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‘I know who I am for the first time in a long time’: Dan Jones on losing his identity and reconnecting with cycling

Robyn Davidson
23 Feb 2022

Videographer Dan Jones speaks to Cyclist about his favourite Backstage Pass moments and the importance of mental health

Dan Jones is a natural storyteller. That much is obvious just minutes into our conversation, when he admits, ‘I like how this interview goes, you ask a question and I just talk. I won't shut up.’

Jones made a name for himself in the cycling world through his work with Orica-GreenEdge producing videos such as their famous Backstage Pass series, many of which went viral and rocketed the team into the mainstream spotlight.

He left the sport to navigate burnout and start a family, but is now returning to reconnect with cycling and ‘get back into the swing of things’.

Jones was never particularly into cycling growing up. The hook came after his father went to the Tour de France in 2004 while Dan was at film school, and showed him the footage he had taken.

‘I was like, wow, this event is unbelievable. I need to get there. 

'I pitched an idea to do a documentary in 2005 and the stars aligned. I followed John Trevorrow, a journalist, and made him the centrepiece.

‘That began a love affair with the Tour and cycling. We tend to talk about cycling like it’s a robotic thing, just a collection of people.

‘But they’re the best people you’ll ever meet. When you share these experiences around the world, you’re bonded for life because it’s just a bubble.’

To illustrate his point, Jones shows a yellow jersey mounted on the wall behind him – a gift from Cadel Evans. ‘It’s from when he won the Tour de France in 2011,’ Jones explains. ‘It says, “To Dan, where’s my Xbox?” and there's a photo underneath of us both.

‘There was an NRL footy show in Australia called That’s Gold,’ Dan explains. ‘If you did this gesture and took a photo, you could win an Xbox.

‘So I submitted the photo of us and won one! I told Cadel about it and he asked where his Xbox was. I said, “It’s not yours, mate. I organised everything,” so that became a running thing between us.’

‘I'm in, mate’

It was at that very Tour in 2011 when businessman Gerry Ryan approached Jones with a proposal.

‘Gerry told me he was starting a new team the next year. He wanted me to film it, and we’d make a documentary.

‘At first I said I’ll have to think about it – you know, being a smart arse. I’ve matured a bit since then. But he looked at me weird, so I instantly said “Yeah, I’ve thought about it. I’m in mate!”’

Those three words would go on to spark a flourishing career working for Orica-GreenEdge. A creative mind combined with creative freedom quickly generated an unrivalled partnership.

Orica-GreenEdge’s Backstage Pass videos lie as a documented pocket of time, providing a fresher take on a sport where personalities are often hidden.

Jones initially came up with the concept of trialling mini-documentaries on the road. Being a fast editor allowed for a following to quickly build on YouTube. But if Dan provided the spark, it was Simon Gerrans that lit the fuse.

‘Holy shit, people love this team’

When Jones captured the celebrations as Gerrans secured the team’s biggest win to date with his Milan-San Remo win in 2012, happiness poured from the team car and into the ears of those listening on the team radio. 

Neil Stephens grabbed onto Matt White as if his life depended on it, all while attempting to avoid the manic rush of other team cars post-finish. It was a chaotic cacophony, beeping horns blending with the bleeping of swears.

Jones could only ever have been onto a winner with the footage.

‘It exploded. I was like, okay, I’m going to the Tour of California, but can I do every day of the Tour de France? I don't know.

‘I went to California and thought, why don’t I trial seven days in a row and see if I don’t cook myself. I got through that, which was Robbie McEwen’s last race, and the numbers were good.’

Inspired by the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders, Orica-GreenEdge debuted their own music video for Carley Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe at the 2012 Vuelta a España, featuring performances from riders, mechanics, masseurs, a toy kangaroo and Dan himself.

The action seeped over from the confines of the team, into the peloton and onto podiums. The ‘call me’ sign had been expertly captured at break-neck speeds as riders soared past, even mid-race at the side of the road or while clinging on to the team car.

‘We started building this following and then it went ballistic. At the Vuelta when we did the Call Me Maybe video, that’s when it was like… holy shit. People love this team.’

Garnering such an encouraging reaction only spurred Dan on even further.

‘I thought, I’ll prepare something a bit better. We’ll do AC/DC and I’ll spend six months putting it together. When it was just about finished… we smashed into the finish line.’

What Jones is referring to is Stage 1 of the 2013 Tour de France, when all eyes were certainly on Orica-GreenEdge, but for the wrong reasons – not for another music video or even a stage victory, but for a team bus getting stuck under the finish line gantry in Bastia.

Manic communication ensued. Confusion arose. The finish line moved. It moved again in the final six kilometres due to the bus having been removed from the arch. Several crashes occurred. After six months of work, team boss Gerry Ryan advised Dan not to release the video, or they’ll ‘look like idiots’.

The footage lay in limbo, but then Gerrans won the third stage into Calvi, then Orica-GreenEdge won the team time-trial the day after. Ryan gave the green light.

‘When we released it, it just went nuts. We were mentioned eight times more than any other team at the Tour.’

Dan recalled a moment where he asked the Tour’s General Director, Christian Prudhomme, if he’d seen the video. Prudhomme revealed not only had he already watched it, but it had been sent to him by his daughter, who doesn’t even watch cycling.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. A day after the video was released, the team received an email from AC/DC. ‘They wanted us to explain where we got the rights to use their music.

‘We responded that we never meant to abuse the rights as it was just a tribute. They gave us a retrospective licence and told us we could just have it on YouTube.

‘Two weeks later they came back. I don’t know if the band had seen it and someone said, ‘We don’t want guys in Lycra singing our shit, shut it down’, but we had to take it off.

‘Ever since then you can’t use any AC/DC music on the platform, and I think I’m the catalyst. That’s a claim to fame.’

Fortunately, the creation of other Orica-GreenEdge videos produced a smoother ride than the AC/DC tribute.

‘This is the best example of teamwork I’ve ever seen’

Jones revealed his favourite had to be Mathew Hayman winning Paris-Roubaix. It’s frankly hard to disagree, unless you’re Tom Boonen.

The video needs little introduction. A defining moment that encapsulates the very essence of being an underdog, making a comeback and achieving success through tribulation.

Hayman joked before the start that the 2016 edition of Paris-Roubaix would be his ‘15th attempt at winning’.

Little did he know that by the end of the day, a 37-year-old who had broken his wrist five weeks prior would be sprinting against four-time winner Tom Boonen, after 257km of sheer brutality.

‘Anytime you use Gladiator music, it’s awesome. It’s got nothing to do with Mat winning. It's just the Gladiator theme that gets me every time. That was unbelievable.

‘But you watch that video, and you can't believe he won. I still watch that video today.’

Another highlight came the day Jones signed on at the Giro d’Italia in 2014. Despite winning the opening team time-trial and stages with Michael Matthews and Pieter Weening, the squad had been whittled down to just two riders, with the other seven having departed the race through injury and illness.

With permission from the Giro organisation, Dan Jones joined the remaining duo of Michael Hepburn and Svein Tuft on the stage. Kitted out in full team kit, Jones led the team briefing in style before making his way up to the team sign-on.

With a Go-Pro mounted on his helmet, a beer in his bottle cage and after being stopped twice by officials, he made it to the stage and high-fived members of the public.

On his back were the seven numbers of those who had been forced to abandon the race.

‘You just wouldn't get away with that anymore. Me, Heppy and Sveino, we're bonded for life.’

‘Another standout was definitely the day that Esteban [Chaves] got on the podium at the Vuelta and knocked off [Alberto] Contador, when he had to make up a minute and a half.

‘I've shown that to teams since. I'm a big AFL fan back in Australia. After All For One came out, I got asked to talk to my football club. They wanted to see some footage and I said this is the best example of teamwork I've ever seen.

‘The fact that the team had a plan for starters and were willing to take risks, that’s massive, and that’s led by a leader like Esteban.’

Dan explained that the team worked so well together because everyone bought into the plan. He also had never seen a better transition in a team than that of Neil Stephens. When Stephens first became a sports director after his career as a pro rider, he was the ‘hard arse, the sheriff,’ who would dictate the plan and expect riders to follow.

He eventually mellowed, wanting the opinions of riders.

‘Stevo wanted them to take a risk and light it up on that climb. They didn’t want to do that. Instead of being a traditional sports director where they’ll say that’s what you’re doing, he’d go, alright, I’ll leave it up to you.

‘But this is your last chance. If you don’t do it now, we’re not going to get another one. That’s it. And they did it. I just thought… that is the 101 Playbook of how to work as a team.

‘I really feel that the culture was on fire within that group. The results showed it.’

‘If you don’t have fun, you’re not going to get the best out of the team’

A culture centred on respect went a long way at Orica-GreenEdge. Dan suggested it’s harder now to replicate the kind of success they felt at the time.

‘I think it’s so hard in a cycling team now because you need everyone to buy into the concept of “we’re all in this together”. It has to be everyone, particularly management.

‘If you have management that talk down to people or treat it like a business, it spreads through the whole group. Respect costs you nothing.

‘From what I’ve seen with some teams, it’s like there’s a missing link. Everyone’s looking to just develop riders or get the best out of them. People used to think you can’t have fun because that means you're taking the piss.

‘No, you can, and you should. If you don’t have fun, you’re not going to get the best out of the team. It’s okay to have a laugh.

‘We’d be sitting at races like the Tour de France, at hotels with the guys leading the race and GreenEdge were having a way better time at the dinner table.

‘If you don’t have time to smell the roses, what is the point?’

One of the greatest moments not captured on a Backstage Pass episode occurred at the Tour Down Under in 2013.

‘This truck driver said to me, “I'll be honest with you, I fucking hate cyclists. Then someone showed me the Milan-San Remo video in 2012 and I thought, hang on, these guys have got a bit of personality, and I pissed myself laughing. I haven't missed an episode since.

‘“It’s got to the point that I even bought that Lycra shit, I got a bike and I ride. Now when I drive my truck, I get it. I don’t see cyclists as clogging up the roads.”

‘If those videos can have that effect on the wider community to see cyclists not as robots but as people – and that’s not just pro riders – it’s huge. I think that was the best reaction I had.’

‘The time away was perfect because it made me really realise that I missed it’

Jones stepped away from cycling to start a family and navigate burnout.

‘When I started doing the Backstage Pass videos every day, I noticed I started getting physically ill.

‘I’d get to the end of the Vuelta and I couldn’t eat. At the end of 2016, my doctor told me I was burnt out.

‘But the problem was I took on board the documentary All For One and didn’t get a break. I went back to Australia and ran myself into the ground.’

Jones worked in a corporate environment for a few years but admitted it was a mistake. ‘I just missed [cycling] so badly. I almost took it for granted.’

‘The time away was perfect because it made me really realise that I missed it. I missed the people.

‘When this corporate gig was cancelled because of Covid I was made redundant. I just wasn’t happy. I’d lost my identity. I’d lost what I’d spent all these years building up.

‘I spoke to Jamie Anderson, who reached out and was asking where I’d been. He came on board, sort of like a mentor, and just realigned everything.

‘He told me to get back to doing what I am good at and what I love. That’s reconnecting with cycling.’

Jones imagines working with SBS, the host broadcaster in Australia, to be a representative for the fans and be driven by what the people at home want.

‘I've done the team stuff, and now I want to experiment. I know so many riders and staff from different teams, I just want to bring that light-hearted approach to maybe TV and then expand on that – and just keep having fun.’

For those wanting to follow in the footsteps of one of the more innovative creators in cycling, he advises; ‘Just be yourself. Don’t try and be someone that you’re not.

‘Be prepared to work your ass off. I think those videos were probably successful because I was a one-man band, but I was willing to put the hours in and stay up all night.

‘If you've got a longer-term goal, just get the runs on the board, and be willing to volunteer. Build your name and get it out there.

‘Don’t give up the fight. There will be people that you can trust, there will be people that try and steal your ideas. Just don’t give up.

‘Someone will give you a chance, and then you’re away. Just keep going. Like Matty Hayman says – always keep riding.’

‘I know who I am for the first time in a long time’

While Jones can often project ‘a larrikin’ (his words), he can flick the switch when he needs to be serious, and during our conversation Jones spoke at some length about mental health issues.

‘Particularly with Covid, one thing I have learned is that the most important relationship you can have in the world is the one with yourself.

‘For so long, even when I was at GreenEdge, you put so many people and things in front of yourself, you’d be so low on the pecking order and burn out.

‘It’s important to work on yourself, put yourself at the top and try to be a better version of yourself.

‘I'm in a position now where I know who I am for the first time in a long time, because I’ve dealt with a lot of old taped up mental boxes.

‘The thing I’d want people to know is that it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. But just make sure that if you know of anyone struggling, to be a really good listener and check in. It goes a long way.

‘Don’t project judgement, don’t say what they should do, just listen and be that support.

‘The more [mental health] is out in the open, the more comfortable people feel talking about it. I think they say in Australia, “It’s not weak to speak” and it’s so true.

‘Every day I check in with myself. I wake up in the morning and ask how am I feeling? If it’s not great, I’ve got a process I can go to. A lot of people don’t take stock when they’re not feeling good. They don’t go, hang on, what’s going on and what can I learn from the last time it happened?

‘The other thing is that everyone’s different. What works for one person might not work for another.

‘Everyone’s dealing with so many layers of shit. It’s just the depth that varies. It’s how you learn from other people’s experiences and cherry pick what works for you that helps you develop your own system.

‘If you can do that and build this mental callus over time, you’re not going to prevent yourself from feeling like shit, you just minimise the amount of time that you do feel like shit. And you’ll know and you’ll trust yourself.’

• You can follow Dan Jones and his updates on Twitter

Photo credits: ASO/Bruno Bade, Team BikeExchange-Jayco, ASO/B. McBeard

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