April 23/12 14:22 pm - Covering a Bike Race - Just Another Day...
Posted by Editor on 04/23/12
People often say to me "what an exciting/interesting/incredible job you have, getting to travel all over the place and take part in all these races". It IS an interesting life, but there are lots of times when I roll my eyes.
Here is what happened today, on stage two of the Tour of Turkey...
Gilles, the press officer for the foreign press, had e-mailed us the night before saying that the photographers who were sharing a motorcycle (either splitting the day or taking one day on, one day off) had cars assigned to us, which would meet us at the hotel, transport us and our luggage to the start and then the photographer that wasn't shooting the first part of the race would go with the car, to swap at a mutually agreed point with the other photographer.
Sabine, a German photographer, and I were sharing and had worked out our plans; we were in Media Car 4. I would shoot the first half, hand over the moto to Sabine and then head to the finish. All good.
However ... we are all standing outside the hotel at 11:30 am, with our gear and luggage, but no cars. Gilles shows up, says where are the cars?, and heads off to talk with the organization. The answer to his question was that they had given them all away to local Turkish press, and there was nothing left for us, but we could all take a shuttle bus to the finish - not going to work.
Gilles keeps arguing with the organization and, meanwhile, we load everything onto a shuttle and drive to the start. When we get there, Gilles has organized two hastily rebadged neutral support vehicles - one for Sabine and I, one for three Asian photographers (all of whom are sharing one bike...).
So, I head over to the moto area to meet my driver and assess his experience. I meet him, he's done it before, everything seems good, so I head off to take some photos of riders getting ready, spectators, etc. I head back over at about 25 minutes before the start to drop off my helmet ... "This bike is for a Turkish photographer, there are no bikes left."
Okay, time to run around and find Gilles (who is probably starting to dislike the sight of me and it is only Day 2). Track him down, less than 20 minutes to the start, we both head back to the motos, where Gilles gets into a heated argument with the moto chief. Eventually, they agree to grab one of the security motos and make it a photo moto. More hasty rebadging on the moto windscreen.
I head back to take start photos and arrange to meet my driver just past the start line. That all works fine, and I start talking to Mustafa, my driver, as we work our way through the caravan to the peloton. Turns out Mustafa - who is an excellent bike handler, by the way - has never driven a photographer before...
Now, a photo moto is an interesting job. We can work throughout the length of the race, subject to the activities of the peloton, road conditions and the mood of the commissaires. Functioning smoothly, we do our job in close with the riders, not interfering with their safety or affecting the rhythm of the race. However, it is something that takes time to learn, because it is very different from security or commissaire duties. I now had to teach Mustafa on the fly, with not a lot of English at his command (and no Turkish at mine). Fortunately, he has worked a bike race before and, as I mentioned, he is a good bike handler.
So, we're rolling down the road, have our initial peloton shots and are looking for some scenics, which involves heading well off in front of the race, looking for something interesting - the ocean, crowds, interesting architecture, backgrounds, etc. Well, there's next to nothing. It's a four lane highway that, when it isn't going through industrial subdivisions, is running past scrubby brush. All of us are rolling along for kilometre after kilometre, looking for something, shaking our heads.
Finally, I get Mustafa to pull over, climb a wall, squirm through some barb wire fencing and, from the right angle can get a bit of the ocean in the background.
Finally there is a break, but you can only take so many pictures of five guys rolling along and a peloton that isn't really that interested.
Then we follow another photo moto off course; out of the corner of my eye, I see the arrows pointing off to the right, but we have already headed straight, and now we are on a divided access highway, with no exit for kilometres. I point this out to Mustafa, and he turns around and starts heading backwards into oncoming traffic with his siren blaring and gesticulating for drivers to get out of his way...
Back on course, we roll along still getting nothing interesting, until it's time to hand over to Sabine. I get in the car with Gurk - a 20 year old student, who volunteered for the race, and had the keys thrust in his hands this morning 30 minutes before the start and was told to drive us. He's never seen a bike race before this, so he's pretty nervous.
We decide to head straight for the finish; I'll have time to put Sabine and my computers in the press centre before heading to the finish line, and maybe get some local atmosphere shots while I wait. If I'm really lucky, I'll be able to grab a bite in the VIP area, because I haven't eaten since 8:00 am and it is now after 3:00 pm.
Everything is going well, the race radio says we are over 20 kilometres in front of the riders as we enter the finishing city of Antalya. We are following the kilometre signs and arrows on the course - which is still open to traffic, because we are so far in front. Five kilometres, three kilometres, two kilometres ... wait a minute, where are the signs?
Great, they stopped or missed putting up a sign and now we (and a bunch of team cars and other press) are stuck in a traffic jam, facing the wrong way. Get turned around and start heading back, really slowly because all the regular traffic is backed up because of the race.
Gurk is getting pretty agitated, he takes it personally that we missed the course (despite the fact that a bunch of us did), and doesn't want me to miss the finish. Pounding on the steering wheel, cursing other drivers in Turkish, lurching forward at high speed to close a one metre gap. He finally asks in desperation if he can smoke and I agree, with the windows down.
We make it to the course cut off and the peloton is still ten kilometres away - tight, but we can make it. Then the policeman manning the barricade refuses to let us in.
I have found that there are two types of marshals - police or otherwise. Those who will try to help if they can, using common sense, and those who consider themselves masters of their domain and basically wouldn't let the riders through in some cases. This guy was (of course) the latter type.
Gurk loses it, and starts screaming at the cop, who starts screaming back. Gurk's about to get out of the car, when I grab his arm and tell him to drive on. The next guy is more reasonable, lets us cut across the course, and we start racing through tiny back streets, heading in the general direction of the finish line. We find it, but the cop won't let us through the final block to the line. Gurk starts to wind up again, I tell him to let me out, grab my stuff and tell him to find me after he's parked the car somewhere.
I'm running towards the line, and Johnny from SpiderTech (soigneur) helpfully tells me they (peloton) are four kilometres away which, at 70 kilometres an hour, means I've got about three minutes to make it to the line. More helpfully, he grabs Sabine's and my computer bags and says to come and get them after the race finishes - BIG thanks!
I bulldoze through the crowd, ignore the marshals, hop the fence (while carrying 20 kilos of camera gear) and get my big lens set up just in time to see them at 300 metres. I actually get a whole series of finishing shots, amazing.
Back over to SpiderTech, grab the bags, a quick interview with Ryan Roth and then I can hear the podium music starting up - no time to make it through the crowds to the photo pit. So, I find a high spot and use my long lens.
Off to the portable press room to file photos, story and video. Picture a transport trailer with a pop-out side, filled with 40 sweaty, tired and grouchy journalists and photogs, all on deadline...
I get my photos picked, sized, captioned and sent off to Tracy for adjustments and posting just before the internet crashes (as always). We are offered the option of staying and hoping it comes back (50-50, at best), or heading to the hotel and hoping that the internet works there - the last two hotels were wretched for connectivity, so this is also not a great choice.
I opt for the hotel at this point, Gurk having found me and dropped off my moto helmet, and having been reassured that he did a great job (and he did).
We reach the hotel and, praise the saints, the internet is smoking hot, and I can send in a story and upload a video in less than ten minutes (the previous time took seven fricking hours).
A shower and down to dinner - the first food since breakfast 12 hours ago.
This was, by no means, an abnormally bad day, just the usual stuff that goes on at an event that is moving from city to city with 1000 people involved - riders, team staff, media and organization.
So, now you know - when I roll my eyes, there's a reason.