The director of a stunning new film about the Shleck brothers’ 2011 Tour De France campaign has told RoadcyclingUK that he had to stop himself from becoming too emotionally involved in the Luxembourgers’ defeat.
Jean-Louis Schuller paid tribute to the physical and mental strength of the Schleck brothers and to Andy’s refusal to accept defeat after Cadel Evans’ tenacious performance on l’Alpe d’Huez kept the Australian in touch despite the Luxembourgers’ repeated attacks.
Andy Schleck finished second in Paris in July for the third time, with his brother Frank on the podium’s third step, after Cadel Evans, himself a two-time runner-up, took victory this year in an epic Tour De France.
“I was touched: at the Col de Manse when Andy lost so much time, and when he won on the Galibier, I was full of emotion. I had to slap myself on the face and remind myself I was a filmmaker,” Schuller told RCUK.
“At Grenoble [the penultimate stage’s individual time trial] I knew Andy didn’t give up. Some say after Alpe d’Huez they knew Andy had lost, but for Andy it wasn’t lost: maybe Evans would weaken. I was living that so closely,” he said.
Schuller, an award-winning filmmaker and cinematographer, a graduate of London’s National Film and Television School, whose credits include videos for Sigur Ros singer, Jonsi, said he had filmed the Schlecks in the Classics and throughout the Tour, after meeting them for the first time at the team’s winter training camp last December.
“I was on the bus before the first stage, and before the first stage in the Pyrenees. I was on the bus for the meeting before the stage to the Galibier, where they discussed Plan A and Plan B. The meeting lasted about 20 or 25 minutes,” he said.
And he conceded that the heroic failure of the Schlecks’ defeat – Evans’ margin of victory over Andy was just 1:34 – had made for a more poignant story.
“At the end of the day, it’s made a more beautiful film that they were second and third,” he said.
Schuller described legendary British commentator, Phil Liggett, as an “interview partner for the race” as well as providing some of the commentary included in the 90-minute film.
Capturing the supreme physical effort of professional cycling had provided the greatest challenge, said Schuller, a process made more difficult by the constant motion and apparent effortlessness of elite cyclists.
“When one imagines the Tour De France, it can look effortless. I wanted to document the huge physical effort and quite often it looks like a walk in the park. I captured Andy on an ergo-bike and he’s going full power for an hour and you can see the effort,” he said.
The brothers, who attended the film’s premiere in Luxembourg, had been impressed, he added.
“Their response was good. They were surprised. There were a number of times when they didn’t realise I was there, and there were so many key moments and emotions I was able to get across. It is so cinematic compared to what one is used to with TV reportage,” he said.
Schuller, a Luxembourger, said he had first been approached by the film’s producers to make a film about the Schlecks before the formation of Leopard-Trek, but said the team’s emergence, with backing from the Luxembourg businessman, Flavio Becca, had crystallized the project.
Filming began at the team’s first training camp last December. The filmmaker said that he had followed cycling in what he described as the Armstrong-Ullrich-Pantani era, and had watched from the roadside on some of the Tour’s signature climbs in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
He said the Schleck brothers competed against each other in all aspects of life, except cycling, where the claims of brotherhood prevented them racing each other. As children, the brothers had raced each other up local hills, he added.
Schuller and the film’s producers, Paul Thiltges Distributions, are currently seeking a UK distrubutor for a cinema release. He said they had been inundated with offers from Ireland, Australia, and America since the film’s Luxembourg premiere.
A DVD release in the UK would “not happen before Easter” and would be “no later then the Tour,” he added.