Words & Pics: Angelica Dixon
This is a photo of a BMC rider flashing his chamois from his team RV. I like this one, because there aren’t very many of them. Kidding. Actually, the pre-race scene is always fun to explore. Riders, team warm-ups, gear, fans, and rows of RVs and team cars. I joined the race on the 5th stage starting in Pismo Beach, where the start would roll out from a classic Californian pier. Although, by the time I took this shot, there were not too many riders left in the midday heat, which would eventually climb to 100 degrees out on the 107 mile course. It was going to be a tough day.
The course pulled inland, away from the coast and into the heat of the wine and farming communities that lined the road to Santa Barbara. Passing bags of ice and water was an ongoing activity for the riders in the valley. Being on a photo moto I was also handed water by a combination of the neutral support motorcycle, a state officer, and the team Garmin car, who shouted that I should drink more water. Despite pounding 5 water bottles and two sticks of red liquorice (apparently a moto’s essential to maintaining blood glucose), I still fought off the sensation to pass out at the podium presentation hours later. I marveled as stage winner,Taylor Phinney was interviewed, looking as if he just finished a sunday spin.
There aren’t many professional cyclist with lots of tattoos, but Wiggins isn’t like many other professional cyclists. Although his tattoos are usually covered and their meaning kept personal, I loved this moment, with his inked pieces, the leaders jersey, all mixed in with an expression of fatigue from the heat. A glimpse of his human side. Within minutes of taking this shot, his jersey was zipped up high again and it was back to business.
The busy, crazy, hectic nature of the race scene is my favorite to capture. To photograph from a motorcycle, in a race like ToC, there are professional requirements, etiquette, and rules of the road. In some scenarios, the etiquette and rules require the race Regulator, Ed Dailey, to orchestrate the photo motos around the riders so that everyone has a chance to get their shot. Making a circular gesture with his arm, the moto drivers know to line up near the white line, the moto closest to the lead cyclist holding speed for a few seconds to allow for a photograph, then repositions up ahead on the road, to then allow the next moto to drop back for their chance at a shot. This interval changes every few seconds, but in this case, the bridge scene wasn’t long enough for me to get my spot in front of the riders. In the end, I preferred capturing the scene around the riders, watching this pattern as the moto’s circulated in front of them.
It’s so interesting to follow this moving caravan through a course. There were several photo motos on the road and this photo speaks to how they come together, but don’t interfere. We are either at the front or the back of the peloton, but the transition between the two positions is allowed only with permission and is to be brief. In the early part of the stages, the string of riders is constantly snaking back and forth across the road as the leaders keep trying shake the others off for position. The constant movement of the peloton proves to be a little tricky for the moto driver alongside the group, but extremely convenient for the photographer to capture the constantly changing shape of the race. I searched for the scenic shots to capture the terrain, but later found my favorite scenes to photograph was when my moto would be trapped in the mess of the peloton or caravan, beeping to let us pass through and out of their way.
The Tour of California’s course was perfectly designed to showcase some of the most beautiful and challenging terrain the state has to offer. In passing through one of the more urban towns on the 6th stage, the course crosses over one of California’s large freeways and aqueducts. Most would have probably wanted to capture the strung out group, ripping down the bridge, with a large reservoir as the back drop. I was more interested in the riders, taken out of their classic race scenery and in the middle of urban California concrete. This turned out to be a surprising moment to catch Wiggins without his entourage.
My moto driver for stage 6, Thom Filkins, and I came speeding down a descent to gain a position ahead of the peloton. And I do mean SPEEDING. This decent made a 90 degree turn at the base, which caught us both by surprise. Chuckling at this (mine from nervousness and his more excitement), we said almost simultaneously, “that going to be an awesome spot to watch the peloton take THAT turn”. It was indeed a great spot to capture Will Routley, while Cavendish was luckily the only rider who skidded out to the ground, uninjured. A shame to see him go down, considering we witnessed his famous Merkxish-pre-race-bike-tinkering-fidget-routine at the start line an hour earlier, only to have the interface with the blacktop ruin it all.
The Sky team pushed the climb up to Table Top Mountain. It was a beautiful opportunity to photograph the depth of this climb, layered with the caravan below. Being a rookie to the scene, one of the biggest challenges, other than staying planted to a speeding motorcycle, is staying out of the view frame of the other photographers…. and there was 10 to 12 of them. I spotted 3 possible positions on the way up, before I clumsily jumped off the moto to snag this high spot, finally clear of the other camera lenses.
Its scenes like this image that capture the vulnerability of the caravan and riders on the course. So small but moving fluidly over the deserts rolling hills, all building up the the next phases of climbing. My moto driver for Stage 7, Bryan Yops, a rookie to the photo moto scene, like myself, made sure to get me out of the other photographers views and to some of the best vantage points. I had to telescope my 70-200 out to make out the group, as most of us photographers jumped off the motos and were scattered in these hills, miles ahead of the peloton.
So many of the cycling events I photograph are in the desert. Although heavily criticized for the amount of photography I take in black and white versus color, I can’t help but love the depth and contrast one can see with this terrain. At the risk of slipping into photography geekery, black and white inspires me to look for that detail you would otherwise miss with the distraction of color. Although I shoot in RAW, my camera is always set in ‘monochrome’, so that my eye looks for details that only shades of black and white can accentuate – light, shadows, muscles, body position.
This is a sprint line image of a stretch of road that looked like it should have really been a KOM to a non-mutant bike rider. But no, the Pros sprint up mountains. The road is imperfect with it cracks and we see the start of a large group of fans, who probably rode their bikes out before the sun was up, to be able to cheer on the racers. In the wide angle frame before this one, I captured a redheaded 3 year old, ringing a cow bell, while a man in a bike kit and pink tutu ran alongside the racers. How can you not love this sport, its culture, and the enthusiasm that surrounds it. But in my challenge to only choose 20 photographs for this assignment, I’m drawn to the image of this broken road, with its two riders pushing out their last effort to the line at the top of what looked like an everlasting climb.
The descent on Stage 7 was so awesome, I had to remind myself that I was there to take photos. Averaging 50 mph on an endless winding mountain descent, moving around a strung out peloton, its hard to think fast enough to find spots to stop and shoot. In most cases, they were moving so fast, there wasn’t enough time, but to shoot from the bike. Almost to the end of the descent, I finally spotted a bridge – classic in its Californian structure, with its riders hugging the inside line. Despite our own speed on the moto, I only had seconds to jump from the bike and line up my wide angle for the shot.
The last stage of ToC was a circuit of 3 laps that included the infamous Mulholland Drive. As a photographer, it was my favorite stage to shoot as we had morning light on the riders, versus the harsh midday sun. This image was from the first lap and it was easy to see the fatigue in the riders faces, forcing you to wonder how the size of this peloton was going to whip itself around the tight twisting mountain road. Famous to both cyclist and motorcyclist around, its almost impossible to talk about Mulholland Drive’s curves without also mentioning its many crashes.
This is one of the few images I took, off the bike, otherwise I stayed on Thom’s moto for most of the stage, as there wasn’t enough time to get ahead of the racers for shots. It was also the first stage, I had to forgoe taking pictures while in motion, so that I could hold onto the bike with both hands. On all of the stages, but especially this one, a few tips-for-the-rookie came in handy: Pinch your moto driver with you knees to keep balance and, thank you photographer Jonathan Devich, tighten all screws on the 70-200 lens and duct tape all buttons and lens hoods into position, because its going to be a wild ride. Now, most of my equipment is sub par and used, but the thought of duct tape on my gear made me cringe until I hopped on a moto at the Tour of California. Later at the podium presentation, a photographer looked over at me and hollered, “Wasn’t that the craziest roller coaster ride! Who wouldn’t pay money to ride that?”. Thank you mystery photographer, you must be new too, because you read my mind.
In Stage 8, the peloton would do an additional 3 lap circuit through the finish line area, racing into the sun. Yes, it makes sense to take shots from the front of the peloton, but getting their silhouettes into the sun with a crowd going nuts, held back by the course barriers, I wanted to shoot from the back. It was at this time that my moto driver, Thom, convinced me that standing on the pegs of the motorcycle would give me an even better view. I hadn’t fallen off the bike yet, so why not? I got my shot of the scene that makes all finishes so exciting- the racers and their fans.
Wiggins kept his leaders jersey through stage 8. The champagne bottles were introduced and almost immediately pointed at the front row of photographers, which sent many scrambling to protect their gear. I decided to stay put with a few others, to enjoy the photographic effects of a sticky champagne filter on my wide angle lens, in order to capture this exciting moment. For Wiggins, it was the happiest I had seen him since I joined the race and no wonder. It was only moments before he took the podium, that he discovered his wife and kids, who he hadn’t seen in 3 weeks, were in the crowd and jumped a barrier to hug and kiss. That day, we all got to see who he rides his bike for and why it was so important to share the sweet spray of champagne with all around.