Chasing the Race
British National Road Race Championships 2014
It’s that time of year, when riders fly home to their respective countries to compete for their national jerseys. 2014’s race here in Britain was to be held in Abergavenny and the surrounding countryside in South Wales. The town is no stranger to bike racing, as the original Milk Race, past national championships and numerous crit races have been held here, not to mention Stage 3 of this year’s Tour of Britain to come.
Over the past few years I have been building a portfolio of cycling photography, and forming valuable relationships within the cycling community. Most recently I have become involved with Starley-Primal Pro Cycling, and although I have worked with the team before, this would likely be the biggest race in the calendar - not just because it is the national championships, but due to the calibre of riders competing. Two such riders would have been Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, but both failed to line up. To some more than others this would be a godsend, but it was a shame not to see these big names in the race as it would be the only chance for some of the smaller teams to ride alongside TDF and stage winners. Despite this the race was full on - every man for himself, no messing.
The ladies would race in the morning and the gents just after lunch. The women’s race was very tightly contested, unlike the men’s with teams like Sky, Orica-Green Edge and Garmin-Sharp taking the lead early on.
My plan for most races is to get out to the start and photograph the warm up, signing on and roll out, then jump in the car as the riders are leaving to a point where I can easily get to before the riders do.
On this occasion I was heading to a town named Ursk just south of Abergavenny about 20k out and as I pulled up to a T junction ready to turn right on to the course the women’s riders burst past at 30-40kmh. Balls, I’ve missed them. Luckily one thing that I have learned is never to put the camera away and I got a few shots of the peloton as it flashed down the country lane.
Next stop was Monmouth, I got close to but not quite there. I set up my shot and sat in wait like a wildlife photographer waiting for a herd of wildebeest to come thumping across the tarmac. Only it wasn’t a herd of wildebeest but 55kg girls on super- light carbon road bikes with silk tubular tyres. A profound silence, then the police rolling road blocks came hurtling through with their massive v twin engines. Commissaires, then neutral service. There they are: 10 seconds of rubber on tarmac click, click, click and they’ve gone. Hurtling 40km through the countryside trying to beat the peloton for 10 seconds and a handful of images.
Back to the start/finish before the peloton arrives for the final four laps of Aber town centre. I got a perfect spot just to the right of the bank of photographers and got the winning shots of Laura Trott, Dani King and Lizzie Armitstead.
Back at race headquarters there was a bit of a problem. I didn’t have the correct wrist band to enter the team areas, so I had to convince the security guy that I was actually with Team Starley-Primal which I was of course. He believed me and let me through but I needed to get the correct accreditation. With that sorted I could walk freely within the race headquarters, I only needed to access the Starley-Primal team camp to get my pictures. The men’s race was due to start 30 minutes after the women’s finished.
I grabbed a few warm up shots of the guys, had a chat with Jack Pullar - Starley-Primal and James Gullen - Velosure-Goirdana and headed out to the start. By this time the crowds were huge, nothing like the women’s in the morning. I barely got to the start line when I got a phone call from the organiser of the event, having left my number with the media centre when I got my accreditation. He told me that someone had made a complaint about me and that he needed to see me urgently, so I panicked a little but couldn’t think why someone would complain.
I met the guy and got a roasting before I knew what was going on. It turned out that they had handed out two identical tabards and the other photographer had forced his way into the hospitality areas acting aggressively. I assured the organiser that this wasn’t me and thankfully he was happy with my explanation and went away to investigate the incident with a handful of my business cards and a book of mine, with the hope of working together in the future. Every cloud has a silver lining and all that.
Delayed and a little shaken I headed back out onto the course. This time the men had a longer route of nearly 200km and I knew the area well now so I could take it easy. Over to Monmouth with plenty of time to scout the area, then for the most decisive moment in the race which would be the hill climb at The Tumbles. I couldn’t find the spot but found a neat little bend on a steep incline. Perfect. The riders passed through, I got my 10 seconds worth of photographs but then I spotted a punctured rider, great! Punctures always make for interesting shots mostly because they are difficult to catch and of course happen at random.
There was nothing left to photograph, the peloton had passed in fragmented groups with Peter Kennaugh, Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe and a few other riders at the head of the race. It was clear domination by Team Sky, in fact there could have been two races going on at the same time and the level split was enormous.
Back in Abergavenny I had my accreditation with my own tabard, and now I could join the bank of photographers on the finish line. First I wandered around the circuit - which the riders would complete ten of before finishing at 5.30. I got some cool shots of G powering down the straights trying to catch a lead group of seven riders, it was very impressive. The first five laps he was gaining - on the first lap he was a minute down, then 50 seconds then 45, 40, he was gaining but then it went back down to a minute. It was obvious that he was tiring and you could see in his legs that he’d given it all. This is what Geraint does over and over and is why he is such a beloved rider: he works hard and doesn’t whine. Although he didn’t come first that day he gets my congratulations.
Peter Kennaugh took the win over Luke Rowe and Bury lad Simon Yates who came second and third respectively. My job done, it was back to the hotel with a t-shirt suntan and possible sunstroke, ready for some good grub and a sleep.