15 Jan 2019

One Day Ahead: the story of eight Kiwi blokes supporting each other through the Tour de France

From Summer Times, 11:30 am on 15 January 2019
A still from 'One Day Ahead'

A still from 'One Day Ahead' Photo: The Big Bike Film Night

Mental health is like fitness – we all have good and bad days, according to Auckland business manager and keen cyclist Mike Conza.

He says his crew of amateurs could not have successfully completed the 3,000km Tour de France circuit last year without each other's support.

The cyclists took on what many regard as the toughest sporting event in the world to raise money and awareness for the Mental Health Foundation. A documentary about their journey – One More Day – opens next week.

Mike Conza and filmmaker Matt Jenke tell Emile Donovan about the experience.

Mike Conza

Mike Conza Photo: via LinkedIn

Lots of people visit the Tour de France to watch a few stages and ride a few of the iconic climbs, but this was the first time non-professional cyclists were offered the opportunity to ride the whole thing, Conza says.

When bike tour director Jonathan Douglas proposed it to him he mulled it over then realised he couldn't turn down the challenge of a lifetime.

His group were all cycling enthusiasts but didn't know each other before coming together for the six-month training with Olympic track cycling medallist Hayden Roulston.

"We were eight complete strangers effectively united by the one goal of trying to ride the Tour de France."

The men had varying degrees of bike fitness, Conza says, from a former Tour of Southland winner to "C-grade riders slightly up from a weekend warrior" like him.

They were united not only by a love of cycling but also a passion for mental health awareness – some had been personally affected by struggles and some have had family affected.

Before last year, Conza's longest ride was 180 kilometers, for the K2 Cycle Race, but once training was underway, the riders were clocking up 200km on a Saturday and then again on Sunday, he says.

Once they were on the French roads, director Matt Jenke mostly filmed the riders from the back of an open van – "sucking in all the fumes but still trying to get all the shots of the guys from behind the van".

The cyclists were up at 6.30am most days, Jenke says, and cycling from 8 or 9am until sometimes 9pm when they'd have a meal, get some sleep and do it all over again.

Exhaustion brought out emotions and he was blown away by how willing the men were to share their personal stories and struggles.

"Kudos to the guys. They not once got angry about a giant camera pointed at their faces when they were exhausted."

Conza sees the bike trip as a microcosm of life in general – with every one of the group having highs and lows and helping each other get through.

One of his own toughest days was Day 16 and he became emotional when two of the other guys dropped back and sat with him to pull him through.

"I don't think we would have got through the tour if we'd all ridden it as individuals. Everyone struggled on individual days and used each other's support to get through those days – and that's no different to general life."

The cycle team have raised over $70,000 already and hope the documentary will generate further fundraising for the Mental Health Foundation. 

One Day Ahead premieres in Cambridge on 25 January with later screenings in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. You can find more details here.