The logistics of the Tour de France has always made my mind boggle.
How you get nearly 200 riders, over 100 cars, 22 team buses, and 150 trucks, around the whole of France, in complete coordination for three weeks, is beyond me.
Let alone when you start factoring in how it’s seamlessly presented to the public. It’s broadcast to over 180 countries with less than a second delay. It takes something like 25km of cables and 500 dedicated phone lines, just for the radio commentary alone. On top of that you have hundreds of TV crews, journalists and photographers racing around to deliver content to us, as quickly as possible.
The scale is incredible. These people that put it all together are heroes. Yet, we rarely think about them. I’m on a mission to change that by chatting to people behind the scenes about their part in the circus.
First on my hit list, Luke Edwardes-Evans.
Luke is the incredibly serious looking guy driving the motorbike above. He’s been a freelance driver for 29 years, ensuring still photographers, such as this very happy looking pillion Frank Faugere, get the best view of the race.
Working with the likes of legendary cycling photographer Graham Watson, Luke has done it all. 20 Paris Roubaixs , five Tour de Frances, four Giros, one Vuelta, the Olympics in London and Rio, the World Road Race Championships, the Tour of Flanders and Liege-Baston-Liege.
This year Luke was one of the three dedicated L’ Equipe drivers working with photographers Stephane Mantey and Franck Faugere.
Thankfully, he’s not anywhere near as serious as he looks, as I discovered when we recently caught up over a pint, and I got the low down on what Luke does and why it’s so special.
Very few people in the world can do what these guys do. They have serious riding skills. Ensuring everyone is safe is the number one priority. Just think of the number of cyclists, cars, motorbikes, and the sheer volume of the public out on the road.
First and foremost they have to navigate around all that carnage . Luke is, I was going to say lucky, but I think that’s doing him a disservice. Luke is very good at what he does, and has therefore only ever had one crash (caused by another rider’s stray cable).
Secondly, they have to get shots of the race.
There’s three motorbikes carrying the official L’Equipe photographers. Each one has its own role. One will sit at the front of the race, one at the back, and one will float in between. They then switch roles halfway through the day. In one stage alone they will cover over two times what the riders do, averaging over 400km a day. That’s not even factoring in all the little bits of bombing around before and after a race to get to hotels or find food.
As the photographers personal taxi service the motorbike drivers are at their beck and call any time of day. They can be having dinner and if a photographer wants to go and see a particular rider at his hotel, then, like a fireman, they have to drop everything and leave.
This is how we’re brought the story of the race. Those magical shots that we all swoon over simply wouldn’t be possible without these guys.
From the obligatory sunflowers…
…to the jubilation of unexpected victories…
…and the ultimate end result, these guys capture it all.
L’Equipe guide you through everything you expect to see, and everything you don’t….
It’s a brutal three weeks with intense concentration required over so many hours. But, its an incredible three weeks. The work that’s done during that time lives on forever. These images become immortal.
Despite the hardships, Luke speaks incredibly fondly of what he does. His eyes go all wistful as he talks of beers with chums after a hard days ride, incredibly beautiful scenery and waving at a never ending line of fans.
Ultimately, Luke loves being on the bike, so what could be better. He rides a Suzuki Dl 650 V-Storm. It’s the only 650 of the motorbike drivers, all of whom are on 1,000cc plus bikes like the BMW R1,200gs. Apparently it’s a bit less powerful, but nice at low speeds. So all those hours spent weaving around riders on steep climbs isn’t too tough. It’s also light, has a big comfy seat and large petrol tank, all essentials for long stages and transfers.
The all time best bike I’m emphatically informed was the BMW K75, a 750 which is very smooth at low speed. The last one standing of these beauties is ridden by L’Equipe’s number one driver and is nearly 25 years old. The other L’Equipe driver is on a Honda XL1000 Varadero, which is around 20 years old, and is still sweet despite the fact that it’s done about 145,000 miles!
I love that they all ride different bikes. In a race where everyone either wears a uniform or drives some sort of branded machine, these guys individuality is something of an anomaly. They are the only part of the whole parade to remain unique, un-branded by the yellow brush.
I get the feeling that this years Tour went by in a bit of a blur, but there’s some key moments that Luke captured which tell a pretty good tale.
This year, part of the assignment was to cover Team INEOS, proving undoubtedly he gets the best seat in the house.
The scenery was clearly spectacular.
- This is Pont du Gard, taken on one of the hottest days of the year, breaking the 40 degrees mark. For the first time in the race there were stretches of the road with no fans on as it was just too hot.
- This quiet hillside, bleached and dusty in the Marne provided a perfect spot for reflection and a chance for Luke to ponder his favourite moment of the day…seeing two old ladies, very alike, possibly twins, on chairs placed on the pavement, eating cornettos. Both had licked exactly the same amount of ice cream.
- This was the big break on the Col de Vars, before the Izoard and Galibier. Luke ran into Bradley Wiggins in this lay-by where he was having a stretch, not being used to the pillion life.
He hung out with heroes.
Saw tragedy and ecstasy .
Looking back, it was an epic journey.
As far as I can see it’s the chance to escape normality for three weeks and live a life where nothing matters but keeping going. The routine and structure and the one clear goal is something us normal folk, with a normal job, don’t actually get to experience that often. Life is full of complications and distractions. When you’re at the Tour for three weeks, you just don’t have that.
You have the race, and that’s it.
Luke is part of an exclusive club of talent. There is a romance to doing something so unique. And to be unique whilst doing it, what an incredible thing to do.
They are the last rebels of the Tour.