Michael Valenti, a former ad man and now artist has decided to leave the modern comforts of his studio and set out to be the first cycling artist to follow and draw all 21 days of the Tour de France. Read on to hear about his idea and the journey that has led up to this awesome adventure.
Become a part of history and purchase a print of your own. Scroll down for special discount code.
So first up, who is Michael Valenti?
Well…I’m a husband and dad and all that. As a professional I was brought up in the world of ad agencies. I was a designer, illustrator and marketing guy you know. Now I’m an artist. After 35 years of being in the industry I never considered myself an artist, now I answer “artist” and it’s still weird for me. But I’ve always loved what I do.
When did you become fascinated with cycling?
My friends and I are still convinced we invented mountain biking, haha. We used to terrorize the neighborhood as a pack of riders in the late 60s. Just a bunch of 10-12 year olds in Stoughton, Massachusetts. I didn’t really start riding as a cyclist until my 30s when I moved to Chicago and started riding with a friend of mine who taught me the basics. I joined a few clubs, and I’ve been hooked ever since. These days I do most of my riding in the Southeastern part of Wisconsin—Kenosha, Burlington, Lake Geneva areas.
What inspired you to put cycling at the center of your art?
I found myself in any spare moment drawing what I love to do, so it was just a natural progression. I wanted to do something I could build and sustain until I decided to walk away from it.
You seem pretty involved with Avant Bicycle and Cafe, can you talk a little about that?
Yeah Tony Valenti, a friend of my son’s opened a bike shop in Delavan and I was like hey, open a shop in Lake Geneva and I’ll use it as my gallery north and bring all the art for your walls. So he did, and so became Avant and I hang original pieces there. The difference between a starving artist and a successful artist is marketing, you know?
So you did a similar project with the Giro, drawing a piece everyday. Which was your favorite?
Day 16. The Frankie drawing. I like drawing emotional pictures or pictures that have meaning more than I like drawing a picture of a guy with his arms up in the air.
How did you decide to go to the Tour?
Well work being good or bad is so subjective. The question is, “Is the person known or not known and what are they known for?” That’s how the Tour de France trip came around. I want to be the most well known cycling artist on the planet and my friend asked me, “Well, have you ever been to the Tour?” and I was like, “No, let’s go!” And that was that.
Can you give us a quick run down of this project?”
I will follow each stage of the 2017 Tour de France and draw what I see, feel and experience. I couldn’t be more excited; I couldn’t be more frightened! How can such a simple thing be so overwhelming and awesome at the same time? For a first time Tour follower I’m really jumping in with both feet here. Three of us are spending 21 days on the road in a little motor home together. The first of us, me and Keith, conceived this trip on a whim. Keith is my friend that lives here in Wisconsin, he’s just a regular guy, a cycling enthusiast, an experienced camper, he’s great with logistics, he loves wine and he takes good photographs. But the third guy, Harm Job has the most interesting story. Harm Job lives in the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam. I’ve known him since 2007, but we’ve never met in person! We first met on social media, he was an early adopter of the Veloist. We would email back and forth, send pictures, jerseys, we were pen pals. He is by trade a court reporter but by passion reports for cycling races. He speaks 5 languages, has traveled extensively in France, is an over achiever in social media and a completely passionate cycling nut. His chief job will be translating, navigation and social media.
How are you preparing for your trip?
I’ve been riding around with a 20lb backpack on. Hills are hard. I’m also walking with the same pack for three miles every other day. It’s my art pack, so I’ll take it somewhere, unpack it, draw something, pack it back up and ride home. I go through this process a few times to make sure I have everything I need, it makes me feel like a traveling art fair. And I can’t even tell you how many pens I’ve been trying! When I work in the studio I use a quill and ink but in the field that won’t really work so I’ve had to rethink my process a bit. I also like to draw big, but for this trip I’m using 12×18 paper, it feels like a post-it note!
What are you looking forward to most about following the Tour through France?
I have never done a project this big. Like a really focused effort where at the end of three weeks I will have a body of work that I’ve never had before. And I’m really looking forward to seeing what it looks like. There will be good days and bad days I’m sure, and I’m excited to see what days will be magic moments. One good idea in a day is a gift.
Which pro would you most love to have a drink with?
Well I’d love to have a pint with Sean Kelly. He has a connection to the history and would be a ton of fun in a pub. I would have a whiskey with Peter Sagan. You know who I’d like to just sit down and talk to because I think he’s normal? Christian Vande Velde. He’s grounded, he’s had a great career, heir apparent as an announcer and so smart and interesting. I bet he has some great stories.
Tell us about your favorite ride…
In 2000 I did the AIDS ride in Alaska from Fairbanks to Anchorage and that was the hardest ride and the most amazing ride. It’s funny how there’s a sliver of space between the most euphoric thing you’ve ever done and an excruciating amount of pain.
I know you want me to say Trek but I’m a steel guy. I now ride a custom Waterford. Any bike would be an older Colnago steel bike.
In honor of his one-of-a-kind trip, Michael has created a special Tour de France print and is offering it as well as other Open Edition prints to Trek Travel fans and guests at 30% off. It’s your chance to own a piece of art history, simply use the code TT30TDF at check out before August 31st.