Onboard the Transcontinental Race
The Transcontinental Race is at once one of the most tracked events on the planet and yet also one of the hardest to predict. You can know in great detail where a rider was and the general direction they are travelling in, but it’s almost impossible to know exactly where they are going to be at any given moment. So, how do you create an engaging documentary about the race when faced with such a challenge?
Antonin Michaud-Soret faced and mastered this challenge over three years of the race to create his documentary, Onboard the Transcontinental Race. The documentary follows riders over TCRNo4, TCRNo5 and TCRNo6, overcoming the inherent challenges of filming such a unique event to immerse viewers in the experience of the race.
Antonin is himself a keen cyclist, with an interest in long-distance mountain biking and touring and a love of maps of all kinds. Drawing on his own experience and a lot of learning on the job following the race for the first year, he was able to develop an almost instinctive feel for tracking down riders.
Antonin tells us that “first you have to choose a target – a lost cyclist, a funny rider or a very tired dude. Then, without interacting with him, you need to capture his mood and feelings to understand his plans.” Of course, knowing what you want to capture and actually being able to get the shot are two very different things. “I have to admit it’s hard to get what you imagine you can have. But when it happens, it’s glorious; the sun is where you imagined, the rider appears – and sometimes luck is really on your side: a chain breaks in front of you and the rider has to repair it in a beautiful sunset glow.”
When we asked Antonin about tracking riders, he told us that “every hunting session is unique!”. Explaining that “you have to stalk and follower riders, but most of the time you have to make quick decisions and not spend a whole day driving just to find a SPOT tracker alone in the middle of the road. It’s a mix of instinct, analysis and experience.”
Tracking riders is only half of the challenge. Being on the road for over a week and trying to capture riders in all conditions requires organisation and problem-solving. “I always use a two camera set up in case one dies in the rain – all packed in my F-Stop Gear camera bag, which is perfect for such a challenge as you can go for a proper hike with it. We also have a converter in the car, which we keep running to charge the laptop and batteries. It’s not easy, but it’s doable!”
When we asked Antonin about those ‘conditions’, he told us that “there is no such thing as bad weather for filming. You just have to deal with what’s thrown at you and make it look great with what you have. I worked with both a Sony A7S and a Sony A7S2 – both great cameras for low lights. My B camera was an ‘old’ Sony FS700, which I used to make slow-motion shots from time to time.”
Filming on the road, while following a race that crosses a continent also takes a mental toll. “While racers have to complete a 4,000km race, I think we’re driving more like 6,000km, so we’re constantly on the go. I’m working alone, so each night is only a few hours’ sleep around filming, creating backups, charging and making short videos. It creates a very special atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else. Once the race is finished, we’re slugs for a week!” As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Antonin tells us that he “had to edit on the back seat of the car, in hotel rooms, or diners in the middle of the Balkans.”
Despite the challenges and frustrations of filming something as unpredictable and hard to follow as the Transcontinental Race, Antonin assures us that there was still fun along the way. “We take time to enjoy ourselves – taking a 10 minute break to jump in a river or drink a beer in the middle of Albania facing a wonderful sunset. It’s a very emotional journey, filled with a lot of ups and downs!”
Antonin also faced the challenge of documenting the race without affecting its outcome. “Of course, we couldn’t talk too much or give intel to riders. We had to be very careful to make sure they live their own journey and that we were not interacting too much with the same people. I’ve spent three years filming and I had time to build relationships with some of the riders without changing their race – and those relationships made it easier to approach them during difficult moments, without distressing them or upsetting their race. I am very thankful for that and the film is a homage to all of them.”
Onboard the Transcontinental Race premieres on December 19 at 7pm at Commune Image in Paris, France. Tickets are available here.
This article features some of James Robertson‘s favourite images from his time covering the Transcontinental Race, which will be exhibited at the film premiere.