First Week of Le Tour

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What a roller coaster the first week of this years Tour de France has been. I made the journey up to England for one of the most incredible weekends of cycling for Le Grand Départ. Managing to get out on the bike myself, I relaxed under the blue skies, caught up with friends and talked over our predictions for the tour. Little did we know how much carnage would unravel over these first days. Whilst boarding the ferry, a cursory glance to the skies confirmed the change in weather. Long gone was the beautiful sunshine of the Yorkshire Dales, replaced by heavy rain to greet the riders for the infamous stage 5 and the cobbles. Chris Froome was to abandon early on, having fallen before even reaching the feared cobbled section. For the rest it felt like an exercise in damage limitation.

The image above was from the Champagne region yesterday as we made our way to the stage. Not quite the picture postcard image that I had in mind whilst planning the first week but quite fitting for how the race has so far panned out. With the mountains on the horizon, it can be sure that the second week will throw up many more twists and turns along the way.

 

 

Behind The Shot: Hypersync At The Tour de Suisse

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In a previous blog post, i talked about Humanising the Peloton and specifically paying attention to some of the smaller tours that act as the foundations to the Grand Tours (like the Tour de France with its 12 million roadside spectators and 3.5 billion TV audience). The Tour de Suisse is one of the final races before the yearly procession around France, and despite the worlds best cyclists competing in it, I was pretty much alone in a field all day long to set up this shot.

I’ve long been inspired to shoot a cycling race using studio strobes ever since seeing the amazing work Brent Humphreys carried out during the 2007 Tour de France. He covered the tour and made a very strong portfolio, including two incredible shots taken from both the team and individual time trial. With this years Tour de Suisse time trial occurring very close to me, it was a perfect opportunity to try and capture something unique.

In my bag this day was a Profoto Acute B2 600 AirS, Profoto TeleZoom reflector, 4 Speedlights and a Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 and Plus X.

One of the great things of the Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 is the ability to hypersync. In general, the flash synchronisation of a studio strobe is set at 1/250 of a second. This shutter speed really limits the use of flash during a sunny day, especially for a battery pack that is 600W like the Profoto Acute B2. With a little software calibration on the Pocket Wizard TT1 though I was able to make it so that I could push the shutter speed beyond that, freezing the (very fast) action as the riders came by.

This shot is an image of Omega Pharma Quickstep rider Matteo Trentin, and it was captured towards the end of the day. OPQS had a great Tour de Suisse with Matteo Winning one of the previous stages and his team mate, Tony Martin spending most of the race in the leaders jersey. I’m positioned low on the ground, practically lying on the floor, with a Canon 1d Mark IV and Sigma 15mm Fisheye combination. Directly opposite me on the other side of the road is the Profoto strobe, with an additional speedlight (which can be seen) behind his front wheel. Directly to my right are two additional speedlights for fill and the sun is high right. I was torn with having the speedlight illuminated behind the wheel and i removed it after this shot, but in this instance i think it added to shot rather than ruining it. It’s very much a case of personal preference on this but i generally stay away from having strobes visible in an image.

I’ve had mixed results with hypersync but this shot came out at 1/2500 freezing the cyclist completely, despite the 65km/hr cyclist flying through the field of view of the fisheye. The results are so sharp that you do lose an element of speed, but on this instance it was the style that I was looking for. I’ve wanted to take an editorial event such as a cycle race and make commercial styled images from for a while now and a time trial route provides the ideal studio setting. I was able to move my flashlights freely without interruption and a subject passing by every minute.

Despite the tranquility of a day in the fields of Switzerland, I still look to the Tour de France, along with its 12 million spectators, with a great deal of excitement. There’s nothing quite like the carnival of le tour!

Behind The Shot: Humanising The Peloton

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When most people think of road cycling, one race comes to mind: The Tour de France. Spread across 21 stages and over 3,000km, this carnival of sport attracts crowds in the millions with all roads, in a cycling sense, leading to Paris. What people often don’t know is that professional cyclists do actually take part in other events, often back to back, whilst in preparation for the 3 Grand Tours (the Tour de France is joined by the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta A Espana in the Grand Tour classification).

A very busy UCI World Tour calendar sent the riders to The Tour de Romandie, a 5 stage race around the Western region of Switzerland. With many people’s perceptions of riders limited to what they see during a race, I wanted to spend a little time behind the scenes to bring out the real life personalities of the riders around the team buses and away from the bike. Access to the riders is almost unattainable during stages of the larger races, whilst many of the buildup events often have much fewer spectators opening up an array of photo opportunities.

I’d spotted the Europcar rider, Davide Malacarne the previous day (you can see that shot here) and I loved how at ease he was with his daughter during the build up to the race start. This particular morning i’d challenged myself to shoot purely with the Canon 45mm 2.8 TS-E that has the ability to blur a section of the image, allowing you to pinpoint an area of the photo to be kept in focus. There’s no automatic focusing with this lens and the tilt shift focal pain can sometimes be very frustrating, but with a little patience and practice you can come up with some great results. Walking around the Team Europcar bus I was able to get myself into a non evasive shooting position that allowed me to capture the intimate moment between father and daughter before he set off for work.

Humanising the peloton has been an aim of mine for quite some time now, and this image goes to show us that behind every sports personality there’s a functioning member of a family with as many emotional obligations as physical ones.

You can check out an extended gallery of the Tour de Romandie here.

 

 

Roles Reversed – VO2 Max Self Portrait

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I’m a big geek when it comes to sports performance. A vast majority of sports that I photograph rely on the human endurance capabilities, with trail running and the cycling grand tours really highlighting what professional athletes put their bodies through. Of course, any talk of cyclists and endurance often descends into the authenticity of certain performances (even more for me with a girlfriend who works in the anti doping industry), usually highlighted by dominant displays by riders such as Team Sky’s Chris Froome. Moving away from the “Armstrong Era” I like to believe that the these sports are coming to a period where the battles we see out on the course are down to physical shape with the strongest winning on the day.

At the complete other end of the spectrum are the people like me. I also love to compete in endurance events, with trail runs over a variety of distances up to the 160km mark. Any question marks about my performances largely go unnoticed. A large part of that is down to the fact that i’m not very good. The dream is still there, of course, that come the last weekend in August i’ll be at the sharp end of the field competing with the best distance runners in the world as I descend into Chamonix with 168km of the UTMB course in my legs. I much prefer to shy away from the reality that is crawling over the line 20 hours since the winners, along with the 20,000 strong cheering spectators, have long since left.

My VO2 Max was an eye opening experience. I’m not sure everyone would like it as a birthday present (geeks like me rejoice at this type of thing), but for performance analysis, along with training recommendations, I think it’s an incredible tool.

Time to shift that 3.5kg of excess weight.

Camera: Canon EOS 1D Mark IV – lens: Sigma 15mm Fisheye – Additional: Intervalometer to record image every 10 seconds, Manfrotto magic arm and clamp to hold camera in place

Updated Portfolio – The Tour de Romandie

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A new portfolio depicting two days of the recent Tour de Romandie is now available to view on my website (check it out here). With the cycling season now in full swing I wanted to approach one of the lesser known races to document some of the story behind the action. The Grand tours (The Giro D’Italia, The Tour de France and The Vuelta) have strict policies that sees the race route closed for hours before a stage with limited access to the riders. The Tour de Romandie on the other hand allows almost unrivalled access to both the route and the riders giving me an opportunity to cover a number of positions during the two days.

Britain’s Chris Froome came out of a Spring period with question marks over his head due to fitness concerns. All of this was laid to rest though as he showed a dominant prowess on the climb up to the Swiss ski resort of Villars leaving one of his main rivals, Vincenzo Nibali, in his wake. If this is a sign of things to come then we’ll have an electric Tour de France later in July.

 

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