Star-crossed – Cyclocross Nationals Day 5

Throughout the week, we saw amateurs, industry riders, juniors, and masters battle snow that melted into mud then dried to create a very fast course for the elite men and women who threw down Sunday afternoon for the stars and stripes jersey. Some competitors warmed up by flexing their guns, others like Georgia Gould played a game of human twister (right hand, blue) and nine-time defending champ Katie Compton spent time on the trainer inside of the Trek Factory Racing tent before the elite women call-ups.

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The field of riders was massive and Compton stumbled from the start, unable to clip in to go for the hole-shot. She clawed her way back, passing the eventual second place finisher, young phenom Elle Anderson and local girl Meredith Miller who ended up sprinting for a podium spot over Optum’s Crystal Anthony. Gould rounded out the top five.

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Rush hour traffic on the 5280 Run-up:

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Putting almost a minute between herself and her nearest competitor, Compton won her 10th straight Cyclocross National Championship in dominating fashion.

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Up next were the elite men, where the favorite, Jeremy Powers lived up to the pressure, attacking from the gun and never let up. Cannondale’s Ryan Trebon hung with him for a couple laps, but a slip up proved costly as J-Pow went on to ride a flawless race to capture his second national championship. Trebon’s teammate, Tim Johnson had a consistent ride to round out the podium by finishing third.

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Raleigh-Clement’s Jamie Driscoll along with teammate and local rider, Allen Krughoff rode together into an impressive top-5 finish.

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And of course there was more blood and a cute, furry spectator to bounce back from the gross-out.

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That should about wrap up my daily posts on the 2014 Cyclocross National Championships. It was a wild week on the course finishing with a wilder after party presented by Skratch Labs at the Boulder Theatre. It was there I got to meet and congratulate the super laid-back Rapha-Focus rider and newly crowned national champ, creating a personal highlight to a most memorable and muddy week of bike racing. Until the next adventure, thanks for checking out my work.

Championship in the Crosshairs – Cyclocross Nationals Day 4

Saturday brought bigger winds and bigger crowds at the 2014 Cyclocross National Championships in Boulder, but victory was equally sweet. For results, click here. For pictures, here we go… They finally opened the drainage ditch for the masters and U23 races, ramping up the technicality, though the course is drying out and becoming very fast.

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Why did the chicken ‘cross’ the road? To get to cx nationals, of course.

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This is how you properly slam a beer handup served by a bumble bee:

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‘Cross You Like a Hurricane – Cyclocross Nationals Day 3

When the van is rocking, it usually means Mother Nature is knocking with big wind making its way down the front range and across the foothills. It ripped through pop up tents, course markers, and riders as they made their way around the 2+ mile course.

While the junior categories were getting blown all over the place in the 40 m.p.h. winds, I took the chance to meander around behind the scenes and see what makes cx nationals tick. I found Katie Compton’s new Trek Boone that she’ll be riding Sunday in search of her 10th Cyclocross National Championship. Sven Nys rides the same bike and called it “perfect.” ‘Nuff said.

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Mechanics and chefs were hard at work throughout the day tuning bikes and cooking up race fuel for riders warming up for the collegiate team relay, eventually won by Marian University.

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Pain and Relief – Cyclocross Nationals Day 2

There is a lot of great coverage coming out of CX Nationals this year and a lot of new viewers directed this way from 303 Cycling, for which I’m stoked for. Since I’m freelancing this one, aka working for free and not for a media outlet, this is my experience at the races during the day and van dwelling at night.

Unable to take the massive pain radiating from my recently smashed thumb, I turned to YouTube for my health care needs. Psyching myself up to heat a pin that would sizzle its way through the nail and hitting an oil field of blood under pressure below was the hardest part. The immediate relief from performing a mini surgery in the back of the van was well worth it. Not that it makes gripping camera bodies and switching lenses around quickly any easier. Lesson learned. Don’t smash fingers in car doors. It hurts like mad.

‘Cross also hurts, but in a good way. I wasn’t alone in pain on day 2 of the Boulder mud festival. There was more blood (other than my own), more mud, and other nasty concoctions of spit and snot making up complementary facial day at Valmont Bike Park. Good times.

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Mud, Blood, Cheers, and Beers – CX Nationals Day 1

The van pushed eastward, ascending the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, leaving the holiday season and t-shirt weather in SoCal behind. It was a race against the clock to get to Boulder for the Cyclocross National Championships where several inches of snow turned melting slop blanketed the course at Valmont Bike Park. Finally, a mudder. But not before camping out in zero degrees, getting a flat tire, then smashing the bejesus out of my thumb in the van door. Lacking an opposable digit and enduring pain that makes you see stars with each throbbing heart beat, I didn’t get this far not to shoot some racing. Luckily, the snow on the ground makes icing convenient.

Industry racers and single speeders got down n dirty on day one and the beer handups and bloody noses were already flowing. The course looked sloppy and technical, but warmer temperatures should dry things up by the weekend. In the meantime, some muddy madness:

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Top 13 of 2013

“Who am I to judge” – Pope Francis

Despite minimal feedback and an income a distant second to the beggar on the street corner with a cardboard sign, I think I’m ok at this photography thing. One year ago I wrote up a plan of sorts on how to get back in the saddle and making a living at doing what I love. It was totally overwhelming as my interests bounce around like a pinball with attention deficit disorder in a REI store. I love hiking, backpacking, camping, climbing mountains, paddling, snowboarding, traveling, but above all I’m most at home on the bike, so it made sense to funnel the focus of my mission. By doing this, I could create a single solid portfolio instead of several half-assed ones. I put together a 32-page promo magazine of what I thought was my best work which is now being sent out to pro cycling teams, race organizers, sponsors, and editorial rags. While the content will be new to its viewers, I have spent countless hours, weeks, no, months starting at the same images, editing, laying out the magazine, fighting with printers to get the color right, reprinting, more fighting. I just want to make more pictures, but before I do, here’s one final look at the top 13 of 2013.

Leading off with one of my favorites of the year from Stage 8 of the Tour of California in Santa Rosa. I hopped on my bike with my gear, as I normally do during a circuit race through a town, then began cruising the course as the peloton made its way up from San Francisco. Always looking for new, unique angles, I noticed a parking structure that was built over a tree-lined boulevard that would give me a perfect view of teams leading out their sprinters for the finish. Shooting with two bodies, one with a wide angle lens and the other with a telephoto landed me not only the cover image for my promo, but a more detailed shot of dozens of faces made a perfect double-truck centerfold for my magazine.

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I often scout part of the course the evening before a race, so when I passed through Red Canyon near Bryce Canyon National Park, I camped out nearby knowing I’d return in the morning to await the Tour of Utah. Balancing atop the “quadpod” (the van) for a bit of elevation over the large field of riders, I got a cool angle that none of the media motos could score as they all stopped nearby.

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Accidents happen. And sometimes they look cool. I often try pan blurs, but the problem with them is that 90% of the frames are out of focus. But sometimes that blurry mess works, looking like an abstract painting.

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You wouldn’t think a portfolio image would be made during a pitch black criterium, but when my flash fired, then caught another photographer’s strobe in the same frame, it made for a trippy shot that I might have to recreate and improve on in the future. I prefer natural light to artificial, but since Santa brought a battery pack for faster recycle times, I’ll start experimenting with lights more.

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All in the details. I love shooting time trials. Maybe it’s because riders are spaced out giving me a chance to shoot for a long period of time, rather than running around like a maniac for only a couple chances at catching the peloton. TT’s are called the race of truth for a reason. One rider, against the clock, in an all-out sufferfest. The Tour of California had a women’s TT, so I positioned myself on the gnarly climb about 2k from the finish when I captured Rhae Shaw deep in the pain cave.

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This year, I learned about the commercial side of the sport, aka, where all the money comes from. It taught me I need to start focusing not just on pretty scenics, but products because that’s what sponsors want to see. Shooting cyclocross gives me a chance to work on just that because of the nature of the course and ability to stick my fisheye lens 6-inches from a racer’s drivetrain as he runs by before remounting. Maybe SRAM would dig the hit of sunlight reflecting off their disc brake. A project I have for 2014 is cataloging and creating brand-specific portfolios to make a better impression on companies at next year’s Interbike convention.

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Thinking back to my favorite ride of the year, it’s easy to give the nod to climbing Independence Pass alone during the USA Pro Challenge. The road was closed to traffic and since I came up from the side the race was descending, it was free of people, offering a quiet, insanely scenic ascent to 12,096-feet. What wasn’t quiet was the scene at the top where music thumped from the DJ booth as hundreds of fans awaiting the pros were partying with the Colorado State Patrol. Luckily, they got stuck in the traffic jam at the top, leaving me free to fly down the mountain at 50 m.p.h. so I could get to the finish in Breckenridge.

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Like accidental photos, getting lucky by being in the right place at the right time can capture memorable moments as well. Such was the case during the Tour of Utah when I shot Ty Manger’s donut wielding wheelie on the climb up to Snowbird. The background isn’t flattering and the angle is far from perfect, but catching that moment got more attention on social media than any of my other photos this season.

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There were so many highlights this year, but meeting Tour de France champion Chris Froome and his right hand man Richie Porte tops it all, simply because of how it went down. Over the summer, I often moved from my camping spot in the forest to a coffee shop in Nederland in the morning to grab internet and caffeine. That day, I ran into local pro Timmy Duggan who was showing team Cannondale around the area following the Pro Challenge. That meant I got to meet guys like Ted King and Peter Sagan. Obviously this would have been the highlight of my day if not for an hour later when I noticed a few team Sky kits that rolled up and sat down next to me. Recognizing Froome, my innards freaked out like a tween at a Justin Bieber concert. Rather than go paparazzi on them immediately, I let them finish their drinks before approaching. Though unlike Bieber, these guys don’t suck in any way. Actually, they were extremely down-to-earth and we had a good chat about Colorado, the weather, doping, bike components, and the one thing always on the mind of traveling cyclists: wifi, which Porte pronounced “wee-fee.” Experiences like that are exactly why I live in a van, stalking following the lifestyles of pro cyclists.

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Wintertime has slowed things down, but also given me a chance to get familiar with my newest obsession: cyclocross. Not only are there countless opportunities to shoot on the 2-3km courses, but it’s a winter sport, which likely means snow and mud. Sea World may have the splash zone, but if you want a four-dimensional viewing experience, post up next to the mud pit during a race where a rain bag over photo gear is mandatory. Not only did I repeatedly catch a face full of mud each lap, I welcomed a few laughs from spectators as well. I was hoping for a face-plant by one of the riders and while that never happened, I was happy with the feel of this image featuring eventual race winner Danny Summerhill at left.

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Giving myself assignments the whole year was fun, but my work lacked immediate purpose and reward. That was not the case when my friends Sara and Mike needed a wedding photographer to capture their best day ever. I should rephrase that. They needed a cycling photographer to capture what they called “love in action.” As long as they didn’t sprint down the aisle faster than Sagan, I was confident I could cover the day. I was stoked they invited me to Lake Tahoe to document getting hitched, but as we made portraits, I didn’t feel the session was complete until we found a bike because Sara is a badass bike racer and I wanted to incorporate that into the wedding. Finding a cruiser painted with flames and little skulls screwed onto the tire’s air valves was perfect, though I focused on a different bit of bling for my favorite shot of the day and a top moment of the year.

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Bike racing can be chaotic, like the scene at Beaver Creek during a massive thunderstorm at the Pro Challenge, but it also has its quiet moments. Seeing Nikodemus Holler crest a hill as he rides off into the storm may not be a full-on epic landscape, but it’s a fitting farewell to a 2013. This year was a rebuilding year completely self-supported as a neo-pro cycling photographer living out of a van. I hope I can build a client base that understands the value of quality and gives a dude, a dog, and a dream a chance to step up the game and create even better content in 2014.

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60 Square Feet of Freedom

While my home on wheels will never be complete until a hot tub and disco ball exist, the days of permanently gluing the skin on my hands and ruining clothes with sticky spray insulation are over. The following snapshots were taken on the iPhone since my hands were too gross to touch anything, let alone my real photo gear during three phases of construction at my parent’s place in San Diego.

I had already stripped the interior, covered it with insulation, built up a platform bed, and set down plywood on the floor (click for photos), but the van still resembled the inside of C3PO’s guts, with framing and exposed metallic insulation glued between the van’s metal support ribs. If I were a carpenter Jedi, I would have constructed a functional, modular system, utilizing the space to its fullest potential. But alas, I’m just a dude with a plan to use enough Loctite PL 8X glue to hold a battleship together.

First came the 100% recycled plastic walls, then putty to fill the holes in the ribs, and paint to blend it all together. For the bed, I ordered a 3″ thick, 5-lb memory foam topper that I’d cut to size, but since that would bottom out, I needed a cheap, yet comfortable base to lay down first. I was sold on using carpet padding when I found out Home Depot sold an 8-lb version made out of ground up recycled Nike shoes.

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Between the end of the Tour de France at the beginning of the Tour of Utah, I worked on the van all day, every day. It was a ridiculous amount of messy, arthritis-inducing, lesson-learning work that came together because of effort in the details. Sanding and painting moulding, a front-face for the bed, covering up wheel wells and the defunct rear a/c unit with cabinet shelf liner, and my favorite: the shoe box. I had been looking for a place to store my kicks, but nothing out there matched the height of the passenger seat and thus giving my dog, Marley a place to comfortably ride shotgun. Using my mom’s old real estate signs and scrap wood, I built one myself.

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When I had a house I enjoyed working to customize it, doing little upgrades that made a big difference. The grandest being a transformation of the landscape, but I never got to put down bamboo flooring inside, which was a plan I had from the start. Now living in a 60-square-foot home made it possible to install the floor I’ve always wanted. Installation seemed “easy” at first until the work began. Cutting the thin wood flooring by hand meant ripping open blisters on top of open blisters while fighting with a gigantic pair of scissors. A feeling that can only be described as soaking an open wound in a bucket of alcohol all day long. While many of the materials used were eco-friendly, the toxic atmosphere created by the glue, spray insulation and paint made the oxygen level on Mars a more desirable place to live. But there was no time for letting things dry as I had to take off for a huge portfolio boosting opportunity at the Tour of Utah, so the ceiling and headboard would have to wait.

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After Interbike, I swung down to SoCal to finish up the rig where I’d cover the ceiling with three layers of insulation, then argyle fabric simply because that’s cooler looking than a plain color, and add a sheet metal headboard to have a wall to put things up. When it’s 7o-something degrees out, you don’t think about how that piece of metal will transfer cold to make it feel like you’re sleeping against a giant block of ice in the winter in the Rockies. Live, learn, and suck it up, sister.

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Initially, I had planned on building a kitchen against the wall behind the driver’s seat, but that additional pain in the ass wasn’t a welcome thought after all the work that I had done to this point. Ikea saved the day with a 54-inch particle board sofa table that coincidentally stores my kitchen gear against the wall perfectly. 

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When I began ripping the stock interior out of the van I didn’t really have a plan at all, but I stuck to vision I sketched out while crashing on the living room floor of my buddy Wes’ place in Denver last winter. While it sure doesn’t look pro, it’s a functional space that looks significantly less creepy than most white vans rolling around out there. That is, until the hot tub and disco ball are put in. In a future post, we’ll get to the meat and potatoes of this thing, covering inventory, organization and day-to-day van dwelling logistics while living in temperatures ranging from -15 to 120 degrees.