Thoughts in A Very Dark Place

When I started working on A Very Dark Place, it wasn’t called that. I simply called it ‘Five’ – after the five intervals – in my notes and in my filing system. It took awhile for the name, and the full experience, to reveal itself to me.

I say ‘reveal itself to me’ because I never truly know what I’m going to end up with when I start creating a Sufferfest video. I have a basic idea, of course: this one was always going to be 5×4:00 intervals and feature the races that it does (Paris-Nice, Liege, Fleche, Paris-Roubaix, Dauphine), and have a rock/indie soundtrack, but beyond that things have to work themselves out as I pull the pieces together.

The first time I did a 5×4:00 workout was with my spinclass. I told them that we were going to prototype a workout for a future fest video. Two things became clear during that session: 5×4:00 hurts a lot, and it can be boring to slug through 4:00 intervals. Really boring.

Since we’re in the enterPAINment business, boring doesn’t work. We’ve always believed that we MUST entertain you as it’s the only way to keep you on the bike and get you through a workout. The best designed workout in the world isn’t going to do anything for you if you’re too bored to do it a second, third and more times.

This led me to start crafting each 4:00 interval with it’s own personality. I wanted the first one to be something straightforward – the interval that would lead you into the others without too much trouble or thinking. Remy di Gregorio’s solo escape in Paris-Nice made perfect footage for this feeling: steady and aggressive. His finish with arms raised, the camera shooting from behind as the banner comes into view, made a perfect close for this.

The second interval needed to be a little bit harder. I wanted it to take on the steady feeling of the first, but then take a turn for the ugly in the second half…making sure you were fully tuned up and ready to dig really, really deep on the last three intervals. The climb up Mur de Huy in Fleche-Wallone is a brutal effort, but you rarely get to see it from behind the riders. I found footage of an early breakaway, though, in which the camera stayed behind the group during the climb – it lent itself to exactly the feeling I wanted to get.

Since the moment I first watched Phillipe Gilbert’s win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege back in the spring, I knew it had to be in a ‘fest. I wanted to capture some of the desperation that the Schleck’s must have felt as they slowly realised that no matter what they did, they were going to lose. As I cut it into this video, it took on a very ugly, mean spirit: it wanted to attack, attack and attack. I let that happen and create a truly brutal third interval with numerous changes of pace, standing, sitting and sprinting.

I always wanted the fourth interval to be the hardest. I didn’t want you to arrive at the fifth interval with too much left in the tank wishing you had gone harder on the earlier segments. The hardest interval had to be of Paris-Roubaix. Fabian Cancellara was so intimidating, so powerful and so aggressive and I wanted to get that feeling of supreme power into the interval. I wanted you to be scared of him like the riders alongside him must have been. Of course, he didn’t win, but he put everything he had trying to take home another cobblestone and I wanted him to beat you to an absolute pulp in doing so. In some ways, I think the fourth interval is too hard. It’s truly awful if you try to follow the instructions, and might even be a bit out of reach for mere mortals, but if it doesn’t leave you desperate and destroyed then I didn’t do a good enough job in motivating you to push yourself as far as you could…and a little bit beyond.

It was at about this time – while cutting the fourth interval – that the name A Very Dark Place came up. I had really been struggling to find a name up to that point, and the names of the videos mean a lot to me. I want them to be fun, different and somehow indicate what you’re doing to get into. I was riding to work one day and thinking about how hard No. 4 was and said “That is really going to put people into a dark place.” Whahey!

Christophe Kern, the Europcar rider, impressed me in the Dauphine with his complete lack of style and his ability to suffer like no other. I wanted him in this video, and the big climbs of the Dauphine provided a great finish. I wanted No. 5 to be a big gear masher, and trying to stay with Wiggins and crew as attacks keep going off the front made for a great closer: something that would wring every last bit out of you…especially when Purito attacks!

A few new things worked their way into A Very Dark Place. First was the evil laugh. It’s not used often, but I think you’ll agree that it’s used at exactly the right places. Second was a stand/sit indicator for some of the intervals. This allows you to know what you should be doing when the pace changes or the road tilts upward. I also had fun cutting in a visit from the team car and a verbal beat down from Phillipe Gilbert…things I thought of late at night while sifting through footage. These are the kinds of things that are never planned when I start the video…they just sort of find their ways in there as the creative process unfolds.

Music. After a few videos of mostly techno, I wanted a change. You might of wanted one, too. I decided to go with heavy indie and rock, but had to pick the songs really carefully: I didn’t want anything that would get screamo, or too aggressive that it would alienate people, but strong enough to hold the feeling that AVDP was trying to create. The song that might stand out the most is ‘The Hammer Comes Down’ by an ACDC tribute band. I was going to use it for the last interval, but then, at the last minute, shifted it to the last rest period. The soft music I originally had there just didn’t seem right for what was about to happen, and the Hammer lyrics fit perfectly for the time right before the last interval. It’s pretty different for a ‘fest, but I hope you like it.

And that’s just about the story of AVDP. After dozens and dozens and dozens of hours, it finally came out. I’m exhausted and I hope you love the video. Let me know if you’ve got any questions or feedback my fellow Sufferlandrians.

I hope you like them.