Seven Shots from The Goats

In the second installment of photographer Ryan Le Garrec’s new “Seven Shots” series, he shares the untold stories behind a set of photos from The Goats bikepacking race in Portugal. Find his latest alternative approach to storytelling featuring seven images and short interviews with Sofiane Sehili and other racers here…

Words by and photos by Ryan Le Garrec

Editor’s Note: This post is the second of several upcoming installments of Ryan Le Garrec’s experimental new series that seeks to find fresh ways of telling stories through photos by looking behind the scenes of seven shots that didn’t necessarily make the final cut.

Framing the project, Ryan said, “Sometimes, the best pictures have no story left to tell, while some missed shots have many more background anecdotes to share. Expect shots that might be blurry, poorly framed, overexposed, or plain taken with the wrong settings. I think all the magical accidents along the way are what fascinate me the most in any creative endeavour. Maybe I just don’t have great self-esteem, but I find my best work comes from accepting these accidental results as being better than anything I was trying hard to make intentionally!”

In this Seven Shots, Ryan chases down racers at the 2024 edition of The Goats, a 750-kilometer off-road bikepacking race through the mountains of Portugal. It took place in October, and he was there photographing it from the saddle. —Lucas Winzenburg



Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

I don’t know what Sofiane is looking at, but I remember taking the shot and enjoying how easy Sofiane is to photograph. He never seems to notice the camera; he is extremely natural and exuberant at the same time. Never a dull moment. Sofiane’s face always nicely translates where he’s at mentally, and sometimes even more than that!

After a little break before the village of Monsanto, I had packed enough sandwiches to see me through the dark hours. I was chasing Sofiane from afar now; he was riding along with Miguel Rola, and they came to a halt in a village. It was a relief. I was never gonna catch them otherwise. I found Sofiane sitting in a small bar, eating pastries and drinking chocolate milk. He was staring at a TV.

  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

I had collected mostly blurry shots that day from the bike without any autofocus; shooting wide open was not the smartest move. I was pretty convinced that I had almost nothing. But there, suddenly, I was getting what felt like a scoop. Sofiane, famous for his sleeping pattern of zero hours per thousand kilometres, was checking himself into a little hotel.

It was such a relief to get shots that didn’t only involve cycling and felt more like reportage. The absurdity of some scenes, the deafening silence of the tiny village in the Portuguese mountains, all of it felt rare and precious, emblematic of these races and how far deep into a country they can bring you into places no tourists go. Even as a traveller, you’d have to be seriously lost to end up there like that at night!



Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

This isn’t from the race itself, but it’s my favorite shot of that whole trip. The lines don’t really work, and the symmetry is approximative, but somehow the misbalance of the shot is what makes it meaningful. To me, it’s all slowly falling apart.

I knew this man had lost his mind and probably a lot more. Our sanity, I thought, is perhaps the most valuable possession we have. Because ultimately, it’s the very ability to value anything. Without it, we can’t cherish the right thing the right way.

He might have lost his house, his job, and his friends and family, but he also lost his mind. Did it precede losing the rest, or was it the opposite? Does he realise that he lost so much, or did losing everything and everyone make him this way? There are a million questions running through my mind, and I won’t get any answers. What he shares with me doesn’t make much sense; he is a politician, he was a tailor, my lycra shorts are weird—that’s all I could understand from it all.

The night before, I realized I couldn’t take the train back home from Coimbra to Lisbon, so I would have to ride 220 kilometres back home. I had promised myself I would keep the camera deep inside the bag and just enjoy the ride. When I passed him, I was shaken by the scene. He was eerily standing there; his clothes had probably not left his body for months, his nose was broken, and the wound was still open and visible, probably infected. He was just standing there, and it felt like he had been doing so forever, watching the rare traffic. He didn’t look at me, though. I took my time, pulled out the camera slowly, and smiled after the first few shots. He didn’t smile back, but he didn’t seem bothered, either, so I got closer and closer until we finally exchanged a few words. It was a difficult interaction and a surreal moment. I wished him well and continued on my way.



Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

By now, I am starting to be really tired. My brakes make a weird noise. My camera lens is constantly dusty. I’m tired, and my mind starts playing tricks on me.

I am suddenly at the top of the hill, watching the road wind its way down and feeling depressed under the glorious sunlight of the beautiful landscape; it’s day two of my pedal-powered coverage of this gravel race in Portugal. Set in the mountains, The Goats is a new gravel bikepacking race in the centre of Portugal. They’re not very high, but they have a whole bunch of steep gravel tracks.

  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

One thing I know about long rides is how they can affect your mood; you can easily end up tired, and without notice, you can dip into melancholic abysses. I have a trick for these moments, Haribo. You might get tired of them, but they’re pretty efficient at getting you out of the dark!

Sofiane: “It’s bloody hard! A shitload of elevation, rough gravel, warm days, and long nights. I am kind of fast touring it more than actually racing. It’s taking its toll on me. Racing it full-on would have been very challenging, even if it’s a rather short course.”



Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

This is Mascha Wahlig. She is quiet. When I met her, it was quickly obvious that she was one of those people who talk less, though they have more to say. At the start line, she had this calm confidence and the visible hope for only one thing: fun all the way!

It looks like a portrait I would have done after the race: a happy, satisfied look, a mission well completed. And it was precisely what was about to happen! If you want to do well, catapult your mind to the end and see it as done already.

“I felt good at the start. After a few kilometres, I was confident, and I felt like I had good legs, so I just told myself I’d ride as long as possible. I’m vegan, and I knew that my diet would be compromised a bit during the race, so I started with a lot of bars and gels. For the first 36 hours, I didn’t need to stop for anything other than water!

Given the weather, I opted to leave my bivvy bag behind and just take my sleeping bag. No mattress, either! You’re so tired you can sleep on hard ground without any issue. I was surprised at how well I slept out in the wild. I didn’t feel unsafe at all; I felt perfectly fine doing it! Also, even if I slept for only three hours, I felt really fresh the next day.”

  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

We met by the lake on day one, and she had just crashed a few minutes before that: “Nothing serious, but this is pretty annoying!” Mascha points at the side of her bib shorts, and I wonder how I hadn’t noticed that there is not much material left. Her left thigh, from hip down, is showing a massive patch of skin. That contour is going to make a weird tan line, I think, but I don’t dare to tell her. I think about how, as a little souvenir, that outline could be a cool tattoo if she wins the race, still not sharing any of my genius ideas with her.

We talk a little. She is about to reach the dam bridge, and when she does, she pulls out her phone and makes a video of the whole surrounding area. I will follow her and use some shortcuts to get a few other shots of her.

“I signed up for the race on a last-minute, spontaneous impulse five weeks ago. I didn’t really have time to overthink it. I trained only by doing some long rides on the weekend and sleeping little in between, also fuelling a bit less than I usually would, so I would see how it is to ride through fatigue a bit more.

I feel that these races are not as about competition as they are about forming a connection to yourself; you get to tune in with your body and mind and be in the moment. I’ve never been attracted to races, and I don’t feel competitive at all; this is something else. I think I am hooked, though. I just signed up for Atlas Mountain Race!”



Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

This is Christophe Dijkmans on day one. I had about five to ten minutes gap on Chris and Clement Mahé in this tiny village. I hesitated in figuring out the best spot to wait for them. But when I saw this wall, I double-checked that it was on the course. The shot doesn’t do any justice to how steep that bit of cobblestone alley was, and Chris’s smile lies even more. The difference was flagrant between the two riders: Clement looked very focused and giving his all, and Chris was following him only a few meters behind and looked totally relaxed and at peace. I remember the vivid feeling I had when hearing him say hi and seeing his face; he was definitely going win this race. By now, I had seen most of the top ten riders, and Chris just looked effortless.

  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

“Clement gave a big push at kilometre 160 or so, but I didn’t see the point in trying to follow at that point. I remember we had already quite a gap, and it felt unnecessary. Later in the night, I caught him back on a climb. He didn’t seem to hold the pace, so I pushed a fair bit and dropped him.

What I love about these races is the bubble, you know, the community. When I started bikepacking, it was very much on my own, but when you do a few of these races, you end up meeting the same people around, and something grows. I feel like a part of the community, and it’s a community I really like.

It looks like a short race on paper, but it’s so slow. The track is as gorgeous as it is bumpy, and I was really impressed by the organisation. It is obvious that Edgar has put a lot of work into this event. A lot.”



Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

After my last encounter with Sofiane at the supermarket, I pedalled a flat stretch to link up to the nearby city of Coimbra. I never expected the shot to be special; it was the feeling at that moment that I wanted to convey in some way.

I felt sad to leave the race, to know I would not see the end of it. I would miss a whole chunk of everyone’s story and leave people I had barely even met yet. I was enjoying myself riding around, chasing numbers to get a shot, being pushed in some way to cruise between different points of the race course, exploring, with no aim to explore but the need to get somewhere and get something. Because there is no expectation for beauty, there is a lot of room left to appreciate it. Because if the point of riding is only to get somewhere, you end up appreciating the ride itself even more. Pleasure is not forced upon you as it is not your responsibility to have a fun bike ride. You’re only using this tool as a means of transport; there is no pressure to enjoy that moment but only to get it done. I like this kind of riding; it lowers my expectations and maximizes the fun! It’s like that day you woke up and did not expect it to be one of the best days of your life.



Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

“How you doing?”

“Man, not great. I had a coffee earlier, and I couldn’t taste it. I feel slightly sick. I hope I didn’t catch COVID on the plane. I’m just gonna reach next town and refuel now. You coming?”

I then followed him down a gravel track, almost crashing at least twice. For a second there, I was relieved he wasn’t in great shape! We found a little supermarket in town, and that’s where I snapped that shot before some lady told me it was not allowed to take pictures inside. The next shots I took, Sofian was eating chicken. I shot from outside the supermarket, as you can’t forbid that.

  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec
  • Seven Shots from The Goats, Ryan Le Garrec

“I get bored on tarmac. This is fun, technical, and challenging! That’s my gear at the moment, cause I’m not a mountain biker, so I want to train and improve that.”

For a long time, I’ve wanted to ask Sofiane about his incredible wins the same year at both the Silk Road and the Divide.

“It’s funny, because I don’t think people at the time thought it was a big deal. Actually, I don’t think there are a lot of people who realise what it takes to achieve this. But yeah, I’m immensely proud of this achievement. I definitely couldn’t race SRMR 2022 at my full potential, and my 2023 ride is leagues above, but I did what needed to be done to get the win. I was lucky that James Mark Hayden was not 100%, either. And then other strong riders like Steve Halligan and Rodney Soncco didn’t have my experience of Kyrgyzstan. Experience plays a big part in this race, and it’s something I have. The rest is just being disciplined, organised, a bit lucky, and not sleeping too much.”

Ryan Le Garrec

About Ryan Le Garrec

Ryan Le Garrec is a filmmaker who fell in love with cycling after being a bike messenger in Brussels. Focused on everything adventure cycling, Ryan dedicates his time and work to share how bicycles can improve our lives. He has worked in Sweden and all around Europe from an early age while working with Damien Rice and a contemporary dance group based in Sweden. He also co-produced and directed a TV show about personalities from all ways of life living or passing by Belgium. He works as a photographer and writer and defines himself as a multi-media artist, wannabe vagabond cyclist, and a keen credit-card bikepacker.

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