Interview: Richard Moore

Bryn Lennon

Richard Moore pops into the Café again, this time to talk about this recent grande boucle book, Tour de France 100.

Podium Café: We're going to talk about your recent Tour de France book, Tour de France 100, but first Tour 100 itself - did you enjoy it this year?

Richard Moore: Yes, I did enjoy it, the racing part, at least.

After Ax-3-Domaines I thought it was going to follow a similar pattern to 2012: Sky dominating and controlling. But as we know, that didn't happen. They had a more convincing winner but a less convincing team.

And the team was so poor at times that it seemed to let others back in. The race ended up being far more exciting than it should have been.

PdC: One of the most striking things about this year's race, particularly its ending, was how it was designed more with a TV audience in mind, was more ... visual. And right at the end Chris Froome marshalled the Sky guys across the width of the road to provide an image for the photographers on the finish line. The camera is still king at the Tour?

RM: I thought Twitter was king?

Tour de France 100, by Richard MoorePdC: The book itself then. A century and a bit of photographic history. One thing I find difficult with these books is the transition from the era when the world was black and white - let's say up to the '60s or so - and into the modern, colour, era. I thought you handled that quite well in Tour de France 100, gently moving into the colour world by using images that had a couple of strong, primary colours dominating them, before moving into the full kaleidoscope of colour that is the modern peloton. Was that a conscious decision on your part?

RM: Not really! But thanks, I'll take it.

Even in the colour era I preferred some black and white pics. Such as the one of Hinault and LeMond hand-in-hand at the summit of Alpe d'Huez.

It's grainy, almost indecipherable, but far more evocative than it would be in glorious Technicolor.

PdC: I think it's Benjo Maso, in Sweat of the Gods, who pointed out that once TV came along print journalists - your domain - began to lose favour with the riders, that they stopped needing them as much as before and began ignoring them more. Sometimes, I think, we can see that in reporting, that riders from the past seem more open with journalists. But photographers... from your experience of talking to them, and from all the photographs you looked at researching Tour de France 100, how do you think the riders' relationship with the shutterbugs has changed over the years?

RM: It's clear photographers have a very different relationship with the riders than writers do. Which is natural, I think, for several reasons.

One, they share the road, so I think a mutual respect and sense of trust develops (in most sports there is a clear divide between the 'field of play' and the photographers: not in cycling).

Two, the photographers' job is to make the riders look like gods. And let's face it, a lot of cyclists are vain. I would imagine this makes a lot of them well-disposed to photographers.

And three, photographers don't tend to ask them if they're doping.

This last point is perhaps one reason why the relationship between riders and journalists has changed, if it has. A distance has grown in one sense, yet in another it hasn't - because as a journalist the access is still extraordinary compared to most sports. And I don't think the role of the journalist is any less important, because the cameras don't and can't catch everything - so the story still has to be pieced together and told.

PdC: A great find you have in the book is the British photographer Bert Hardy, who covered the race for Picture Post in the 1950s. Can I get you to talk a little bit about him and why he is important?

Bert Hardy

RM: Finding these pictures in the Getty Images library was the highlight of my research - Getty own copyright to his Picture Post archive.

I did a bit more research into Hardy, who was the most acclaimed British photographer of this period (he was a distinguished war photographer and led an extraordinary life). He also did quite a bit of cycling photography, which I hadn't realised.

What I most loved about his collection from the 1952 Tour was that he turned his lens away from the riders and photographed chefs sprinting from their kitchens to watch the race pass, a female fan overcome at the proximity of the riders, the mechanics and soigneurs at work.

His pictures of the race, riders and mountains are also beautiful. I could have filled an entire book with Bert Hardy's photography from that one Tour.

PdC: As Hardy did in Picture Post, you balance your selection of images, with action and reaction shots sharing space, photographs of the riders themselves, but also plenty of pictures of the roadside fans, showing the race as both sport and entertainment. Despite all the scandals we've gone through, do you think people still appreciate the spectacle value of the race, if not always its sporting values?

RM: Yes, certainly. I don't see any waning in the popularity of the Tour as a spectacle over recent years.

But, having said that, the crowds these days don't match some of those we saw in the old days. Some of the pictures show heaving masses of people in the most unlikely places, such as remote summits. You think: how did they get there?

Crowds on the Tourmalet, 1953

PdC: What were you most looking for when you were selecting images to make up the book - was there a particular story you wanted the images to tell?

RM: My plan at the outset was to pick one iconic image to open each chapter and to write an essay inspired by that. Some examples: Henri Pelissier holding court in the bistro in 1924 having withdrawn from the race after another argument with Desgrange; Rene Vietto sitting on a wall waiting for a spare wheel after giving his to Antonin Magne in 1934; Marco Pantani sitting on the road with the thousand-yard-stare in 1998. It just occurs to me that none of these are cycling pictures. Though there are plenty of those! But these pictures require an explanation - there's a fascinating story behind each.

Marco Pantani

I suppose that's the point: this is a photographic book but there's a lot of writing in it, too. There are thirteen chapters, each covering a particular era, and each with an essay of around two-and-a-half thousand words. I wanted the words to speak to the pictures, or the pictures themselves to tell a story: so I include sequences of pics to cover episodes such as Roger Rivière's career-ending crash in 1960, the female fan becoming hysterical in the 1950s, Lance Armstrong's chasing down and harassment of Filippo Simeoni in 2004.

Something that struck me in looking through all the pictures was how little the sport has changed. The bikes are fundamentally the same. The expression on the riders' faces is also the same. Flick through the book and, whether it is 1910 or 2010, you are struck by exactly the same grimace and the eyes fixed on some point in the distance. (Apart from when they're wearing sunglasses.)

Finally, on picture-selection, it was a great joy - but also very difficult - to pick favourite or less familiar pictures of those riders who just look brilliant on a bike: Coppi, Bartali, Anquetil, Hinault, and to that list, dare I add Ullrich?

PdC: I normally end these things by letting you plug something else, so tell me why I should be downloading the Humans Invent podcast every week.

RM: Hopefully they're fun to listen to because we have a lot of fun doing them - the usual team is Daniel Friebe, Lionel Birnie and me but we have regulars such as Orla Chennaoui and Owen Slot. And at the Tour we roped in some of our international colleagues, people like Anthony Tan, Matthew Beaudin, Andy Hood and the legend that is Ciro Scognamiglio of Gazzetta dello Sport.

We go to races, we interview riders and team directors, so we have some exclusive content. And I think one of the strengths of the podcast is that we are able to discuss some pretty complicated, contentious subjects in a considered, nuanced way.

PdC: Anything else coming down the line?

RM: I'm working on a book to be called Étape. It's a collection of essays, really, each one focusing on a 'great' stage of the Tour. Though my definition of 'great' is pretty loose: some are included because they are strange, obscure, quirky or mysterious. Each chapter is interview-based: I've tried to speak to the main protagonist(s), and so far that includes Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Freddy Maertens, Greg LeMond, Claudio Chiappucci, Andy Schleck, Mark Cavendish... and others, including one or two that might be considered, er, controversial. It's been a lot of fun to work on.

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