I get to the hill early, real early. I find a nice S-curve with a floating city backdrop, park the car off the road, and work the angles playing various scenarios out for where the riders will appear and what line they're likely to take. I anticipate photo and tv bikes getting in the way. While I'm doing this three CHP motorcycle officers come up and tell me I should move my car. I politely show my credentials, explain I'm off the road and listen while they get a "decision" over the radio... "I should move"
With hours to go before the race, I'm annoyed but agree. They peel off and head back down to the start of the climb, they won't make another appearance all day. I leave my flash gear lashed to a pole and blast the one mile to the summit in the Audi. At the top I encounter more nonsense about media parking (I'm the only one there at this point) before talking my way into a decent spot. Note to organizers, you've got to do a better fucking job explaining to volunteers and police why "we" are there.
I suit up with my ThinkTank Modulus, grab two cameras, a couple of filters, pocket wizard, spare battery, 100, 50 and 20-35, two waters and hike my way a mile down the road to my spot. It's not a bad walk and there's still no one on the hill. Half way down there's another location that looks even better. It takes fifteen minutes to reach my original position, and guess what... three cars are parked in the very spot I've just been told to leave. Son-of-a bitch. They remain there undisturbed throughout the race.
I joke with the parkers about the cops and answer the requisite questions about my 200 f2 - I swear that damn lens gets more attention than a hot girlfriend - then I shoulder my flash rig and march all the gear half a mile back up the hill to the new position. Did I mention the gear weighs a lot.
Once again I work the angles, run the scenarios, test my flash before turning it all off, hanging my cameras on a fence and waiting. There are two and half hours till the first riders in the break will appear. Riding spectators start to show, first in ones and twos and then in the last hour a steady stream grind their way up the unrelenting 10 percent plus slope and past me to the KOM line. Then to the detriment of all my hopes for a clear background they begin to bleed back downhill into the picture.
If I could arrange a Hollywood costume department to dress them they might add to the scene but invariably I seem to attract a delegation of optic-yellow wearing tandem riders. And if only they'd take off their helmets. There's nothing more incongruous than the juxtaposition of climbing riders against a background of downward facing (and helmeted) fans.
Thus begins the second challenge for any photographer at a public event, negotiating with everyone who shows up much later than you did asking that they not stand immediately in front of you. "Yes, you could stand anywhere on this hill, as I have for the past two hours before you came, you can stand beside me, you can kneel in front of me, hell, you can balance your point-and-shoot or your cell phone camera on my shoulder, just please don't stand in front of me." Oh, and to the guy standing behind me, do you really need to hold onto the pole that my flash rig is lashed to so that it keeps moving. And so on, and so on till the race blessedly puts an end to the dumb behavior.
Damn that bastard on the photo bike spoiling my main group shot. Double damn him because that should have been me.
And finally, one last humorous anecdote that sums it all up. A guy appears with a little point and shoot while I'm still standing virtually alone on this section of the hill. He asks me if I think people will come down this far because he'd like to get some shots of the riders without people in the background. I tell him he's unlikely to get his wish. He then proceeds to walk twenty yards downhill into my background. The irony clearly escapes him. That's him standing against the pole in the shot of the Flandrain flag bearer. I'd like to send him a print, he really adds something to the composition don't you think?