World

Ahead of the Peloton

Ahead of the Peloton

For 12 years Dan Jones has used his films to show the humour, the emotion and above all the humanity of cycling. He talks life on the road and balancing the professional with the personal with Nick Johns-Wickberg.

When Dan Jones’s father returned from the 2004 Tour de France with some amateur film footage and a bunch of stories, he unknowingly ignited a passion that would kickstart a career and – in no small measure – change cycling’s public image for the better.

Dan, a freshly graduated filmmaker at the time, developed a keen interest in cycling after watching his father’s videos. They served as inspiration for him to “tell human stories in the sporting world” using his own videography and production skills. Fast-forward a year and he’d scored the dream gig of making a feature-length documentary on the 2005 Tour de France, a project he repeated in 2007.

Despite feeling like “a shell of a man” by the time the race finished in Paris, Dan’s love affair with the tour continued. He covered the race for Fox Sports News between 2008 and 2011, but it was the birth of Australia’s own Orica-GreenEDGE team in 2012 (now Orica-Scott) that gave Dan his most significant break.

“I was friends with team owner [and founder] Gerry Ryan, so he approached me to come on board and film the journey with the team from its inception. He wanted to take fans along for the ride from the beginning,” Dan says. “I wanted to make content that appealed to not just your hardcore cycling fans but the wider audience, particularly those who know nothing about cycling.”

The pair rolled the dice and decided to do what no other cycling team had ever done – give their fans full behind the scenes access. The result was Backstage Pass, a distinctly Dan-Jones-flavoured YouTube series that doesn’t hold back on the laughter, the swearing or the silly jokes, but also captures the raw emotion and tension that comes with life on tour.

For the first time, Backstage Pass gave the public a glimpse beyond the secretive veil of cycling and into the lives of athletes who are not only determined and meticulous, but also down-to-earth, relatable and often very funny. In a sport whose public image has been so marred by doping controversies, these human stories provide a welcome breath of fresh air.

As an integral part of the team, Dan has spent between 150 and 200 days a year – or “a lot of hotel rooms”, as he describes it – on tour with Orica-Scott. His work has taken him to a host of countries in South America, Africa, Asia and across Western Europe. He’s spent a lot of time in Spain, where he was based with the team from 2013–16, and Brazil, with its aromatic food and frenzied passion for sport, remains a standout destination for him.

If he ever needs some extra inspiration for his work, Dan doesn’t have to look much further than Orica-Scott’s lead rider, Esteban Chaves. The fresh-faced Colombian with the cheeky grin had his promising career interrupted in early 2013, when a disastrous crash left him in a coma for two weeks. His injuries included a compound fracture of the collarbone, a smashed cheekbone and extensive nerve damage in his right arm. Nine of the 10 doctors consulted said Esteban would never ride again.

Not only did Esteban get back on the bike, but he made a mockery of his setbacks in 2016 by claiming podium finishes in both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España. Dan was there to film his entire journey.

“He defied the odds and has become one of the best riders in the world, but never lost the common touch,” Dan says. “He always has time for the fans and is super courteous to the staff and his teammates. A true legend both on and off the bike.”

Esteban’s story proved one of the main drivers behind Dan’s biggest project to date: the 2017 release of his first feature film, All For One.

“After Esteban’s breakthrough 2015 Vuelta, where he won two stages and held the leader’s jersey for a number of days, I knew the time was right to start work on a feature film,” he says.

All For One further showcases Dan’s ability to walk the line between humour and gravity. It traces Orica-Scott’s journey from its infancy up until the 2016 season, when the team celebrated some of its most iconic moments. Dan and his colleagues received recognition for their countless hours of work when the film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival.

“The reactions we have had to the film have been unbelievable,” he says. “I’ve received a huge amount of messages from people who have been touched by the film and the stories of mateship, determination and courage in a sport that had been tainted by controversy for so long.”

After 12 years on the bike, Dan’s involvement with cycling has just come to an end, with the 2017 Vuelta his last tour with Orica-Scott. His attention is now firmly focused on his newborn son, William, and his wedding later this year.

There are plenty of possibilities on the horizon, however. Dan is looking forward to “mixing things up a bit” and is considering making a tennis documentary in the future. But for the moment, his goals have “shifted from professional aspirations to being the best father and husband I can be”.

Because in the race of life, family always comes first.

Words Nick Johns-Wickberg

January 2018 from issue 54

Tags: australia, cycling, france, paris, sport, travel job

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