Damp Hill Climb Fun

As the summer racing season draws to a close its time for the winter racing to take over and unless you are Australian then its time to think mud and hills and possibly both together. Combine the British  cycling cultures love of time trials and short, steep climbs making up for the countries general lack of mountains and you get the unique Hill Climb season.

Generally starting in late September/early October they take the risk of running foul the British weather, last years was cold but sunny…sadly this year was pretty damp but thankfully a bit warmer.

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As you can see umbrella and Hi-Viz definitely required for all the Organisers

Only being the second year and perhaps affected by the forecast it was a little under subscribed but those who were able to make it put on a good show for the camera.

I never like shooting in poor weather, mainly because my technique is never quite good enough and when you are working next to some of the full time Pro’s it tends to get embarrassing. Today was no exception but at least they mostly came out well, at least when i gave up on a long lens and swapped to a widie and some flash

 

Hopefully avoiding a clash with another local Hill Climb an afternoon start time we can convince some more people out….especially some women would love to need a Top 10 results sheet for it.

Tales from the Tour…sweaty sunflowers

While sleeping with your face 50cm from the ceiling may not be ideal, getting up early to ride your bike on warm sunny day on some fairly quiet roads does make up for it.

It was as i headed out on my ride that i realised how close we were to the start for that morning as i had done barely a mile and came across proper race barriers. In a desire to avoid a start village i looked around for something to head for in a different direction and having seen a spire poking above the tree line i pointed the bike uphill and headed onward.

If i had had a chance to read more of the tourism section from the Tour road book i might have known what i was heading for. La Motte being a small chapel that crowns the hill of the same name and the top affords fantastic views of Vesoul and the surround area. To outline how hard and steep the climb was my slightly over geared pace did leave me vulnerable to being overtaken…two runners doing intervals up the paths overtook me…but they were collapsed at the top, when i finally got there

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As a distraction from the beautiful views i was a little concerned by the presence of these signs and very quickly took my photos and headed back down

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with a bike ride out the way and a filthy McDonalds breakfast beckoning it was time to start thinking of photos and some proper bike riders.

With a plan firmly set for the day, map points planned for navigation we headed to the start to bake a bit in the sunshine as the riders started turning up…shame the panoramic shot was ruined by a giant cherry picker lift

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Having done the start and headed out from the start it became clear the “plan” had gone down the toilet the moment we left…one missed turn and a badly programmed sat nav sent us just far enough in the wrong direction that is cost us our entry onto the route, which in turn probably killed off at least 1 stop for the day.

A combination of good navigation, some tiny French roads and some luck we managed to get round and ahead of the bunch and came across some Gendarmes tat were feeling generous to let us past their barriers.

Having got on course and worked out we only really had one opportunity and a hard cut off point where it would be straight to the finish we were desperately scanning the surroundings hoping to see something photogenic. We were almost at buckling point of either shooting with some tall brown grass or just sacking it off and going to the finish when i saw what i was hoping for…a big enough patch of sunflowers.

Now i am not going to lie, these aren’t anything compared to the glorious fields of yellow further down south, but given how frequently i have missed those opportunities i wasn’t going to pass this up . The  only challenge now was finding a shot that worked, and when its hot enough that sweat is pouring off you and the sunflowers surrounding you are actually taller than you it becomes a little stressful. Having changed my mind at least 4 times and fought my way much further into the field that i had really planned the peloton came and went and the race was on to firstly get out of the field, which was a little challenging, but to the finish in time. After the poor show of navigation from the start of the day we lifted the standard for the afternoon with the only spanner in the works being this level crossingIMG_2786

A decent sprint finish and quite a few other good pics rounded out the day nicely.  All that was left was to find our accommodation, eat some food and hopefully some beer…

Tales from the Tour….hurrah…Mountains…kinda

Most cyclists are slightly obsessed with the mountains, doesn’t really matter what ones just so long as there is a road up and down them, it doesn’t even matter if they are suited to climbing they will still drag their arse up even if its only to go down.

The same could be said for photographers, the vistas can be just stunning

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No more trying to scrape out a scenic picture that doesn’t quite work or when you are really desperate going for the poor mans scenic of a bridge (not that i haven’t done that)

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As excited as we should be for the first summit finish when its combined with a really short stage and a shuttle bus to the finish it actuality it meant a pretty dull day. Having spent most of the day driving to make sure we caught the shuttle, to then spent another 40 mins in a bus that was actually hotter than most saunas i have visited didn’t set me up for feeling cool and collected.

Walking the final 400m up to the finish wasn’t exactly a picnic…it was the steepest part of the climb…never felt such an urgent need for a shower, the only consolidation was that almost everyone was in the same boat, but at least the view was worth it.

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This kind of stage is a great illustration into how little of a race/stage some photographers see despite being lucky enough to be within the bubble of the race. For once i was a bit lucky that there was a giant screen in view of my finish line position, but if not for this i would have seen the last 30 secs of the race as they crested the climb for the last meters to the line.

With the race done it was time to head back down with all the normal joys of getting off a mountain after a tour stage, at least on the way down i was able to sit in a car with the AC on rather than sauna it up in the shuttle bus.

The hotel was definitely on the lower end of the glamours scale so it wasn’t quite the conventional twin room – double bed with a single bunk over the top.  Over a fairly average dinner my travel companion Pete magnanimously offered a game of bowling to decide who took the bunk. Not being a great bowler i didn’t old out hope of taking the win and reduce the risk of headbutting the ceiling in my sleep. All was going mediocre until Pete realised what the little lines on the lane were for…this outstanding revelation ensured him the win and double bed..Ah well, by that point i was so tired it didn’t really matter!

 

 

 

 

Tales from the Tour…ticking off another stage

There is always a risk that the first week of a Grand Tour can get boring, from everyone’s perspective. Flat/Sprint Stages designed to put the leaders Jersey on a non GC rider, the transition from the Grand Depart to home country roads. Its important to race organisers to visit as much of their country as possible but logistics constraints don’t often make for the best stages.

With not much to going on at the start i fall back into my default, which is gawping at and photographing the nice bikes , although my normal photo companion isn’t too keen…i like to sneak a few in…surely every one likes a nice shiny pro bike

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As has been the theme this year, security is much more visible and present at this years races, but in a change from the armored trucks and machine guns today it was shown in a much more lovable form, who doesn’t love a happy looking puppy

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Contrary to my thoughts at the start of the day it wasn’t going to finish as a damp squib, there was excitement inbound for the race and also for me, although potentially curtailing some for the remainder of the race.

Despite looking like he was going to be the dominant force in this years sprint stages Marcel Kittel was noticeably absent from the bubble of sprinters charging at the finish line. but given the events it was potentially a lucky happenstance to miss out.

With Mark Cavendish desperate to salvage a season marred by injury and illness with some success at the Tour any stage without Kittel in contention was going to be an opportunity not to be missed. Baring that in mind you could possibly apportion some or most of the blame on the Manx Man for the resulting crash when trying to fit two cyclists in a space only meant for one. The race jury seemed to take the opposite view laying the blame squarely on Peter Sagan for what seemed like a deliberate elbow. Not sure i really agree but the still image doesn’t really do him any favours, either way it left the race poorer by two great characters one disqualified and the other injured.

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With that bit of Drama out the way it was time for some excitement of my own…

There is always a margin of doubt when booking accommodation for the tour, you often end up in the middle of no where, well outside the comfort zone of any city or large town hoping that you can find the place, its actually open when you arrive and that they have your reservation.

I was hoping that this was not the case today, it was so close to the finish and start the next day it was almost too good to be true, the Sat Nav got us there with no problem and it was open, that was two big tick boxes filled. The final hurdle almost toppled us, despite presenting printed confirmation of the reservation, the original emails there still seemed to be an issue. I am not sure quite how Pete and I managed it but eventually, seemingly reluctantly took us to the room he had for us…mission accomplished!

Possibly the worst thing was seeing the proprietor try and do this to the next two parties to turn up, one pair gave up almost instantly and drove off in search of alternative accommodation, the other (a fellow snapper) did not give up so easily. One very heated phone call to booking.com it was finally sorted and had was allowed to have a room.

Thankfully the 2nd beer really toned down any potential awkwardness of watching this unfold knowing we had a bed for the night

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Tales from the Tour…Another country ticked off…and the worst meal of the Tour

Having ticked off Germany and Belgium yesterday it was time to add another country to this Tour de Europe as we left Liege and headed to France via Luxembourg.

The start yet again gave a stark reminder of the state of society and the perceived level of threat to daily life. Armed soldiers in place of police officers, armored trucks posing as team cars (yes thats a bit of a joke but there were quite a few of there controlling traffic flow)

There are days when the landscape lacks the potential and there are days when it has too much potential and you so many options you don’t find out what works until too late.

On Le Tour you do get to go to some cool places and some you might not get to do in the same way without it and that was definitely the case with the Spa Francorchamps circuit. You always try not to just cluster like sheep next to other photographers but at the same time i always worry that I’ve missed something obvious and awesome.  This was definitely that case, the picture i didn’t quite get because the camera couldn’t keep up with the amount of “winging” i was doing. Its at time like this that you wish the creative juices flowed quicker but its always a learning process of what works and what doesn’t and how to assess that.

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The day didn’t really get much better for creativity, with the last couple of kilometers fully covered by barriers it really limited the options for covering something other than the finish line. Don’t misunderstand me the finish line is always a good shot but sometimes it feels like a point and shoot lottery. If you are lucky you catch the action and get a nice celebration or something else that’s happening, worst case is that you track the wrong rider and miss the celebration completely.

So for a fairly “light” day in terms of photos and therefore a short bit of editing it was off to find the hotel and dinner, As it turned out this was more of a mission that we really wanted.

The hotel was pleasant enough but it was buried in the city centre and their car park closed due to someone else doing construction we ended up a good few minutes walk away, while this may sound like i am being lazy when you have to lug all of your cases through a shopping precinct and it takes more than one trip it really eats into you time for finding food.  Team that up with being on the top floor and a lift so small you can barely a person in there, let alone a bag it makes a long unpacking effort.

Unpacking out the way and the very friendly offering a recommendation (probably of the only restaurant open on a Monday night) we optimistically set off for a long over due meal. The promise was high with the restaurant offering Portuguese cuisine, which turns out to be mostly grilled meat. The 50 minute wait with no wifi and watching other peoples food was certainly an interesting tactic to build the anticipation. The final execution and delivery made us feel slightly better but given how late it was and how long we had waited it was marginal gains. The picture below is the only time i was happy about the meal…that evening and the following morning were, to save you details thati am sure you can imagine from badly cooked meat… “sub-optimal”

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Tales from the Tour…Le Grand Depart part 3

The good thing about Time Trial stages is that you get a chance to build up some stock of riders you might not normally get…the bad thing about Time Trial stages is the amount of time it takes to go through all the pictures. By 2am on the saturday night/sunday morning i had finished the important edit (with 1500 shots to go through i didn’t finish all the others till i came home)

Luckily the start was not far away and also not too early but with a the first yellow jersey of the tour being worn and with Welshman Geraint Thomas wearing it the goal for the morning was to capture that moment and as you can see there was a bit of a scrum to get those

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But i think the proper shot worked out…Froomey in a “normal” jersey looking on at Geraint in Yellow

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Sacrificing time on the course to find the next to capture the Yellow jersey meant it was time for the first navigation fun and games of the Tour as we try and navigate our way onto the course. Race credentials and asking nicely usually get you back on course but its clear both ASO and the German police were taking security even more seriously. Its possible to negotiate with armed police but not when there is are bin lorries with no driver blocking the way. By the time we made it back onto the course there were so few kilometers left and some inauspicious landscape, not even the poor man’s scenic of a bridge to stand on it was a case of heading for the finish and settle in for the first sprint stage of the Tour, tucked in the mass of photographers and lens i awaited the arrival of the peloton into Liege

 

 

After a fairly long day on the road it was time for another 40 mins to find out hotel for what would turn out to be the best meal of the first week…

As we drove through Eupen we kept our eyes open for restaurants that were still open with the practiced eye of tour veterans we spotted a place called “paparazzi” which almost seemed a fait accompli that we were eating there. A quick check in later we were back there tucking into a great steak and a beer…the only small issue being that it was served in the wrong glass, which i would swear was illegal in Belgium..Sssshhh don’t tell anyone

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Tales from the Tour…Le Grand Depart Part 1

With the tour now over and the photos files there is some time to look back on the adventures that were had along the way.

The destination was Germany…Düsseldorf to be precise and it was to be a weekend of collecting countries, enough to make you look back fondly on boarder controls with stamps for you passport. On the drive across from the UK I notched up 4 countries in the 4 hour jaunt to the Grand Depart’s host city.

The weather looked like it was holding and with a few spots of rain on the way in i was holding out hope for a sunny weekend. By the time i arrived the wind had got up a bit and the clouds were looking thicker. Having picked up my accreditation and checked into my hotel there was still warmth and daylight to be had to with a few hours to spare.

I unpacked the bike got my kit on, tucked my credentials into my jersey and set off to recce the time trial course and kick the driving out of my legs. With the roads not fully closed yet i wasn’t able to do the full route, not with out braving some head on traffic in a busy city centre so i settled for looking out for anything suitable for a photo position for the race tomorrow.

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Riding done i headed down for the photographers meeting, realising that i had booked my accommodation really well and was barely a few minutes from the press centre. Sitting through the photographers meetings can be a little challenging at times as its hammered home that we need to keep out the way and take the security of the riders very seriously, as well as the security of everyone else, and after you have done that if you feel like making sure the other photographers are safe then that would be great. Thankfully there is some translation that goes on as otherwise my french fails spectacularly, i almost feel aggrieved that GCSE french didn’t cover this stuff.

Finally with all the obligatory stuff out the way it was onto the important task for the night…dinner and beer and the German’s weren’t going to fail us.

Be warned two of these on an empty Stomach isn’t going to end well…as both Pete and I can attest to….

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