During the last year and half, I have photographed quite a few disciplines of cycling but downhill is quite special, as I realised yesterday. You don’t have multiple chances to take photos of them on the day of the race, you need to arrive earlier and photograph them during qualifiers, etc.
It’s not enough to find good spots but you also need to figure out the logistics as you are not omnipresent: if you choose a certain spot, you cannot take photos at a different spot during a later lap because there are no laps: you have one chance and that’s it.
By the end of Sunday, I think I found the solution, which is still not perfect but seems to do the job. I started from the top of the course and shot the slower end of the field (in the downhill finals, the slowest riders start first, the guy/gal who won the qualifiers, starts last) and slowly made my way down to a “favourite” spot, where I wanted to photograph the top riders. So here’s what happened on Sunday.
I got to the press centre around 9 in the morning. I wanted to catch some action during the morning practice so I headed right up to the course. A ski lift took me up to the half of the downhill course in the morning. From there, a short, but steep hike took me up to this open section of the course. I wanted to find a good angle but all the riders slowed down before the corner to have a quick chat on the preceding tricky section so I couldn’t figure out how it would look like when they tackled the corner at full speed.
Each course (whether it’s cross country, cycle-cross or downhill) has a very technical section that attracts the most spectators. In Maribor, it’s around half-way through the course, a 100 meter long, steep path with massive rocks all over, making it pretty hard to suss out a clear line. Most of the riders inspected this bit on foot before the final run.
Rachel Atherton had a rough year in 2009 due to her pre-season injury. The qualifying run on Saturday didn’t go well so I was curious to find out how she’d perform. I found this spot not much after the aforementioned rocky section, but I couldn’t really come up with a good angle – and some leaves were also in the way in the top-lef corner. Instead of altering nature to accommodate my needs (i.e. remove branches from the tree), I carried on to find a better spot.
Rachel Atherton again – what a grimace. She started early and didn’t leave much to chance, no one could match her speed that day – she beat Sabrine Jonnier by almost 10 seconds.
I was slowly walking down and arrived at the same section I had taken some photos on Saturday. I was trying to find a different angle but I was struggling to take sharp images so after a couple of frames I decided to leave.
French rider Myriam Nicole had the best qualifying run, so she left the start last and she was not much behind Atherton after the first checkpoint but then her chain came off the cogs so she had to finish the race without pedalling. It would have been interesting to see what she would have been capable of. Maybe in Fort William.
After a short break, the fastest 80 men started their race – the slowest descended first. I like the way this guy jumps right into the city – or so it seems.
Those, who followed me on twitter probably remember me moaning on Saturday about the horrible weather. Well, it wasn’t the case on Sunday, the worst the weather threw at us was a bit of wind and constant drizzle. Nothing we couldn’t handle. But the course started to dry up, so the mud got stickier and stickier – not good for the riders, excellent for photographers.
This was the corner I tried to suss out earlier, this was the frame I was looking for. Not particularly exciting or original, I know.
The previously mentioned tricky rocky section and a brave contestant. I was trying to count the number of flashes on this section but I gave up after fifteen and those were just the professional photographers’ strobes. Sometimes I feel guilty about it but I guess if it really bothered the riders, the use of flash wouldn’t be sanctioned off.
There was a path that most riders took. Trek World Racing rider Justin Leov followed this path.
American rider Aaron Gwin were one of the few who did things his own way, his sixth place proves that he might have been right – to a certain extent.
Greg Minnaar flies through the rocks with ease. I am quite convinced that I had an important part in his win: out of the four downhill world cup races I have ever been, he won two – I witnessed nine years ago his first ever win in Kaprun, Austria. I’m his lucky coin, nothing less.
Greg Minnaar concentrates before the big jump that concludes this rocky nightmare.
The funny thing about downhill races is that you have no idea who just won the race until you made your way down to the finish. Me and an Italian videographer made a mad dash and managed to catch the beginning of the women’s podium. That was when we learned that Rachel Atherton won the race. Well done, a well deserved win after last year’s hardships.
Greg Minnaar sprays champaign all over his competition, Gee Atherton and Brendan Fairclough.
This concludes a very long and eventful weekend, next stop is in Offenburg, Germany for the third XCO world cup race. Stay tuned.