“As well as being the best, crossing the line in first place, the fact that you are making your living out of your passion is very important. When something is your passion and you can make it into your profession, that is the most beautiful thing anyone can have.” - Eddy Merckx
How often does a guy who stood atop the podium in Paris randomly roll up to a coffee shop in a small mountain town and take a seat at the table next to you? Answer: At least once in a lifetime. But the day didn’t start there.
Connected to Tin Shed Sports, a cozy local bike shop, patrons of Salto Coffee Works enjoy an open courtyard to work or dine while competing with sprawled out neighborhood dogs for shady spots under the canopies. The planter sports an ode to cyclocross with red Specialized course tape keeping kids at bay out of the flowers and the fire pit’s modern design features disk brakes welded into the ring. My kinda place.
Roaming the roads of Boulder and beyond, I often see pro cyclists on training rides. Rarely do I see them around town because much a cyclist’s life is all about riding then rest at home. Unless you’re bionic like Jens Voigt and have six kids to shuttle around to various activities, personal appearance commitments, and geocaching for fun along the way. What fuels these riders, aside from gifted genetics, hard work, and the ability to suffer is what fuels much of the world: Coffee.
As a photojournalist, I’ve learned to keep my shit together in any situation, but as a cycling fan, my innards squirm like a teener at a Bieber a concert when I’m around these superhuman athletes. It was no different when I saw local riders Timmy Duggan and Ted King walking out of the cafe. What’s surprising is how approachable and down-to-earth these guys are. I let them know I enjoyed watching them compete at the Pro Challenge and that I was actually editing photos from the race at the moment. It sort of felt like the old days of going through basketball images of players who were standing right behind me during post-game press conferences.
When someone asks where I’m from, I feel them out before offering a response of “legally?” or “physically, right here right now.” People who I think will ‘get it’ hear the elevator pitch of my crazy plan to chase the pro peloton and weasel my way into the industry on this unconventional, but hopefully effective route. It was cool hearing how Timmy also spent time as a bike dirtbag coming up through the ranks. It gives me a little hope that persistence just might pay off. I’m humbled to be able to share images with the 2012 U.S. Road Champion and Olympian on the road to building my ‘brand’ in hopes of landing a gig with a team, media organization, or corporate sponsor.
You think in eight years of college (that’s one more than Van Wilder for those keeping score at home) I would have taken a business or marketing class. Nope. So here we are, taking a self-taught crash course in an office in a van down by the river. The message: stay out of school, kids. Grab a backpack, travel to Europe and actually learn something.
Speaking of Europe, Timmy and Ted had to take off because out of the blue, half of the Cannondale squad rolled up to meet them for a training ride in preparation for the inaugural Tour of Alberta. That’s when I notice the familiar red, blue and white stripes of the Slovakian national champion’s kit. The C-dale bus at races always attracts the largest crowd because of one certain speedster, Peter Sagan. I normally feel awkward in front of a lens, even a tiny iPhone lens for that matter, but I couldn’t resist a quick selfie with the guy who won four stages at the Pro Challenge and won the green jersey at the Tour de France.
Here, Sagan shields his eyes from likely permanent retina damage during Stage 2:
I have fun on my Cannondale bike and the team has a great time with theirs too, even if it means a bike relocating, port-o-pottie practical joke.
WIth little more than crickets chirping in the forest night, no crowds demanding an encore, like a musician, you rock out the same way for 15 people as you would for 15,000, so here’s a final behind the scenes pictorial of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge:
Why is it, no matter the sport, TV videographers and their cord minions are allowed to run onto the course, field, pitch, or whatever? When there’s over 100 cyclists flying by at over 30 m.p.h. you don’t want to be the idiot who takes out half the peloton. Just plant your arse in front of still photographers, blocking the view as per the usual.
Or better yet, find a safe, unique angle:
While the riders bask in the spotlight, it’s the mechanics hiding in the shadows who make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.
Garmin mastermind, Jonathan Vaughters soaks up the sun and perhaps ponders what he’s going to do without Christian Vande Velde next season after the veteran’s retirement.
VDV is a class guy, who, like Vaughters, given his history in the dark era of the sport, helps to pave the road to a future of clean cycling for young guys like Andrew Talansky. The young American, Talansky, who narrowly missed out on a win at the TT when Tejay van Garderen nabbed it by four seconds, sent the rider nicknamed “Pitbull” into a pitty party much like van Garderen’s after losing the leader’s jersey on the same course two years ago. With an embarrassing experience or two under the belt and more time in the saddle, this dog will be trained to kill it for the future of U.S. cycling.
So there I am, buzzing from espresso and getting to meet a few of my favorite riders when three figures in the distinct all-black team Sky kits roll up. Am I still in Ned or some cafe in the mountains in Spain? Rather than go paparazzi mode immediately, I let them enjoy their drinks, watching the liquid level decrease before planning my attack for the win. This time, I ran back to the van and grabbed an SLR and mellowly eased in to capture Paris-Nice winner Richie Porte, teammate Kanstantsin Siutsou, and 2013 Tour de France champion Chris Froome, seemingly without anyone else around, other than the bike shop staff, recognizing arguably the best cyclist on the planet.
As much as I like to be a fly on the wall when I’m shooting (and a fly in your face when marketing), the guys engaged me in conversation. We chatted doping, Colorado and its schitzo the weather (they love the thunderstorms, but don’t share local’s celebration of the snow,) and the fate of the autographed coffee maker they were trying to sell at the Pro Challenge because the team preferred an espresso machine.
I told them about my plan as well and Froome asked me if I have ever shot in Europe, motivating me even more to cross the pond to the global cycling mecca, even if I have to hitch a ride on a cargo ship. Porte brought up mountain biking, to which he asks me, the guy who can’t even afford a tune up for my clicking, grinding drivetrain, what components I prefer. “Uh, whatever you ride, dude. I like that.” I couldn’t help but chuckle on the inside when he asked if I knew the wifi password, which he pronounced “wee-fee” in his Aussie accent. Then everyone had a laugh when the Belarusian time trial champion emerged from the shop on the monster truck of bicycles.
As they left, I couldn’t resist hanging onto Porte’s wheel for a second as they took off back to their mountain retreat.
From here, the race heats up in earnest, sifting through the thousands of images I’ve made chasing the peloton this year to create promotional materials for this traveling circus. There are hints that immersing myself completely into the lifestyle will work out. But in the meantime, the only thing separating me from the guy with a cardboard sign on the street corner is motivation…and a credit card with a fairly high debt ceiling.
With the advancements of apps and the willingness to give work away for free, amateurs continue to kill the sustainability and credibility of the photojournalism industry. I’m not sure how these trust-fund hobbyists survive, but for those of us keen for something other than eating ramen and each fill up at the pump eating away at our credit score, that break away needs to be chased down and stopped. Networking with riders and teams for fun and social media is one thing, but with large organizations, I’ve been offered to trade photos for exposure, which I’m no doubt in need of, but I’m also no domestique. I’m gunning for the yellow jersey. A pro who needs to get these photos in front of the right sets of eyes who will appreciate their value and the financial commitment it takes to make the journey happen. Until then, head down, plugging away.
Timmy remembered me from the snapshots I took of him warming up for the TT, which I thought was awesome. I hope riders and staff continue to take notice because I’m going to keep on the attack. Full gas on my clicking drivetrain and camera shutters until I can throw my hands into the air in victory. Confident, yet cautious, the race rolls on.