Tugende: Race Around Rwanda (Film)
Ryan Le Garrec’s new film, Tugende, documents the 2020 Race Around Rwanda—following some well known ultra-endurance athletes as well as members of Team Rwanda, some of whom had never participated in a bikepacking race before. Watch the full film here, along with photos and a Q&A with Ryan Le Garrec…
Ryan Le Garrec’s third film Tugende documents the athletes participating in the 2020 Race Around Rwanda—a single-stage, self-supported race around Rwanda. The route is known to be hilly, consisting of about 20% gravel, with a total distance of 1,000km and an elevation gain of 17,000 meters. The full film, produced by Ryan Le Garrec and Lander Deldime, follows the athletes through their personal highs and lows along the route, including the professional riders on Team Rwanda, who had never ridden with lights, GPS, or bikepacking bags. Turn Cycling hosted a live introduction with the organizers and podium finishers, and will also be answering questions after the film’s launch at 8:00pm UK time—watch that here. Watch the full film below, followed by a collection of photos from the event and a Q&A with Ryan Le Garrec.
Tell us about your experience in Rwanda—was it what you expected?
Rwanda is an amazing country, it’s got such a tough history, yet you can feel it in a very positive way, there is an urgence to live, to love, to enjoy, to build, to progress, to learn, to develop. “We need our country, we need our home, we love it and we want to take care of it the best we can.” It’s incredibly clean, they have banned plastic bags a long time ago, I think six to ten years ago. It’s incredibly safe, I lost my phone in a cab and it was brought back to my hotel very promptly. A rider lost his wallet and the same thing happened to him, it was given to another rider in order to find its owner back! I had no expectations of Rwanda, I had no idea. I don’t remember who described it to me as the Switzerland of Africa but it’s a good description. It’s probably even safer than Switzerland!
After visiting, would you recommend it as a cycling destination?
Sure, big time, I already have to my friends. The weather is warm but not too hot. You have the incredibly smooth tarmac, roads that feel better than many in Europe or America. You have tons of gravel tracks and gravel routes like the Congo Nile Trail. I think the best thing there is probably to go road or full on gravel, it will take you through more remote places, small villages and it will feel more like an immersion than going through the main towns on busier roads. But roads are just amazing too, and the elevation is constant but not too high. Then the safety thing is also very encouraging for adventure I find, you can trust the fact that nothing will ever happen to you and you can count on the locals to help you out the best they can if anything would happen.
Did you have any surprises or challenges while filming the race?
We know what we get ourselves into from the start. We followed a few races before, I even raced some too. Well, race is a big word, I rode them. So we know we wouldn’t sleep much if we wanna follow the first guys till the finish. We know we might get dirty and eat whatever, we also know that we are in a car, with a cooler, with airco, comfy seats, we can have a snooze at any point if we really need it. So yeah we do about three days work in terms of hours each day but we can’t complain. This race was no different on that regard. Then there are all the other things, sleep deprived driving, nerves and patience out the window, blowing a few fuses here and there, laughing and crying in the same sentence! And it is a short race, it is only 1000km so the first guys won’t stop at all or very very little, short races are a different beast. On a long race, you protect yourself, you pace yourself, you know you should have time to get the story and there is no point over-shooting like a maniac. Day after day, you get in a rhythm and even if it is a hard rhythm, it is a rhythm and you are not so stressed. But on a short race like this, you can quickly miss things, there is no down time, you can’t stop really and you have to make some tough choices, in terms of where to be. So that makes short races a bit tricky for me, you finish the first three days knackered cause you basically slept very little to be able to cover most of it and yet there is still a lot more work to do, a lot of racers are still out there and we don’t want to just focus on the top ten guys, we know the best stories, the biggest tales of bravery will often be in the middle pack or at the back.
So this was no surprise but this is our challenge every time. When we followed Josh Ibbett on the Tour Divide, for the The Length Of Time film, we had only one rider to focus on, we had more than a week to get our story, we had to be near him as little as possible and a lot of sections we couldn’t even drive them and so we had those super long detour drives to get to another small section we could hope to catch him on, we often laughed about it cause we had the feeling of not working that much, we felt like we were just on a big road trip through America! We even had a few showers, we had beds in our van but could stop in motels if we wanted to, a fridge and everything we could even need although we could and did stop at restaurants to eat! Following a short race means a totally different approach, there is no down time, your down time, if any, has to be maximised and well used, you’re racing too in the end.
Do you think bikepacking and ultra-endurance racing are on their way to becoming more established in Rwanda?
I honestly have no idea. What I know for sure is that among the racers that went there this year, a lot will come back, be it for the race or for personal trips. I personally really hope to go back there one day and would love to ride this country. I know the organizers of the race, Matt and Simon, are working on other projects like gravel races and mountain bike epics, races and trips, I sure think they will have a lot of success given how well they organized their first race.
What’s your next project?
It’s hard to know what will happen but it’s easy to know what you really want to see or make happen. Being stuck in a corner forces you to ponder and evaluate lots of aspects of your life. A bit like ultra cycling can do. Whatever seed has been seating in your mind for a while now finds a lot of water and sunlight or be it time and stillness to grow into something that has the potential to transform your life into what you really want to make out of it. I’ve been working all around the globe last year, on many races, collecting material and encounters, stories and friendships to make a long feature film or documentary series about bike packing. It’s a project we have called Elephant and it wants to tell the story of many riders and how ultra distance cycling has helped them taking control of their life and gaining freedom, once you ride over 2,000km in a matter of days, faced your demons and flirted with your limits only to push them away a bit more everyday you find that you can do a lot more with your life if you approach it with the same abnegation, the same strength, the same will, the same lack of fear and the same trust in the future and your own abilities, trust in life and its magic. The project Elephant is still in progress and we still have to find partners to help produce it but it will happen no matter what, when and how. We have been very lucky to find a huge help with Axel Carion, founder of the Bikingman series, he believed in this project and idea and got us to come and cover most of his races last year so we could gather material but also train ourselves in how to cover these races. Nothing would have happened without his help in the first place.
I also want to make a book as I find that text and photographs are the best way to tell and cover these stories, they allow you to be lighter in your approach than when you are filming and “need” the shots, you can tell a lot more with a quote, a still and some lines and you can leave room for imagination and keep much more distance from the story yet reach the heart of it. Then there is also the idea of filming more for races and it’s not really a project but maybe a different approach. I have been thinking a great deal on how to define and sharpen film making strategy and conduct in self supported races, without endangering the fundamental aspect of this sport, which is very dear to me. So I have sort of concept on how I want to cover these races without compromising much of their integrity, I think as the sport grows, we, as media, have a responsibility to shape an approach that both emulates, depicts and values the sport but also doesn’t stain it, doesn’t compromise it.
Make sure to check out The Length of Time, another film by Ryan and Lander that documents Josh Ibbett’s 2019 Tour Divide experience.