Onboard The Transcontinental Race (Film)
Onboard The Transcontinental Race, a film by Antonin Michaud-Soret, explores the unique experiences of the largest ultra-distance bikepacking race across Europe. To coincide with the film’s release through Vimeo On Demand, we’ve put together a Q&A with Antonin to learn about the project, plus a great selection of photos from photographer James Robertson…
In 2015, Antonin Michaud-Soret proposed the idea of a documentary film about The Transcontinental Race to the late Mike Hall. Mike first suggested Antonin join him in an event vehicle to experience the true complexities of chasing down riders over such long distances. In 2016, Antonin spent 17 days pursuing riders, shooting footage, and editing video in the back seat of that car, followed by a reconnaissance mission on the return trip to scout new roads, control points, and locations for the following year’s event. However, Antonin wasn’t satisfied. He spent two more years filming, focusing on people at the tail end of the race, the smaller victories, and what happens during the night.
The 2019 Transcontinental Race started on the Eastern edge of Europe, with several mandatory checkpoints or control points along the way, finishing in the historic harbour town of Brest in the West. 24-year-old Fiona Kolbinger took first place at the event, making her the first female to win the Transcontinental Race in the process. We’ve teamed up with Antonin to provide an exclusive behind the scenes look at the project. Scroll down for a selection of photos captured by James Robertson and a Q&A with Antonin to learn more about the challenges of producing such a film.
What sparked your interest in The Transcontinental Race?
First and foremost, I’m a cyclist. I love long-distance mountain biking just as much as I enjoy riding for fun and to travel. I never really liked the spirit of competition, but have always admired the athletes who took on these huge challenges. When I first saw the race, the spirit of it, it was clear to me that I wanted to be involved in some way. It reminded me of the first Tour de France, when people were riding for the beauty of the experience, in all its absurdity – not for the money. It’s about pushing yourself to your limit.
Why did you decide to spread the project over three years?
After exchanging a few emails with Mike Hall about my plans to document the event, he invited me to come to see the race from the inside first. To understand the challenges of filming it, and to witness the complications of tracking down riders who navigate freely between control points, making planned shots even harder to capture. He suggested that I produce short videos, filmed and edited during the race. A race of its own kind, I shot, edited, and published updates from the back of a media car. You can watch those here.
After Mike Hall’s passing, I stayed on the team to continue producing these videos, but still wanted to do something bigger, maybe to come back with an independent media car. That was my plan for 2018, but due to a lack of budget, it didn’t happen. Lost Dot, the team behind the Transcontinental Race series, made some space for me and Remy Lesueur in 2019 to edit the short videos during the race, and to give me more time to focus on the documentary.
Tell us a bit about your team. Who made this film happen?
I was the only one on the ground to film during the events. No team. I dedicated part of my time in early 2018 to find a producer or sponsors to make this documentary. But with no luck, I decided last minute to fund the project through my production company. I took a chance. But I was sure that the footage I captured could be used to create something important, and different, from what we’re used to seeing about endurance races. There’s more than just drama, sweat, tears, and suspense. It offers a deep look into humanity, craziness, unique people, diversity of opinion, and more.
Back home, I called my editor and we started to work, with no budget, on editing the film. Friends helped us out with the music (Kognitif, Degiheugi La Cantina, among others), the artwork by Manivelle.cc, and the artistic support of my fellow TCR photographer James Robertson, with whom I shared the car seats during the three editions of the TCR. I’m very proud we made it happen without any outside funding or sponsors. We’re not branded, and that means a lot nowadays.
What kind of video equipment were you using?
I started filming TCRNo4 with a Sony FS700 with Canon lenses, including a 24-70mm F2.8 and 100-400mm L Series. It was the best combo I’ve used in the past for very difficult conditions, and the camera has a good audio system built into it. TCRNo5 was filmed with the Sony A7S1, with the same lenses, and the FS700 as a backup. It allowed me to film more in low light conditions, which is a good time to catch riders doing normal endurance race stuff like stopping at gas stations and ‘wild’ camping.
What kind of challenges did you face while shooting an event of this size and length?
It’s hard for the public to understand that on the media side of the race, we’re not having a lazy time on the road. Documenting an event like the Transcontinental Race is difficult. When riders ride 4,000km, we’re driving something like 6,000km to 7,000km. Detours are often required to catch a good story, which often results in very short nights. I learned a lot during the first year I worked with James Robertson and Mike Hall, including how to efficiently stalk riders.
Since the riders are free to create their own route between control points, it makes it very difficult to catch up with other riders. Everyone is travelling at difference paces. Some move quicker across the flats, while others eat mountains like cake (a reference to Kristof Allegaert). Sometimes we were finishing days alone at a col, where riders passed by while we had no network to check their positions. But when a good story is combined with a great sunset, it’s pretty easy to forget about all these hurdles.
Any other projects in the works that you can share with us?
At the moment, my main goal will be to manage the life of this film. This takes a lot of my time as we are working with people all over the world to host live screenings of the film. I have a few other projects in mind, including doing something with Nelson on the Silk Road Mountain Race. I’m also looking forward to the possibility of joining in other media projects in other parts of the world. My experience filming the TCR was definitely a life-changing experience and one that I’m grateful to have had.
To learn more about Antonin’s project, check out his production company on Instagram @ahstudiofilmmakers, and by visiting the official website at OnboardTCRFilm.cc. Still photos by James Robertson (@jprobertson), and film artwork by @manivelle.cc.
There are also a growing number of live screenings scheduled throughout the spring and summer, which you can find more info on in the footer of the Onboard Film website, under ‘Full Calendar’. If you’re interested in hosting a live screening of the film, you should contact Antonin directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The eight annual Transcontinental Race is already scheduled for July 24th, 2020, with a grand depart in the historic town of Brest, France. Learn more about the event here.