The Making of Angels

Angels has been around in my head for a long time. I'd wanted to do a climbing video for over a year, but it never seemed to come together the way I wanted it to. It's an art, you know. The workouts for Downward Spiral and Revolver came together so much easier with the music and video I had available. And not to do those productions any discredit, but climbing agony is different than flatland agony...and I never found what I needed to find in order to create a real climbing video that fit with the Sufferfest ethos of blinding misery.

Fight Club actually started out as a climbing workout video, but, as I cut it, it took on a life of its own and turned into the racing-attack-fest that it is. I love how Fight Club turned out..and that it sort of created a life of its own. I think you can feel that during the workout. But, still, it left me with that empty hole that only creating a great climbing workout could fill....(is it just me with that hole?)

The first thing I do when creating a Sufferfest is design the workout. I always try to create one that's about 60mins long, and I wanted to incorporate the 'time crunched cyclist' approach of 8 minute, maximum effort climbs. I ended up putting a warm-up and three 8 minute climbs in there, with limited recovery. This didn't take up a full hour, and I felt like 4x8:00 climbs was a little I threw in a 10minute over/under session before the climbs, which I had tested on some early Sufferfest prototypes and which I really enjoyed. Over/unders are the kind of thing that take a lot of practice to really get right and I felt like it added an element of 'replayability' that's essential to keeping a video workout fresh. At the end, I put in a short warm-down. That created a workout with a good solid warm-up, a testing over/under session and then three major climbing efforts. Good.

The next step was to find the footage to fit the workout, with interesting characters, decisive moments, good scenery, lots of 'from behind' shots (insert rude comments here) and legendary climbs. This might sound easy, until you try to find that perfect combination. I knew I wanted Alpe d'Huez, and would have liked big mountains like Tourmelet, Galibier, but for one reason or other, I couldn't get that footage to come together. Then I sort of changed the idea to one where the climbs got progressively more difficult. That's when the idea to have the climbs from Liege-Bastogne-Liege come first, then Paris-Nice's famous Col d'Eze, and then Alpe D'Huez. I wanted to pull the Alpe from the Tour de France but I simply couldn't afford the rights for that footage. In fact, this video cost me a lost more than I ever thought I would pay to produce such a video. ASO, while always a pleasure to work with, set some very high prices to secure the rights to the footage I eventually wanted.  I seriously considered abandoning Angels at one point due to the cost, but fell so in love with the thing, and believe so much in it, that I took the plunge. I hope you guys buy it othewise my wife is seriously going to kill me (no, seriously). : - )

So. On to the footage.

The warm-up is special. It's some amateur track racing footage from a guy named Chris Grout in San Diego. I think, without any imagination at all, pwe can all put ourselves at the back of the paceline in this video. What really attracted me to this footage was this real amateurness (is that a word?) if you're at your first track event and you're trying to prove yourself. As the riders up front pull off, I found myself getting more excited, putting in more effort, and getting more nervous for the inevitable time when I'd have to pull. You'll see what I mean when you're there.

The over/unders last for 10:00. One minute is just above threshold, one minute is just below. I knew exactly what footage I wanted for this. I remember watching the stage in the 2009 Paris-Nice where Luis Leon Sanchez attacked a seemingly invincible Alberto Contador. I remember watching him attack and thinking, 'Cripe, that boy has balls. Nobody attacks Contador. Contador will shut him down, drop him and win the stage.' But that didn't happen. Contador stayed with the other guys: Chavenel, Voigt, Schleck. And then Sanchez just rode and rode...while Contador did....nothing. And then got dropped. Holy! That moment is one that is still so clear in my god, Contador is dropped! He's so alone! Has he ever felt this before? The over parts of the video are Sanchez, the under parts are of'll understand it when you do it.

After that, you get a bit of a break for 3:00. What other wonderful things can I say about Markus over at He shoots some of the most wonderful cycling footage I've ever seen. I've used his descending footage in a couple of videos now in exchange for some advertising for him in the video. It works out really well for both of us and judging from the feedback I get, you guys all love his stuff, too. This footage, in particular, has fantastic fall colours, nice roads and cool little towns. This is also the footage that features inbetween the climbs. If you're able to recover enough to look up from  your handlebars, you really should pay attention to the beauty.

Then the first climbing session, which is from the 2009 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I have fond memories of watching this race - mainly because I really wanted Philippe Gilbert, one of my favourite riders, to win. When he was off the front, he looked strong and I thought if one or two guys bridged up to him, he had a chance to win it. And then Schleck attacked - WTF OMG! Now, during Angels, you'll start at the bottom of La Redoute, usually one of the decisive climbs in the race and you'll have to follow a couple of accelerations...but then Schleck attacks and you HAVE to stay with him. I made the effort level for that at 9/10. How could it be otherwise? He's one of the top two climbers in the world...and you're not going to hang with him nancying about at 7 or 8/10. You might think that the attack lasts too long and that I was a little hard on you...but I left it as long as he was throttling it.  I then stiched together as much of the final climbing scenes as possible to make up the 8:00. The final scenes, of Schleck estatic in victory, still give me chills. Brilliant victory.

The Col d'Eze climb is something that I'd wanted to include for awhile, because it takes about 8:00 to get up and I thought it would be pretty cool to climb it right with the pros in 'real time.' I also wanted this climb to have a different character than the first one, so made it progressively harder, with the intensity increasing every two minutes. I also wanted to mix it up with some cadence increases...but without increasing effort. This is a way I like to work on leg speed changes, and you'll have to reduce resistance to make it work, but it keep the climb fresh and interesting and gives you something to think about other than plodding along for 8:00. Now, Tommy Vockler is a scrappy rider, and I love the stuff from the bottom of the climb when he's attacking and attacking. I was also really happy with some of the group scenes - such as the one coming up behind this year's revelation, Peter Sagan. The scene with Contador looking over his shoulder across the valley at the riders ahead of him is also a classic. It took me quite awhile to stitch this climb together the right way, but I'm really pleased with how it came out.

The last climb - well, does anyone not know Alpe d'Huez? Since, as I said, I couldn't afford the Tour de France, I used footage from this year's Dauphine. Janez Brajkovic was the surprise leader heading into the climb, and Contador the most likely to take the jersey off his shoulders by the top. Few expected Brajkovic to withstand Contador's force, including me. But, oh man...what a climb! Not only did Contador attack about a thousand times, but so did Sylvester Szmyd, freed from his usual domestique duties. This was a hard climb to put together - there was just so much brilliant footage. I must have cut it into a million pieces to assemble the 8:00 session that you'll ride. I wanted this climb to be the one that pushed you over the limit - I wanted the base effort to be really hard, so I set it at 8/10. And then I threw in as many of the attacks as I reasonably could - and there are a lot of them. After all, staying with these guys on one of the most legendary climbs in the world can't be easy, so I wanted you to feel just how difficult it must be. There is one scene where one of the riders attacks, and riders are suffering, and then Contador attacks like a shot, and, well, I put that in there to see if you could handle it. By the time you get to contest the final sprint for the stage win, you should be nearly in tears. If you're not, I didn't do my job.

For the warm-down, I choose some old school stuff that was kind of fun. And I made the first Sufferfest xtranormal video for a chuckle as you wind your cadence down. There is also a short plug for the latest project: The making of Cyclepassion 2011.

The music. The music is the last part that I lay down - I have to be fully confident that the workout is solid and all the video is edited just the way I want it. Only when that is done, do I start looking at the music. At first, I was going to do an all techno soundtrack, but I liked the mixed approach of Revolver a lot, so decided to throw in a bunch of alt-rock. To be honest, I dread the music part of creating these videos. This is because I LOVE music...and I abhor most of the music I hear on cycling's as if they don't think that the music is important. To me, it's critical as the video and the workout. So, once again I went through the process of listening to hours and hours and hours and hours of bad music to find a few gems. Fortunately, I had a couple of spare tunes left from past videos that I hadn't used because they just didn't seem to fit. This included 1984 by the Netherland's Silence is Sexy, which is just a fabulous song and I liked them so much that I found another of their tracks to include.

I also wanted to do something a little different, so on top of the alt-rock and techno, I found a couple of really fun funk/disco tunes...and I think they fit in really well where I've put them. I also made a conscious effort to put slower, more mellow tunes during the recovery sessions. This is something Sufferfesters asked for, and it's something I should have done before in a better way.  After I've found enough music that works, arranging the songs is incredibly difficult. It's important to match the song to the footage, match the duration of the songs to the duration of the efforts, and avoid having downtempo moments while attacks are happening or crescendos when things are mellow on screen. They are like puzzle pieces that I have to keep moving around until they all fit. Music is really personal, and it's impossible to please everyone, but I hope you really enjoy this compilation of tunes...I love it. And be sure to support the artists if you like their stuff. 

Oh, the name. The name is always fun to come up with. I like names that have some character, and that say something about the video, but not too much. Downward Spiral, inspired by the Nine Inch Nails album of the same name, is fairly obvious once you've done the workout. Fight Club...well, what else could that workout's a brutal fight. Revolver is round-and-round, please-shoot-me-now intervals. Angels...well, why do you think I named it Angels?

So, once it's all together, I test the video, retest it, have some other people test it, obsess over it, obsess some more, drive my wife crazy with late nights obsessing over the video (I would work on Angels at night, after getting home from work and once everyone was asleep), go into a few fits of fear and anxiety that nobody will like it, tweak a few tweaks I've already tweaked a thousand times and eventually package it all up and upload it.

Then I pull the trigger and put it up for sale. I hope you love it and it gives you tons of replay action.

Please let me know what you think.

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