It has been a long time since we wanted to talk with “The Grubers”, Ashley and Jered Gruber are for sure a reference in the world of cycling photography. They have got an incredible capacity to transmit the essence of cycling through their shots, capturing race moments, portraits of the riders, and the magnificence of the mountain and roads of the big tours.
Definitely the best thing about shooting bike races is that nothing is orchestrated and anything could happen at any time. Of course, our mission is to shoot the race but if you take a step back you can find thousands of interesting things happening all around the race. There’s a huge human factor that surrounds cycling and that’s probably what we most like and what we’ll miss the most when we look back at these years.
Ashley and Jered are living most of the time on the road, following the peloton from race to race, from the Classics to the Grand Tours: Paris-Roubaix, Tour de Flanders, Amstel Gold, Milano-San Remo, Strade Bianche, Vuelta de España, Giro d’Italia and of course the greatest of all, Le Tour de France. They live the charismatic and frenetic world of pro-cycling very closely, a dream for most of us but also a very demanding lifestyle.
Grand Tours: Le Tour de France
Tour de France (TDF) is with no doubt the greatest, hardest, and biggest race. Shooting the TDF is not an easy game, 4 weeks of hard hard work, adventure, fun, emotions, but also fatigue, stress, nerves, and great pictures to be taken.
The Tour de France is almost 28 days of work with no rest and no stop. I kinda get nervous and feel like having a funny stomach just thinking about it (he laughs). Working 16 hours per day, 6/8 hours of shooting and then you have to take care of editing, after-race shots, social media, and getting a few hours of rest.
It’s very intense and kind of exhausting even in the first days of the race, every day is a different playground and you have to choose a strategy, it’s insane. Every day we have to choose if it’s better to approach the race from a big road or from a small road and we can find 100 examples of each being better or each being worse. In addition, you’ve got to deal with the race situations, police, team cars, and other variables. Sometimes it is better to follow your instinct and see what happens, always having 3 or 4 options ahead.
The finish line is madness. The entire area of every finish line of Tour de France is so huge, it’s enormous! Sometimes you have to park the car 10 minutes away and then you’d better run to the finish line to get your shots and try to take some decent photos (he laughs).
But all these things make the TDF so special and unique! The more effort you make to achieve something, the more satisfaction. The TDF is a roller coaster, once you’re on top of it, it’s kind of a fun game and on the good days, it’s very thrilling and exciting! It’s a wild adventure, during 4 weeks you step from one place to the other following the peloton through the beautiful roads of France, always looking for the best spots, the best shots.
The two of you are inseparable, how do you manage to work together during a race?
When we go to the Grand Tours Ashley is always the driver and I’m always the navigator. We try to maximize the stops, normally we shoot on two separate spots so we have two completely different fields to work. In general, Ashley takes care of all those details that keep us alive during Grand Tours and it’s pretty tough work. I usually select and edit the shots we took during the day, while Ashley also covers other parts of the after-race shooting: after-race, mechanics, or massages. It’s important to work together but also have the ability to divide the tasks of the day.
I love editing, the process, and finding little details of what we did. Sometimes, in the rush of the race, you take pictures of everything, but you’re not conscious of what is happening, you just try to catch as many shots as you can.
Self-confidence and creativity, TDF is a huge caravan of cars, motorbikes, teams, and police. Taking great photos is not an easy task, how do you feel about it? Can you balance between your creativity and what you are supposed to shoot?
Most of the days I have mountains of doubts about the photo I took. Sometimes, at the end of a race, walking to my computer I wonder if I took any good shot. You always chase your tail and most of the time you feel like you didn’t make it the way you wanted. You always feel you miss something or a shot in a certain spot. It’s really hard to feel you’ve been successful.
I think that, in general, we shoot what we feel like, and normally people are content of what we give them. I try to take the best pictures I can wherever we go, not really thinking about who’s in it, it’s more ‘I’m right here, right now, in this spot, what is the best picture I can capture?’. For me, it’s important to keep it like this.
Working as a freelance and working for a team. How is working with a team as Education First (EF)?
We do a little bit of everything but, being with teams is a really nice thing for us, especially with EF. We’ve been with them at the TDF in the team hotel. It helps a lot to have the infrastructure behind you. In the case of EF, I think they’re doing a great job in communication and media of the team. It’s been a huge transformation in the last couple of years. They put a lot into that, and it’s really cool to be a part of it. But I think that in general a lot of teams are trying to give their best face and work hard on their ideas and strategies. It’s not easy work, it’s a lot of logistics and you need a good team.
How do you manage to find a balance between shooting the races and shooting for brands?
In general, we try to find a balance with the number of races we want to follow and brands to work for. Staying away from the races for a while is a kind of salvation for us, there is a certain energy level that you should respect before you get burned. We really like to shoot for brands. It’s fun, money is good, you can have nice conditions to take pictures, you can shoot sunrises and sunsets, and you definitely have more time to think about the photo and the place you want to shoot.
Some hot shots
The day of the Iseran
Stage 19 of TDF 2019, one of those days that will probably remain in the memories of all of us, the young Colombian Egan Bernal makes a demolishing attack on the Yellow Jersey on the top of the Col d’Iseran to write his name close to the names of the greatest of all time. Still, 40 km to go to the finish line in Val d’Isere, during the downhill the organization stops the race. Things go wild, nobody knows what will happen and the peloton lived a few minutes of uncertainty and nerves. Despite all these obstacles, Jered found a different focus to strike some great shots of that day.
When I took those pictures I didn’t know that the stage was going to be canceled. I was at 5 km to the top of the Col d’Iseran (still 30 km in front of the race). I was up there and I spent almost 15 min walking around. As we descended on the other side of Iseran, everything looked epic and beautiful. I remember that before the organization stopped the race we were stuck in a tunnel and a policeman didn’t let us pass and, when he did, the road started to overflow with mud, and I was there while it happened. That was thrilling, constantly jumping out the car to take some pictures as fast as hell and get back in. I don’t know how I got to the finish climb and once I got there I realized that the race was suspended. Even so, I still felt that I was seeing something really pretty.
Arc de Triomphe at the golden hour
We still have the last stage of TDF 2019 in our eyes, the Arc de Triomphe view at the golden hour. We were watching it on the television and already wishing to see your shots. The light was just perfect.
It was unbelievable. We always go home immediately after the Tour de France, so I probably made the fastest edit ever on those photos. It was a way to give a little tribute to myself, taking some good photos of the view of the Arc de Triomphe. I remember that I checked a few spots to shoot from but from the road level the light was just perfect. It was a great moment and I thought that anything would be cool.
Epic climbs and small roads
Probably most of us have a favorite great climb: Stelvio, Gavia, Zoncolan, Giau, Furka, San Gottardo, Tourmalet, Iseran, Abisque, Angliru, Mangart just to name a few of the monumental climbs. Epic views and cyclings panoramas that are stuck in our minds.
The Gavia was my first favorite climb, I remember looking at pictures of it back in 2002 on some website, it fascinated me. It still does. I have a lot of favorite climbs now, but the Gavia still stands as one of the absolute best.
In general, I like the small and tiny roads in the middle of nowhere, with no cars, and not too many people around. I really like the feeling of being connected with everything around you, it feels like you have your own personal road. That’s why maybe I prefer small unknown roads to the most famous climbs. And that probably is also a big part of my fascination with gravel, the dirt gives you the chance to evade so fast, and I love it. We went to Girona a couple of years ago. Road riding was OK, but gravel riding was so fun and really special.
Showers at Roubaix
Love it or hate, cycling is one of the most flavored sports, epic, hard and unpredictable, lots of elements that converge to create a unique picture. For sure, L’Enfer du Nord (the Paris-Roubaix) is one of the most physically and mentally demolishing experiences in pro-racing. After the race, most of the riders literally collapse for the effort. Some of the shots Jered took in the showers of Roubaix are the pure essence of cycling.
You really see people fall apart, and it’s weird because after the finish line there are a lot of people from teams, photographers, tv, organization, it’s kind of crazy. In the showers, there are only 4 or 5 riders, an intimate moment (some might find it cruel), and the photos are just beautiful. It’s like a real exposition of what’s happening. I don’t feel guilty about taking those pictures, everybody knows what happens at Roubaix. It is worth it because it is a moment of truth, and it transmits a lot of what cycling is.