2009 Tour of California Stage 3 – Hit and Miss Photography

Happy legs make happy riders, just ask Alexandre Moos of BMC racing

Happy legs make happy riders, just ask Alexandre Moos of BMC racing

Complete Stage 3 Gallery

If bicycle road racing is unpredictable (unless you're Johan Bruyneel of course), photographing road racing is even worse. Tuesday's Stage 3 - San Jose to Modesto drove that point home as the run of wet weather continued to dampen the route but apparently not the riders' spirits. As the peloton wrapped up its short parade lap in downtown San Jose the entire front row (15 riders abreast) seemed to be laughing about something, as a steady rain pooled and puddled the streets before them.

Thirty minutes before the start the sun was shining, long enough to shoot a few "california" backgrounds, fast bikes and palm trees. Bob Roll was doing an interview about Specialized's bike fitting. Mechanics were honing their typographic skills redrawing missing race numbers abraded by the streams of road grit from back wheels. Soigneurs massaged and embrocated tired legs and several riders were sporting shaped kinesiology plasters around knees.

Floyd looks all business

Floyd looks all business. He's been getting a very positive reception from crowds though.

Riders began cycling over to the start for the sign-in ritual, picking their way through the crowd of fans, officials and media milling about on course. I just missed capturing a nice exchange between Armstrong and Hincapie. George was on his way back from the start line when Lance passed going the opposite direction. The two very casually low fived, which brought a big grin to George's face (an image I did get, below)

Hincapie grinning after an exchange with Armstrong

Hincapie grinning after an exchange with Armstrong

A few minutes later, the peloton took the start, circling the block once for the spectators before setting out for the morning's assigned punishment on Sierra Road. I bolted for the parking lot for the drive to the second KOM of the day at Patterson Pass.

The drive to Livermore was punctuated by a cloudburst that made me glad I was in the car and not on my bike. When I watched the television footage later I think the peloton missed that flood. The upper stages of Patterson Pass Road were already lined with cars when I arrived, so I decided to shoot the descent rather than the climb. I found parking a few hundred yards down the road then hiked back sans cameras looking for a place to shoot the riders as they crested the summit.

After some thought I decided the left embankment would give me some height above the road and a nice angle upwards to the summit. I chose to go with one body and a couple of lenses since I had to climb a fifteen foot muddy bank. Once again a couple of helpful guys tossed me my monopod and umbrella when I'd clambered up without incident. I found my spot and waited.

Eventually the four-man break appeared but here's where the vagaries of racing spoiled the show. Instead of racing over the top, single file as I hoped. All four sat up, one took a nature break, and camera bikes, tv bikes and the neutral service car cluttered the composition. I got nothing.

Minutes later the peloton, led by Astana, streamed over the hill, but again to no great effect. Standing alone on the hill I'd attracted the attention of an embedded Belgian photographer, who had his motorcycle stop so he could climb up beside me. No question it looked like a great spot. Should have produced some good pictures but the cycling gods had other ideas. I don't imagine he got anything great either, but you never know.

The two gents who helped me up appeared again to help me down. Thanks guys. I took my time organizing my gear while all the spectators drove off and returned the pass to the hawks and buzzards who really own it. I drove back to San Jose more than a little disappointed with the results, thinking I'd just wasted three hours, but then I spotted an amazing panorama of light streaming from under the clearing storm clouds. I left the highway found the highest vantage point I could and spent the next half hour shooting the spectacle. You never know what's going to happen, do you?

After the storm

After the storm the west side of the bay is bathed in heavenly light

6 Responses to 2009 Tour of California Stage 3 – Hit and Miss Photography

  1. wow…I absolutely love the photos. Unique and unlike any other cycling photography I’ve seen. Keep up the great work. Would be great if you quit your day job and cover all the races!

  2. Nikolai says:

    love your work

  3. Wade,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I really enjoyed my three days with the Tour this year and want to do more of this. The local race calendar will be heating up soon, and I’ve got some bigger thematic ideas to try in the coming months.


  4. PJT says:

    Your photos are outstanding as always. Nice job. By the way, the winter tights and hats performed fantastic during duck season. Which was one of the best in years. When is Rapha releasing the new short sleeve jerseys? What do they have coming out? Where is your submission for continental calling?

    I think my neck of the woods, the Mississippi Delta would be perfect for the Continental Calling. Flat, epic, historic, extremely backwards, and quite beautiful. I wish I had your photography skills. Also, food in the delta is opposite of that in SF, but really tastes good.

  5. PJT,

    It’s great that you’re putting Rapha gear to multi-sport use, though I’m sure the ducks are less than impressed ;-)

    Spring and Summer lines should be announced relatively soon since Rapha has a couple of events upcoming where they’ll be on display.

    I hope we’ll see jerseys etc back on the site and in stores (if you’re lucky enough to live near a shop that carries Rapha) shortly thereafter.

    You should definitely submit a Mississippi Delta ride to Continental Calling… it’s just the kind of variety Daniel is looking for, the more historical significance the better.