2015 represented my 5th participation as a photographer at the biggest cycling competition, the Tour of France. The first two Editions (2011-2012) have been the result of some random crossesof my touristic trips with the roads of the Tour. Starting with the 2013 edition, which was actually the centenarian edition of the competition, I got the idea of what my cycling photo collection is about on www.procyclingimages.com: a comprehensive set of images of professional cyclists in action and other interesting aspects caught by the photographer as a spectator on the side of the road.
In 2015 I took part at the 9 stages of the competition, being there in each of the three weeks in which the competition took place.
I started with the first stage, an individual time trial circuit in the city of Utrecht, Netherlands. I have been there although I am not a big fan of stages of the Tour of France carried out in other countries. After all, is about the Tour of France and not of the Europe or other territories. But this aspect is decided by organizers who certainly know very well how to do their job. So I went to Utrecht because in this edition there was the only one stage of individual time trial.
In the context of this particular stage it is a good opportunity to get images with individual cyclists in action, which is not easily achieved in other stages. Not having a good knowledge of the city, I had some difficulties in finding suitable places from where to photograph cyclists. The circuit was extremely short and it was only in the city with lots of biking amateurs and picnic. I managed to photograph cyclists from 3 to 4 different places of the route but on a hellish heat and in a crowded space.
Taking advantage of the opportunity of this special stage from 2015 edition, I went there in order to take photos. I used my strategy practiced several times during Paris Roubaix, as well as in a stage from 2014 edition, which was taken place on the same roads. It was something special because besides the difficulty of the roads it was added an extremely dense and persistent rain that has imposed the use of all sorts of tricks to protect the camera. This year though, the weather was very good, without rain, only with a few clouds, so just to reduce the bright sunlight. Under these circumstances I managed to capture, thanks to an extremely favorable place, some interesting aspects of the race.
The most important photo is probably the one in which all those great 4-5 favorites of the competition can be seen in action, which practically only then started. During this stage I photographed for the first time the special vehicles of Publicity Caravan on the paved roads, which are specific to the area.
After the stages from North-East of France, the peloton got in the Northern part, in Normandy. I studied carefully the route and it was pretty hard to find a place where the highway was close enough to the beautiful and extremely wild scenery from the Coast of Normandy, and also in such a way as to introduce the presence of the peloton in the landscape. This was possible in a small locality near a specific northern beach Sainte Marguerite Sur Mer. Here, in the same conditions of high heat, after I made a prior scan of the place I decided to get on a peak, slightly above the road, which offered me a bigger picture of the coast and of the locality itself. I was placed exactly in the center of a pasture for a herd of cows. Probably also because of the heat, the heard preferred to sleep away from me, almost still, during those few hours that I sat there. At the end of this stage I made three images as I scheduled, in which the peloton of cyclists fill the grooved and rocky landscape of the Coast of Normandy. After Normandy, the route of the Tour passed through the Brittany. Those who follow the development of my photographic projects know that this area is one of my favorites and that I am preparing a special collection dedicated to it: “Brittany- the Land of Stones”. As well as in the Normandy, in Brittany the route did not pass close enough to the Coast, where the landscape is extremely interesting. From the stages taking place here, I choose the 9th one, at Plumelec. Here took place a team time trial stage. Neither this kind of stage is included in each edition. For me, this stage has represented a premiere, shooting for the first time a cycling team time trial on professional road race. It has been a very interesting experience that gave me an artistic idea that I might explore it in other photographic projects of other type than sports. It is about expressing some aspects of “symmetry in motion” generated by teams consisting of 5 to 7 cyclists and 1 or 2 technical vehicles that are placed in some specific ways during their evolution at a travel speed of 60 km/h. To succeed in getting such images depends very much on the position of the photographer related to the peloton of cyclists in motion and to the moment in which the team make the best arrangement. This time, the best conditions for the achievement of such an image was possible at the pass of LotoNL-Jumbo peloton.
I have also shot with great interest the caricatures with comic accents that were filling the shop windows from Plumelec. When I passed through the locality, the lighting conditions were very precarious and I do not have so much time to stay there so, it was very helpful my camera and the possibility it gave me to get HDR images directly into the camera. Then it came the second week of the competition that meant getting into mountains where there would be the most difficult and disputed races. This time, the first mountain stages have been scheduled in Pyrenees. From the Pyrenees’ stages I chose the one with the number 11, in which the peloton had to cross the Col de Tourmalet. Before that, it was Col D”Aspin. The day before the tour, I have visited both possible destinations. I preferred Col d’Aspin this time because I had already photographed on the climbing towards Col du Tourmalet a year before.
Because of a bad synchronization, I got too late at the entrance at the Col s’Aspin and I could not get with the car in there, so I find myself in the situation of climbing about 9-11 km on foot with my backpack and all my photographic equipment and stuff in order to reach to a place as close as possible to the top. So, I got on that road with a lot of confidence and I climbed about 10 km and getting at less than 1.5 km from the top. I stopped there because there was a pretty well lightened curve with an interesting landscape in the background and without too many spectators. Waiting for cyclists, I had to face a terrible heat and there were no shadow at all. Due to the fact that there were not so many spectators and not an overcrowding area, I found the perfect and suitable conditions to try to make also some videos besides photos. So I placed one of the devices somewhere above a few meters from the road border to record the action. At the same time, I was walking with the other camera in different places to identify the best photographic angles when the peloton comes. From all the conversations with lots of fans near the road, I recall one question of whether Romania has any cyclists in the peloton. My answer was no and then I thought how great would have been to actually have a fellow citizen among competitors… but maybe in one of the next editions. Then appeared the Publicity Caravan and after about 2 hours the cyclists showed up. The main characteristic of the passing of the cyclists is represented by the speed, even if the path is on the way up. The time left for taking pictures is extremely limited. Cyclists appear in 2-4 groups. Imagine that a group passes in front of you in about 1-2 minutes, in which everything is on the move. You do not have so much time to think. You have to act. In those moments all the things that you have done before the arrival of the cyclists are very important.
What matters a lot are the detailed analysis of the place and the exploration of as many possible locations, to create possible scenarios. Despite this fact, all that you have tried to anticipate is very likely to no longer be valid, but it is very helpful to have a suitable reaction speed to take the photos.
After the players’ caravan and all the technical vehicles have passed, you have to start your way back. Another 10 km of walk, but this time at a higher temperature, without a slightest shadow….it was a real torture. Then another few kilometers with the car, hotel, shower, food, photos downloading, quick review, fast photos editing and delivering those to some agencies and then go to bed because tomorrow is a new day in which I have to focus.
I skipped the following stages in order to keep my efforts for the last days of races in Alps, when the weather forecast gave me hope that the weather will be very good.
The 2015 route has been altered from the initial one because of some unfortunate natural phenomenon that have significantly damaged one of the roads on which it should have been held the race. Thus, the three stages in the Alps have passed in three days in a pretty low and narrowed area which has included two mountains leaps: Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer. Both are located at about 2000 m altitude in the middle of a fantastic alpine landscape.
As usually, I have chosen a close city as my destination, in which the internet access is a bit safer and with an acceptable surfing speed as to what you can get on the mountain. In the first alpine stage I witnessed the crossing towards North of the Col du Glandon. I got there early in the morning, before 9 o’clock and I succeed to find a spot on the side of a back road , about 3 km from the place in which I was thinking to take photos. During 4-5 hours I walked through the area trying to find the best emplacement.
In the end, I decided to get on the top of a barn’s roof, from where the final curve could be seen, before reaching the highest point. As the time of the arrival of the cyclists and Publicity Caravan has approached the roof of the barn was getting full of people. So I stood there because I feared that I could lose my place. All I wanted in that moment was that the roof could resist with all the people on it. I took all kind of pictures as trial but, in the important moments of the course the light was different. I managed again to take photos and to make some videos in the same time, thing that gladden me a lot.
In the second alpine stage I also went to Col du Glandon which now had to be climbed from the south, which is opposed than in the previous day. On this way, the road is extremely sinuous and with important curves in ascension which offer, in theory, the possibility of seeing some extremely interesting images. After I analyzed some more road curves I decided to sit on an extremely declivitous slope which offered a unique perspective of the road located at the base of the great mountain peaks in the area. It turns out that I was inspired because just before de arrival of the peloton, a group of Columbian supporters which represented a “spot of colour” got there and their energy was very welcomed in the images that were captured there. I succeed again to make some photos and videos. The place where I sat was the one in which some very interesting events happened. It was the only stage in which Froome, which was a pretty authoritative leader of the race was surpassed by one of his direct opponents. It was Nibali the one who won the Tour de France one year before. It was pointed out after the race that Froome had a technical bike problem and because of that he remained a little behind. Nibali realized that Froome slows down and has launched the attack. I managed to capture exactly the moment in which Nibali looks back and accelerates realizing the Froome remains behind him. It was an action that lacked fair-play from the Italian but I was paying attention.
Once again I got very inspired in choosing the place, which always is a consequence of several hours of exploring the route before the appearance of cyclists.
In the last alpine stage I placed myself on Col de la Croix de Fer, located at the distance of 3 km from the Col du Glandon. I knew the place from a previous trip and I remembered that it is an extremely wild place where you can feel the hardness of the mountain. The climbing was extremely difficult, corresponding to H category. I have decided that in this particular stage to only take photos and as usuall, I searched suitable locations. Finally, I have chosen a hairpin curve where I could photograph the cyclists from above the entrance into the curve and after crossing it I could capture frontal images of them. Moreover, I tried to place myself between two groups and also in the inner side of the curve getting an extremely interesting view of the arrived cyclists in that place.
Then I went to the car and after three days of exploration of the mountain areas and days of shooting there, I drove back home almost 1000 km and during the following days and months I will relieve intensively all those stages when I will be editing the pictures of them.
So this is the story of the first tour in which I managed to photograph and shoot simultaneously a more dynamic presentation of the competition.
As soon as I will organize the image gallery of each stage that I attended it is possible to make a detailed description of the way in which I have captured those images.