Lander and I couldn’t believe our eyes and were desperately hoping a rider would pass by. We had driven through a lot of rain to get there, then a dude showed up with a huge smile on his face. He looked at us filming and photographing from the van and waved, then he was ahead of us and stopped, I got out of the car, got slowly closer to him and he greeted me with that same smile “I am Chris, i think am third in the race now, here’s my sticker, please share a shot with me!” He was ecstatic, he reminded me of my four years old son, he looked so happy. I have his sticker on my bike now, the way he looked, the happiness, the freedom. That sticker is one of those precious treasures I have from filming races, it’s the things you never want to forget, the memories you build and store, it’s all the beauty you witness through other’s eyes, the magic. I don’t know if I can transcribe that in a film or a picture but I feel incredibly lucky to witness it or experience it myself.
Ryan Le Garrec, Chris Seistrup Tour Divide 2019
When I returned from TCR I had this phrase that came to me in the Dolomites. It got stuck in my head so i noted it down for my son: “Son, in life, you ought to do the things that give you kicks of joy or a sense of purpose, the rest is killing time and time is a blessing you can’t afford to waste.” Most riders out there, they understood that, they have those kicks and chase this joy, all the time.
Thanks for reading. You can follow more of Ryans work on his instagram account @Ryan_le_garrec