ALL FOR ONE. Matthew Keenan, Robbie McEwen, Phil Liggett, the Cyclists, Staff and Families of the GreenEDGE Cycling Team. Directed by Dan Jones and Marcus Cobbledick. 103 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language).
‘All For One’ follows the first five years of Australia’s most successful professional cycling team in recent memory, the GreenEDGE men’s squad. As far as the documentary form goes, this isn’t pushing any barriers (although some shots of their many races are inherently breathtaking). However, as a human story of success against the odds, of mateship and service, and of powerful and honest emotion, it’s a stunning document to their achievements as a team. Inspiring, humbling and utterly crowd-pleasing, it’s well worth finding on a big screen.
We start at the very beginning, when GreenEDGE was inspired by Aussie tycoon and cycling fanatic Gerry Ryan’s desire to see an Australian flag represented at the Tour de France way back in 2011. Ryan roped in Australian cycling vets Matt White and Neil Stephens as the new team’s Sporting Directors, and with manager Shayne Bannan, the group pulled together a team built on ‘Australian DNA’ but with an international scope. It’s fascinating to get inside the genesis of something like this, with some interesting insights into what goes on behind the closed doors of premium sporting outfits (there’s no doubt that this undertaking was a multi-million-dollar investment for Ryan and his other partners).
Commentator Matthew Keenan starts the movie by talking about how robotic and enigmatic most cycling teams had become through the Nineties and the Noughties. Enter GreenEDGE in 2012, who cultivated a culture of comradery and fun, who connected with their fans through a frank and often hilarious YouTube channel called Backstage Pass curated by the doco’s co-director Dan Jones. Jones, brought into the outfit at a very early stage by Gerry Ryan, made ridiculous cooking videos with the riders, shot bootleg music videos, exclusive interviews and more, shooting constantly, and giving the public a previously unheard-of level of access to the lives and personalities of their world-class riders. It is from this footage, plus additional interviews, that the film is presumably constructed.
At the heart of the film are two very different men – young Colombian climber Esteban Chaves and veteran Australian super-domestique cum road captain Matthew Hayman. Joining the team around the same time, these two were assigned a room together and formed an unlikely friendship, despite Chaves’ complete inability to understand a word of English.
Chaves’ journey is shocking and inspiring. This young man came back from a terrifying, career-ending injury at just 23 years of age. Against the odds and medical advice, Chaves underwent risky surgeries and gruelling rehabilitation to win a spot in the GreenEDGE team, and has progressed to now competing at the top level of his sport, paying dividends on the risk that GreenEDGE, and particularly Neil Stephens, took when giving him another shot at the big leagues. Watching his grateful parents speak about the impact that the opportunity has had on their son, it’s impossible to not be deeply moved. I saw the film in a crowded screening, and many hands moved in unison to wipe away tears.
Hayman’s tale is inspiring and emotional in a different way. After working for years as a domestique (a support role for a team leader), he moved to GreenEDGE in the hope of leading a few races himself. His goal, a victory in the one-day classic race Paris-Roubaix, is a tough ask – famous for its treacherous route and cobbled sections, Paris-Roubaix is a 7-hour trek that humbles the very best with frequent punctures and crashes. Just ask Hayman’s fellow GreenEDGE rider Mitch Docker, who shattered half of his face in a horror crash on the cobblestones through the Forest of Arenberg. As Hayman battles to achieve his goal, he will have to overcome the mental pressures of leadership as well as his own share of injuries. His journey is as inspiring as Chaves’, and their friendship is just as vital as their professional partnership.
There are a bunch of other riders whose stories are just as important in the GreenEDGE story. There’s Simon Gerrans, the Aussie battler who never took no for an answer and was pivotal in establishing the team’s culture of good, hard work. There’s Svein Tuft, a Canadian rider and quasi-barbarian philosopher, whose reflections on family, friendship and life take the film on some wonderful flights into the bizarre and insightful. There’s Daryl Impey, a South African rider whose years of service as a super-domestique to the team saw him receive the ultimate reward. There are others too, whose chapters in the GreenEDGE story perhaps lie ahead of them.
If this all sounds a little repetitive and transparently stirring, don’t worry because there is plenty of levity from the squad too. Neil Stephen’s not-so-careful implementation of a few choice curse words brought plenty of laughs to my screening, and there’s a lot of mileage in a high-profile mishap involving the team bus and Chaves’ language barrier when first joining the squad. Delivering laughs throughout the powerful emotion makes the film a true crowd pleaser.
‘All For One’ is edited into a fairly linear timeline, stopping and reflecting on key milestones on the path from 2011 to 2016. The footage is often shot with handheld digital cameras or from a small dash-mounted GoPro. It can get shaky or a little fuzzy (though the breakneck bike mounted footage will drop a few jaws). But this workmanlike composition is all irrelevant, because the most important thing about ‘All For One’ is its subject matter. It’s equal parts epic, inspiring, thrilling and moving, and it’s entirely entertaining. It’s true what some say about life being stranger than fiction, because you honestly could not write a better story for a cycling team. A must-watch documentary for cycling fans, and a highly recommended one for everyone else.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 24.