Momentum (Film)

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“Momentum” is a new film from Ryan Le Garrec that documents Thomas Boury’s attempt to ride the 1,400-kilometer Grande Traversée du Massif Central across France in less than a week. Soak in the beautiful sights and sounds of France while following Thomas’ blazing-fast journey in the 30-minute video here, accompanied by a photo gallery and an interview…

Photos and film by Ryan Le Garrec (@ryan_le_garrec)

The Grande Traversée du Massif Central (GTMC) is a 1,400-kilometer route from Avallon in Bourgogne to the coast in Cap d’Agde, France. The route is mostly off-road and singletrack. It traverses the Massif Central, five natural parks, and a handful of France’s most iconic landscapes, accumulating more than 27,000 meters of elevation along the way. It typically takes mountain bikers three to five weeks to complete.

  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

In June of 2022, Thomas Boury (@totosupertramp) decided to tackle the whole route on a fully rigid single-speed mountain bike from Kona that was built up with Ritchey components. The two brands united to make the project possible, and Ryan Le Garrec was commissioned to create the film. Thomas’ idea was to do the whole route in less than a week. A few days before the start, storms made the track conditions far more challenging, as parts of the course were submerged, others had downed trees in the way, and others still had almost disappeared entirely. Thomas couldn’t postpone the ride, so he headed out onto the GTMC despite the less-than-ideal scenario. You can watch Ryan’s film about Thomas’ effort below, followed by my interview with both of them.

  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

What led Thomas to take on this particular challenge, and how did Ryan get involved with the project?

Ryan: This is a route Thomas already knew a bit, as he’d actually done parts of it on his fixie with only 38 mm tyres! The end of the route, the Cap d’Agde, was the destination of his childhood holidays, and the start of the route is about 60 kilometres from the house he grew up in. It’s fair to say that this is a route he has personal connections with, on so many levels.

When Thomas described the route to me, he had a clear idea of how he wanted each region to be portrayed, the different geological details, and the villages along the way. He had the 1,400 kilometres divided into five clear chapters.

I wasn’t excited by the idea of filming an FKT attempt. All the politics and stuff around Lael’s FKT and the whole debate in the media had turned me off. The idea of adding to the fire wasn’t tempting, but Thomas had a fresh answer. When I asked his take on it, he said something like, “I couldn’t care less. My dad will be driving you, and the no media/support FKT aspect is dead already! I just want to share this as much as possible, first with my dad, then with you, and then all the people who will want to watch the film. It’s a beautiful route, and it’s worth documenting it!”

Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

What convinced you to say yes to documenting this ride?

Ryan: It was the angle of a father following and watching his kid. Thomas didn’t have to tell me anything more. There was something deeper to me than a guy on his bike running after the clock. The whole idea of watching the dad watching his son touched me. I come from a specific background in music and TV, as a portrait filmmaker, so getting into the intimacy of a situation is my favourite thing to do on film. When I met Thomas’s dad, Thierry, we bonded super fast. He was extremely camera shy, so it was quite a blessing that I genuinely fell in love with the man.

Filming ultras or FKT can create some stressful situations. Thierry was just recovering from COVID and was pretty tired. I was apprehensive about working with him for that but he was not just a circumstance of the shoot; Thierry was part of the film, so no matter what we would miss on the route, I still had one of the main “subjects” of the film with me in a way. If we’d been stuck with the van somewhere in the mountains, I could still have a film!

  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

I liked the idea that, although it would have to remain subtle and discreet, the film was also about a father-son relationship. Not so much in what is said and told but more in the way it is shown. This was just one facet to the film, I could have gone deeper there, but it would have risked feeling like a bit too much. It’s a bike film, after all, not a documentary.

Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

Tell us about some of the unique challenges of this shoot.

Ryan: The biggest challenge was actually to change my approach and rhythm on this film. Although we were fully aware the FKT would be compromised or criticised, I still wanted to keep some reasonable distance and not be around for long stretches of time. I also wanted to take it easy on Thomas’s dad, as much as possible, so that when there would be a moment to push hard, he’d still be up for that.

I had to accept that working hours wouldn’t be proof of my commitment as it usually is the case with races where I always brag about us sleeping as little as the first guys and then turning back to the middle and end of the race after a really short night. I was keen to work hard, but I was also happy that I had to take it easy somehow and make the situation enjoyable. It was hard enough for Thierry to drive all these hours and sleep little. I couldn’t selfishly force a 20-hour day rhythm. That was a challenge, but it became a blessing when I realised we had time to eat and were in one of the most magical places to do so!

Another challenge was following Thomas in the Gorges du Tarn. We were riding that singletrack over a few wild drops, which was a bit daunting, to say the least. I was on an e-bike, a super heavy monster, so every time I had to hike it, I was struggling not to accidentally drop it off the cliff, it really wanted to go, and it tried to take me down with it.

  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

Riding that track while filming and then getting to these massive rock stairs appearing out of nowhere at the last second, all these intense sections, thinking, “This is gonna look epic, this is mad!” Only to find out it looks like nothing in the shots. I was riding with a massive drop-off on one side and wet branches were slapping me in the face from the other side, one hand free filming and the other wishing it was the one that could shift gears. The result looks like a smooth singletrack with a nice view, which is pretty annoying!

Thomas: On my side, the shooting was not a challenge at all. Once I’d hopped on my bike and was off, my only aim was to ride and do what I set out to do. We talked a lot with Ryan in the previous months to be acquainted and ensure our vision stayed on the same page. We agreed that I would not take a camera with me. This way, I could stay focused on the ride. I also wanted to experience the trail without taking care of the recording side of things. Although it was clear that I wanted to share this project by capturing images, I wanted to remain free from the distraction of the GoPro or maybe unconsciously influence the way I was doing things.

Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

Can you share a particularly memorable or difficult moment that stands out from the filming and riding experience?

Ryan: This is hard to say. These shoots are a bit like ultra races in that you quickly forget the hard times. I think losing an SD card full of footage and realising I would have to fix it after the shoot because it was corrupted—and being left with the idea that maybe half the film was lost—was the worst moment.

I had to keep working while knowing that. It was hard not to despair and panic at that point. Eventually, I brought the card to an IT shop, but they didn’t manage to fix it. So, I tried it myself, and after a few hours online and a few program downloads, I finally managed to fix it. In the end, fixing it myself gave me great pride and, of course, a sense of relief.

  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

Thomas: For me, the worst shooting moment was when I was caught by Ryan on the fifth morning while I was crying. I had a tough night and just came through a rough section with a lot of steep, rocky up-and-down parts. At the time, I remember telling myself, “This is too much. This is too hard.” I knew I was going to finish, but I had to let go of all the emotions. It happened at almost the same time I encountered Ryan, who was waiting for me at the end of a downhill. The last time I cried was probably years ago. I’m not very good at showing my emotions, and being caught in this very personal moment wasn’t easy.

Ryan, as a rider yourself, you spend a lot of time touring and racing. What do you think this brings to your approach as a filmmaker?

Ryan: I guess patience and trust in the process. I have learned a few things about fixing my bike from riding long rides, like changing a cable or repairing a broken chain. I have learned about my body; sometimes it doesn’t want to give, but if I keep at it, eventually it will turn around or just accept the job. It’s easy to get caught up worrying about mechanicals, for example, anticipating them with fear, and one day you are stuck having to deal with one, and you realise it’s not that hard in the end. I approached the card incident like I would have with a mechanical or a routing mistake as much as possible, like, “Can I do anything about it now? No, so carry on and fix it later, or fix it now and carry on, carry on regardless.”

  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

You seem to edit most of your films yourself. Is that a necessity or trademark?

Ryan: Nope! I wasn’t even supposed to edit this one, but the editor declined at the last minute. I felt awful about that at first, but I also was very happy because it had become a bit of a baby and no one wants to see their baby go away too fast.

I knew a lot had to be done in the editing room for it to properly take shape, and the idea of having an editor I never worked with, who is about 4,000 kilometres away from me, was daunting. But that was the deal I had agreed on. I don’t necessarily like to edit my work myself. When I worked in TV, I was graced with some of the best editors around, they take your baby and turn it into a super cool teenager, and you’re stunned.

  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

Editing is a job in itself. It’s an art form, almost another sense, and too many filmmakers edit and do a great job, but yet they are not editors, and their films could have benefited from a real editor’s input. I prefer the idea of working together with an editor, but my way of filming and telling stories is very messy and random. I can’t have someone far away get my footage and understand and easily manage to make a film out of it. As a director—and a messy one at that—I really am needed in the editing suite to help an editor make sense of my mess.

Momentum, Ryan Le Garrec

Lastly, Thomas, what’s your biggest takeaway from this ride?

Thomas: Obviously, seeing my ideas coming to life. I had dreams for several years of this route. I patiently waited for the planets to align. Having the chance to put together this project with the support of our partners is bliss. I feel very fortunate for the trust and love I received along the way. Ultra-endurance is a solo effort, but what thrills me is to share it. Having my father onboard will definitely remain the highlight of this project. I have friends whose fathers aren’t with us anymore, so I understand my luck to have the opportunity to live this adventure with him. FKT, record, crossing, adventure, call it how you’d like. Just get out and live the outdoors fully.

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