The Tour de Force gives amateur riders the chance to tackle the current year’s full Tour de France route one week ahead of the pros – all 21 stages in 23 days. In 2015, graphic artist Bruce Doscher will take on that challenge, but with a twist.
For the last four editions of La Grande Boucle, the American graphic artist has created a bespoke poster for every day of the Tour. In it, he would capture a decisive moment, iconic location or the peloton’s mood from the stage, completing his task the very same day. But with the Tour de Force running from 27 June to 19 July, the second two weeks of Bruce’s circumnavigation of France will overlap with the pro race – making his cycling and illustrating adventure all the more challenging.
“I had the idea the night before the 2010 Tour started,” said Bruce. “I had recently moved from New York to Auckland, New Zealand. I had the very rare luxury of free time on my hands. I knew I'd be watching the Tour anyway, and figured I could combine my passions – illustration, design, and cycling.
“The idea was to create a poster for every stage and share them across social media. I never really expected it to catch on, I just wanted a way to introduce myself to other local creative folks. People are so much more willing to meet with you when you have a current project to share. In hindsight, I was probably just looking for a way to rationalise watching the Tour."
Bruce started creating the prints to introduce himself to the creative community in Auckland
“To combine the drama of a race, and then add something that I enjoy personally — cycling. I guess that's the magic. It's 21 days of racing. On bikes. Through a beautiful country. There's drama, there's spectacle, the colours, the speed, the personalities of the riders, there's just so much inspiration to draw from. The more I read and study the history of the race, the more inspiring it is. Even non-cyclists know and appreciate the Tour de France. It's the big event. It's the race. It's a celebration of cycling.”
As exciting a prospect it is to bring his loves together, the process isn’t necessarily an easy one for Bruce. “It's extremely challenging, but extremely liberating at the same time. I definitely underestimated the difficulty when I started this project. I'm sort of glad the idea came to me at the last minute – I didn't have time to think rationally, I probably would have talked myself out of it. I just started. I did the first one and thought, ‘Yeah that went okay’. By the second or third, I realised I was in pretty deep, but I had to keep going and see it through. It is very much like an endurance event, there are highs and lows every day. You can build up stamina with practice and preparation. The support in the form of likes and comments along the way is incredibly uplifting in the small hours when self-doubt is looming.
“The tight turn-around is also liberating in that after 24 hours I'm forced to move on. Like any creative person, calling something 'finished' is incredibly hard for me. Just a little tweak here or there, or a completely new direction that comes to mind at the last second, or a twinge of doubt that it's not good enough. All of these things can be good if they push you to do better work, but they can also be a trap. Never finishing anything means never putting anything out there and getting a response. This project forces my hand. It's actually energising to turn something from idea to final work in one day. Many of my projects at work can go on for months, with endless rounds of client feedback, meetings, and revisions. These things suck all of the joy out of the creative process. The process is the thing that I love, and this Tour project gives me that buzz back. It's agonising and blissful at once.”
Even as an experienced endurance athlete, Bruce isn't sure what to expect during his three weeks in France
If creating the art is like an agonising endurance event in itself, why has Bruce decided to add an actual agonising endurance event into the mix as he takes on the full Tour route with the Tour de Force?
“I can remember my first daydreams about riding in the Tour de France. I was seven. I always heard stories of my Great Uncle George Shipman. He was a professional track cyclist in the 1930s. My mom would tell me stories about the six-day races he'd do, and how he would eat while riding his bike. Never mind the six-day part, I found the eating amazing.
“Every year I watch it the on TV, I am slightly sad because every year I say, 'Next year I'm going to be a part of this'. I'm running out of years. This is my year. This must be my mid-life crisis!
“I've been involved with the Tour de Force for the last two years. I've provided some of my prints as gifts to their top riders, and helped a little with fundraising last year. It's a great organisation. Their charity, the William Wates Memorial Trust, is a great cause. Tracy, Sarah and all the team have been great to work with. I thought that if I was ever going to get over to ride the course, I would do it with them. Lucky for me, I got in early and was able to secure a 'lifer' spot in this year’s ride.
“I can't avoid the cliché, it really will be a lifelong dream come true.”
For the event’s second two weeks, the pros will be playing catch-up with Bruce, so while other Tour de Force riders are refuelling or sleeping after a long day on the bike, he’ll creating new prints.
“I've been making these prints for the last five years. Some years I've been able to dedicate all of my time to the work, other years I've had to juggle the demands of a full-time job, along with the posters. On those years I've been able to work eight to 10 hours at a busy agency and still find time for the Tour. It's not my ideal way to work, but it's been done.
“I kind of see this year as a field assignment. The riding is my research. I will be there on the street, riding the same route, seeing the same towns. We will be setting out a week before the pros, so it won't be the actual day, but aside from that, it is about as real of an experience as an average Joe can get. I want to see these places with my own eyes and not have what I take in filtered through video clips, articles, and photos. There is no substitute for being there."
Bruce will be striving to complete prints despite the fatigue of his daily grind around France
“The real challenge will be the physical demands of the ride. I've run a dozen marathons, done two Ironman triathlons, and have several 100-plus mile rides under my belt. So I've had a taste of the suffering. But those are completely different, not to mention in the past. At the moment I'm not in the best shape. I've begun my training, but I think this will be brutal.
“I'm guessing there will be good camaraderie on the road and hopefully a good après-ride each day as well. I don't want to miss out on that either, but I'll have to be disciplined to get it all done and be rested enough for the next day.
“I will do as much preparation as humanly possible, but the truth is — I have no idea what to expect. This really, really, excites me. And scares the hell out of me. Which then also excites me. This could be a complete disaster, or my best year ever. I'm an optimist."
Find out more about Bruce and his prints at www.cyclingposters.com.
If the idea of testing your physical and mental limits on the roads of France excites you as much as it does Bruce, the Tour de Force still has a some places available for the 2015 edition and only a handful to ride the entire tour route. For more information on this epic undertaking, visit www.tourdeforce.org.uk.