Category: Tour de Georgia 2008

July 8, 2008

Vaughters tweet of the day (stage 4)

Frank already beat me to this for today, but here's today's choice tweet:

TeamSlipstream Ooops... I just dropped the F-Bomb on Versus, live. Sorry to all the parents out there. It was just really intense today... JV

April 27, 2008

Stage 7 Journal

Today's journal will be short and sweet as I've got to get ready to get home and can't wait until the galleries are up to write a post. You can look for more photos to appear in my stage 7 gallery later in the day.

The Tour de Georgia was a blast -- especially the team time trial and Brasstown Bald. I never would have thought after the Tour of California to see an American Tour so heavily dominated by High Road. Pretty much all that was missing for them was a stage win by George Hincapie, which nearly happened in Dahlonega. Hincapie was an absolute workhorse today; he seemed to be at the front of the peloton every time they passed me by.

Today's stage was a hard circuit. I rode moto for the first two laps and got to see the break develop, first with Rhys Pollock almost immediately jumping off the front, to the riders that bridged up. That was pretty much the entire race, up until the peloton finally decided to reel the break in. In between, I got to see a lot of riders off the back, and a lot of teams sending riders back to help bridge back, including Rock Racing and BMC. The peloton looked a lot smaller by day's end. The road was rough enough to throw my feet off the foot pegs on the motorcycle, so I can only imagine what it feels like on a bike.

It's pretty difficult to shoot from a moto on an urban circuit as you're constantly turning and accelerating and bumping around -- another photographer used a 300mm lens to get enough distance as the tighter roads force you to stay further away. I made the mistake of stopping to shoot the peloton roll by; we never got back in front. I ended up shooting most of the stage on foot.

Greg Henderson Gets His Second Win - (c) Ken Conley Greg Henderson Gets His Second Win - (c) Ken Conley

Greg Henderson took the stage and managed to produce an interesting victory salute, especially when paired with JJ Haedo's tongue wag. The podium ceremony was a High Road affair, even if Astana got to have their own champagne party on stage. Levi Leipheimer really is eager to grab the champagne bottles and soak everyone in sight, even if he always seems to end up bleary eyed. Thankfully they didn't give out as many champagne bottles as they did at the Tour of California -- except for a little morning rain, my gear stayed dry.

Levi Leipheimer - (c) Ken Conley Chechu Rubiera - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 7: Two Stages for Henderson, Two Jerseys for High Road

Greg Henderson Gets His Second Win - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Atlanta - (c) Ken Conley

High Road - (c) Ken Conley Breakaway - (c) Ken Conley Tom Danielson - (c) Ken Conley jerseys - (c) Ken Conley Chechu Rubiera - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Stage 7 Photo Gallery (in progress)

The final stage in Atlanta was a rugged urban stage with plenty of potholes to send riders off the back in search of new wheels. The field let a break of 12 get away, including Tom Danielson and Rhys Pollock, but High Road, with Big George Hincapie at the front, kept the lead manageable throughout the ten laps. Rock Racing, despite having already lost a couple of riders on the course, worked to bring back the break going into the final laps, but the day was meant to be all High Road: Greg Henderson beat out JJ Haedo on the uphill sprint as High Road successfully defended its overall and sprint jersey. Jason McCartney's KOM jersey was already sewn up for CSC yesterday, and the sprint finish meant that Trent Lowe's lead in the young rider competition was never threatened. Astana had to settle for the Best Team award, which is a great accomplishment, but probably much less than they had hoped for. The Overall Most Aggressive Rider went to Rory Sutherland, the big Health Net rider who showed off climbing legs as well as a daring attack on Stage 3.

Tour de Georgia Stage 7 Photo Gallery (in progress)

April 26, 2008

Stage 6 Journal

Brasstown Bald is the most fun stage of the Tour de Georgia... for the fans. The intimidating climbs lead to joking amongst the sprinters, like Ivan Dominguez's "Push Me Up the Hill Please" sign that he taped on his bike, then JJ Haedo's chest. His teammate Ivan Stevic noted that he taped it on the wrong side: Haedo was going to get pushed downhill. Dominguez loved the attention: "Everyone loves my sign.... They think I'm joking... I won't be on the podium today but I will be in everyone's photos." He was even handed a "tow" rope, which was strung between him and Stevic (it was noted that attaching two sprinters together is the wrong idea). Stevic pulled his own prank by attacking Dominguez with 100m to go -- for 99th place.

Push Me Up the Hill Please - (c) Ken Conley Push Me Up the Hill Please - (c) Ken Conley Push Me Up the Hill Please - (c) Ken Conley Push Me Up the Hill Please - (c) Ken Conley JJ Haedo - (c) Ken Conley

Also entertaining was my favorite ham, Justin England. England paper-boy-ed across the upper slopes of Brasstown Bald but still found the energy to raise his hand to get the fans to cheer. He gave me a good tongue stick out before heading to the finish.

Justin England - (c) Ken Conley Justin England - (c) Ken Conley

Brasstown Bald - (c) Ken ConleyGetting to the top of Brasstown Bald is difficult, even for the media. Very few cars are allowed up the climb, but thankfully the race organizers do their best to make sure everyone can find a ride. Even with a ride, there's still the steep 1K section to the top that you have to walk by foot. Fans are kind enough to cheer you on -- or make fun of you. Either way, you're spurred on. One fan was having passersby chalk their state onto the road so that the geographic origin of the fans would be properly cheered. I scribbled an ecstatic "SF!" after noting that their California chalking only gave shoutouts to LA, San Diego, and the mysterious RPD.

Brasstown Bald - (c) Ken Conley There's nothing like the Brasstown climb in the Tour of California (and certainly not the Tour of Missouri). Obviously it's harder; It's also more fan friendly. The parking lot at 1K to go serves as a festival central with a large-screen TV setup and makeshift seating in the traffic circle. A shuttle ferries fans to the top, so there's kids instead of the wall of team-kit bikers that you see at the top of ToC climbs. I ran into Rebecca and Amy of chechurubiera.info -- they were responsible for the Asturias flag flying proudly in front of the TV screen. I also ran into James of Bicycle Design again, this time with kids in tow (one of the nice things about having a shuttle).

My spot for shooting the race was easy to choose once fellow photographer Paul handed me a 300mm f/2.8. If you're wondering why my photos look different than usual, it's because I got to use this mighty lens. The way it can make spit pop is just incredible and it was letting me sight action that was occurring over 100m down the climb. I've never had a reel of photos that I had to do so little processing to. If someone feels like sending me $4k, I'll be sure to add one to my arsenal.

Siutsou Conquers Brasstown Bald - (c) Ken Conley Siutsou Conquers Brasstown Bald - (c) Ken Conley Siutsou Conquers Brasstown Bald - (c) Ken Conley Trent Lowe Shadows Levi Leipheimer - (c) Ken Conley George Hincapie - (c) Ken Conley Rock Racing - (c) Ken Conley Rory Sutherland - (c) Ken Conley Chechu Rubiera - (c) Ken Conley Chris Horner - (c) Ken Conley Jason McCartney - (c) Ken Conley

The news of Siutsou/Sivtsov's overall coup came as a big surprise. I had stayed down the climb to shoot the sprinters coming up (because I'm cruel) and then went up to the finish line, so I didn't even know if Lowe or Leipheimer had taken second. When I heard multiple discussions of, "how do you even pronounce his name?" in relation to the yellow jersey, I knew that it was not young Trent Lowe being discussed.

Brasstown Bald Gallery

Stache Sploot

Dave Zabriskie - (c) Ken Conley Dave Zabriskie - (c) Ken Conley
Photos by Ken Conley

Don't you just love how the 300mm focal length makes the spit pop?

Stage 6: Kanstantin Siutsou Shocks Brasstown Bald; Siutsou Riot

Siutsou Conquers Brasstown Bald - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Siutsou Conquers Brasstown Bald - (c) Ken Conley

Siutsou Conquers Brasstown Bald - (c) Ken Conley Siutsou Conquers Brasstown Bald - (c) Ken Conley Kanstantin Siutsou - (c) Ken Conley Kanstantin Siutsou - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia 2007 Stage 6 Photo Gallery

Kanstantin Siutsou shocked all the Tour de Georgia pundits by winning Brasstown Bald and moving into the Tour de Georgia lead. While everyone's GC eyes were focused on the battle between Trent Lowe and Levi Leipheimer just behind, Siutsou managed to put 10 seconds on the two. With the GC separated by very few seconds due to the close TTT finishing times, this was just enough to put High Road into the yellow jersey. Siutsou came so far out of nowhere that reporters had to ask Bob Stapleton afterwards how to pronounce his name.

High Road's Tour de Georgia has now gone from good to excellent, with both the overall and sprint lead, as well as two stage victories. They will be focused on a defending both tomorrow along Atlanta's circuit.

Stage 6 was full of surprises. No one predicted that Trent Lowe would be duking it out it Levi for the overall, nor did they predict that Lowe would actually beat Levi. Who would have though that Astana would be shutout at an American Tour without even a stage win, after having won all Tour of California/Georgia/Missouris since Landis took the 2006 Tour de Georgia. There's still hope for tomorrow, but they'll have to play a perfect hand to take 14 seconds.

Trent Lowe Shadows Levi Leipheimer - (c) Ken Conley Trent Lowe Shadows Levi Leipheimer - (c) Ken Conley

Big things were expected of Tom Danielson, but he finished nearly 12 minutes back, smiling as he climbed. Photos show him and Zabriskie doing work at the front of the peloton to reel in the break, so I guess Slipstream put all their hopes on Lowe -- and he would have delivered, if anyone had known anything about Siutsou.

Tom Danielson - (c) Ken Conley

Then there's Team Type 1, which finished two riders in the top ten up Brasstown -- as many as any other team. Jittery Joe's found success with Neil Shirley, who hung with a break of Svein Tuft, Jason McCartney, and Andrey Mizurov to take the Most Aggressive Award.

Team Type 1 - (c) Ken Conley Jason McCartney - (c) Ken Conley Neil Shirley - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia 2007 Stage 6 Photo Gallery

April 25, 2008

Stage 5 Journal

A long day for the riders, a short day for me. One stop alongside a lake, shots at the finish, and the day is over. Skilled drivers, aka the Versus camera crew, can make 4-5 stops on a day like today, finding every side road and driving with just the right amount of aggression to stay ahead. I was more interested in finding a scenic shot that I'd be really, really happy with, so Mario and I skipped the start once more to begin our voyage along the course that moved slowly up in elevation towards the warmup climbs for tomorrow's course. There was an unfortunate accident during the opening circuits with one of the photo motos: a fan ran out onto the course as the caravan was moving through and collided with a photo moto -- four were injured. Another accident, thankfully without injuries, occurred when the Health Net car ran into the back of the BMC car. The BMC crew ripped off their busted bumper while the Health Net team managed to tape their air bags down.

While all this chaos was happening, we were busy driving along the course to look for the spot that screamed "shoot me." Barns, fences, trees, cows and a small goat offered themselves to our lenses, but we declined. Just before the start of the KOM climb we found what we were looking for: a lake, with a mountain overlooking it. Given that this was the first real mountain stage in the Tour de Georgia, it was the combination of scenery and story that we were looking for. A four-man break came through almost ten minutes ahead of the peloton, giving me the opportunity to warm up my telephoto lens while I waited for the bigger pack. It was quite a successful break, seeing as Edward King (Bissell) took the KOM jersey and Tim Johnson (Health Net) got himself Most Aggressive.

Breakaway - (c) Ken Conley Lake - (c) Ken Conley Lake - (c) Ken Conley

We went straight to the Dahlonega finish from there. Dahlonega had really good crowds, perhaps the best so far. I liked the town a lot, even though I experienced very little of it. It had the same sort of town-square-centric blueprint that every other small town in Georgia seems to have, but it felt more charming. I've been joking with people here that town-square courthouses are to Georgia what cathedrals are to Europe. You love the first few, but soon you're saying, "not another courthouse!" Dahlonega managed to overcome my rising aversion.

We tried to cover as much of the final two miles as possible. The finale featured several technical elements that could prove decisive: the short, steep KOM climb, two 90 turns on the descent, a hairpin turn 100m before the finish, and a descent then climb up to the finish line. I dropped Mario off at the Crown Mountain KOM, where we hoped that a move would be made. He was treated to a perfect catch: the chase group containing Hincapie, Leipheimer, Sevilla, Sutherland, Horner, and others swallowed the break just as the climb ticked up to its greatest slope on Crown Mountain Road. Levi looked back at Sevilla to make sure the GC threat was contained. Later, stragglers came through and were treated to pushes to the top. It's a good rehearsal for tomorrow's Brasstown Bald.

Over at the finish line I camped out on the final hairpin turn, standing on the awards podium next to the Versus camera. Levi's dad was up there taking photos as well. I decided to forgo the traditional arms-raised finish line shot to try something different and get more variety: Richard England looking back at Sutherland, launching his attack, careening around the hairpin turn, and charging to the top. I just managed to catch a double Bissell victory salute and the pop of a flash before my camera buffer ran full. I had done a test run with the sequence of shots I was going to take to see if my camera buffer would run full if I was shooting in RAW. Clearly I didn't plan right, but luck overcame skill.

Richard England Makes His Move - (c) Ken Conley Richard England Makes His Move - (c) Ken Conley Richard England Makes His Move - (c) Ken Conley Richard England - (c) Ken Conley Richard England Takes the Uphill Sprint - (c) Ken Conley

We had to wait quite awhile for the podium presentation as there were two delays: there were a lot of riders off the back that had to roll in, including yellow/blue jersey Greg Henderson. They also had to get out the rulebook to figure out which Slipstream rider would inherit the yellow jersey. The podium ceremony began, as always, with introductions of local public officials and raffles for various prizes. I'll let you in on a little secret, Dahlonega: the basic script, including all the little jokes and praise for the stage and the finish town, is the same every time ;). The PA announcer seemed really happy about the Bissell win as he really stressed the enunciation of the team sponsor, which also happens to be a Tour de Georgia sponsor. A stage win and KOM jersey is an impressive haul, especially for the official sponsor of the broom wagon.

Richard England - (c) Ken Conley Edward King - (c) Ken Conley

Health Net is to the Tour de Georgia what BMC was to the Tour of California. They've really tried to animate this race with daring attacks and breaks and they also animate the podium, as you can see below:

Rory Sutherland - (c) Ken Conley Tim Johnson - (c) Ken Conley

I'm now in Helen, Georgia, which seems the Georgia equivalent of Solvang, except it is a Bavarian-themed village instead of a Danish-themed village. It looks pretty similar to me -- I'm sure that offends Danes and Bavarians alike. It's a short drive from here to Blairsville and Brasstown Bald, where the long-awaited GC showdown will occur.

Stage 5: Richard England First Through the Corner, First to the Line

Richard England Makes His Move - (c) Ken Conley Richard England Makes His Move - (c) Ken Conley

Richard England Makes His Move - (c) Ken Conley

Richard England Takes the Uphill Sprint - (c) Ken Conley

Richard England Takes the Uphill Sprint - (c) Ken Conley

Lake - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Stage 5 Photo Gallery

April 24, 2008

Stage 4 Journal

Today was probably the best day of my cycling photography career. First off, I got to ride the moto. Second, I got to ride the moto. Third, it was a fantastically designed stage. Not only was it a team time trial, but it was held on a racetrack so that spectators and photographers got many opportunities to see the riders. And fourth, I got to meet some people I only knew online (James of Bicycle Design and Frank of TdfBlog).

I started off the day shooting the Slipstream bikes once more, though I had a good reasons this time. I knew they were going to win and there was a good story element: the mechanic was attaching "Just Go Harder" labels to the back of the seatposts as a tribute to Timmy Duggan, who's recovering in the hospital. I felt silly taking that many takes of the label, but there wasn't much else going on, and I really felt that I would need a great take of it. James of Bicycle Design was there as well, busy shooting the Zipp 1080s.

Just Go Harder - (c) Ken Conley Just Go Harder - (c) Ken Conley Just Go Harder - (c) Ken Conley Just Go Harder - (c) Ken Conley Just Go Harder - (c) Ken Conley

I also stopped by the Rock Racing merchandise tent so that I could grab a shot of the aforementioned Beast that I helped load last night. I did my best imitation of the Rock-Racing-style-like processing that I learned about last night, but am having trouble translating from Lightroom to Adobe Bridge.

The Beast - (c) Ken Conley Cannondale - (c) Ken Conley Giant - (c) Ken Conley

I wanted to get out on course and was in for a happy surprise: while the riders were warming up, I could take a moto and photograph them. This was far better than using the motos during the TTT, because there were no restrictions about shooting from in front (these restrictions are one of the reasons it's easy to get a moto for the TTT). And so it is, the time of my life began.

My first venture onto the moto was a bit of a crapshoot. It turns out that it's much more difficult to shoot from moto than the side of the road. Such things seem obvious in hindsight, but what I didn't account for is how all the elements of difficulty tie together: the helmet, which makes it impossible to hold your eye to the viewfinder; the shaking of the motorcycle, which makes it hard to stay on target; the pain of twisting your body to the side to shoot; the jeepers aspect of staying on the back of a motorcycle at 50mph while both of your hands are holding your camera; trying not to hit the moto driver in the head with your lens as you switch from side to side; etc... I've always had respect for photographers Casey Gibson and Jonathan Devitch, but held a bit of jealousy at their moto access. Now my esteem for them is further elevated as I realize just how tough it must be to sit on a moto for 4+ hours a day (not that I ever thought it was easy) as well as how difficult it is to take good shots. If you wish to understand what it's like, grab a laser pointer, squint your eyes almost shut, twist your body around, and try to hit a fly. Perhaps that's more difficult, but the principle is the same.

The most important piece of advice given to me about riding moto: bring a change of underwear, especially after a mountain stage.

On my maiden voyage I shot High Road doing their warmups until my driver had to come in. Like a kid who's just ridden his first rollercoaster, I immediately found another driver and went back out on course. This time was a little easier, mainly because my brain finally had some time to re-engage in the downtime. My first target was Slipstream, as I was determined to shoot as much rider butt as necessary to get a good shot of the "Just Go Harder" sign on the seatpost. I also got some shots of Zabriskie getting a lift from the Bissell car up the short climb as well as some pacelines from the front.

Stage 4 Warmups Gallery

George Hincapie - (c) Ken Conley High Road - (c) Ken Conley Just Go Harder - (c) Ken Conley Just Go Harder - (c) Ken Conley Christian Vandevelde - (c) Ken Conley Dave Zabriskie Gets a Lift Up the Climb - (c) Ken Conley

I also took some spins in front of CSC and Astana. Astana came out the best as my lens was practically being shoved up Levi's nose as we descended through the "Esses" on the Road Atlanta course. The photos make me wish I could slyly pretend that they were taken during the race.

CSC - (c) Ken Conley Levi Leipheimer Leads the Astana Paceline - (c) Ken Conley Chechu Rubiera - (c) Ken Conley Astana - (c) Ken Conley

The moto drivers really helped make the experience solid. They are accustomed to first-time passengers, so they slowly bridged me up to the art of moto-based cycling photography. They gave me suggestions for shots that I could go for and they also patiently responded to requests of, "forward, forward, hold, back, forward, back, back, forward...."

For the actual race, I refrained from moto as much as possible as they were mainly just for getting to different stationary spots on course. It's much better to shoot the riders from in front than behind, and the motos aren't allowed in front of the riders during the TTT. This didn't stop me from following both CSC and Astana. I got lucky with CSC and caught JJ Haedo accidentally clipping out of his pedal on the first climb. Not the biggest story, but a fun shot to have. I didn't get much interesting stuff with Astana other than a couple riders popping off the back. I wish I could pretend that I was being a pro photographer and trying to get "the shot" while following Astana for as long as I did, but really I was a tourist. I was following shooting Astana from a motorcyle on a Le Mans racetrack during an actual TTT. I was having so much fun that I didn't want to get off to take better shots. Besides, I knew Slipstream was going to win ;).

Dropped - (c) Ken Conley Haedo Unclipped - (c) Ken Conley

There's not much too add about the race itself. The strategy for this TTT seemed fairly simple: go fast, don't wait up. Rider after rider was flung off the back to suffer alone to the finish -- Botero and Zirbel were probably the biggest surprises for me. The climbs and descents were technical enough to throw the pacelines into disarray and every second that could be bought with good drilling was key.

Slipstream TTT - (c) Ken Conley Slipstream TTT - (c) Ken Conley High Road - (c) Ken Conley Rock Racing - (c) Ken Conley

Astana - (c) Ken Conley CSC - (c) Ken Conley High Road - (c) Ken Conley Rock Racing - (c) Ken Conley

Slipstream took a big victory on what is the first real GC stage of the Tour de Georgia, but in the end the gains were little: 4 seconds on Astana. Brasstown Bald doesn't always provide the margin of victory, but this year it certainly will.

Now, if only every US Tour could have a TTT: for the Tour of California, I suggest Laguna Seca.

More Stage 4 Photos

Slipstream

Farrar Dropped - (c) Ken Conley Podium - (c) Ken Conley

They set the fastest mark on the day even starting without Timmy Duggan. They also had to shed Best Young Rider Tyler Farrar, though teammate Trent Lowe was there to pick it up. Farrar was unlikely to hold it to the end, so not a big sacrifice.

Astana

Astana - (c) Ken Conley Dropped - (c) Ken Conley

Astana lost three riders on its way to second place. The first was Michael Schär, who did not finish and was likely still feeling the ill effects of a crash. Another rider they lost was Kireyev (right).

CSC

Haedo Unclipped - (c) Ken Conley

Haedo unclipped from his pedal and his day in the paceline was done.

High Road

High Road - (c) Ken Conley

High Road set some fast splits, but they had to drop Bert Grabsch (above, doing the work at the front).

Rock Racing

Rock Racing - (c) Ken Conley

They shed a lot of riders, including Botero, which certainly hurt their chances.

Stage 4: Slipstream!

Slipstream TTT - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Slipstream TTT - (c) Ken Conley Top Secret Helmet Covers - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Stage 4 Photo Gallery

Today was the start of the Tour de Georgia overall: more fans, more reporters, and the appearance of the head honchos: Jonathan Vaughters, Bob Stapleton, Michael Ball, and Johan Bruyneel all showed up to watch their teams do battle.

Teams did four circuits of the Road Atlanta speedway that proved to be fast and viscious. Nearly all the teams shed riders in their attempt to stick to the sub-five-minute-lap pace required to win. Slipstream set the mark to beat. Astana followed with an ever-increasing pace that landed them only 4 seconds short of victory. High Road was last on the road and came out blazing, beating the splits that Slipstream had set. But they lost time in the second half and ended up 6 seconds down.

Just Go Harder - (c) Ken Conley

The Slipstream riders were spurred on by "Just Go Harder" labels on the back of their seatpost, a reference to Tim Duggan's Web site. The labels were added by team mechanic Tom Hopper as a sign of respect for Duggan, who crashed hard in yesterday's stage. The team opted to not go with the "Top Secret, Allen Lim Edition" aerodynamic helmet covers, though they did make a brief appearance on Zabriskie's head before Jonathan Vaughters jokingly told him to hide it.

Mechanicals and snafus were impossible for riders to overcome and Tom Zirbel, JJ Haedo, and Fuyu Li were among the riders that saw their teammates quickly speeding away. I was riding moto behind JJ Haedo as his foot came out of the pedal on the first climb. His team was far away by the time he clipped back in.

Tour de Georgia Stage 4 Photo Gallery

April 23, 2008

Stage 3 journal

I had shot a lot of pre-race photos by today, so I wasn't too interested in taking lots of shots in the morning. I clicked off some for the Justin England fan club and also tried umpteen takes of the Slipstream bikes reflected on their bus, to no avail. Mario suggested heading up course to try and find a scenic spot, so I we high-tailed it out of town early.

Justin England - (c) Ken Conley Toyota United - (c) Ken Conley Rory Sutherland - (c) Ken Conley Slipstream - (c) Ken Conley

Driving ahead of the caravan is a bit of a thrill. You have course marshals flagging you through the course, you're speeding, and there's Georgia State Police everywhere. You're constantly having to decide "friend or foe" for each cop car you pass. I had read about Slipstream's run-in with the po-po, so I was more than a bit paranoid.

The plan was to drive to the intermediate sprint in Comer and stop instead if we found something scenic before that. The country was pretty, but nothing seemed worth being our one stop for the day, so we kept on driving. Comer didn't seem like much, so we kept on driving. Eventually we stopped in Danielsville. Some nice guys invited us to shoot out of the upstairs window of their hardware store. Mario and I split up, with me taking his idea of shooting through a window while he shot riders coming through a traffic circle. I chatted with the locals, who provided me with a map of the area, pointed out shortcuts, and also shared important Georgia cultural information like, everyone drives 20 mph over the speed limit. This is significant, given their 70mph highway speed limits.

Breakaway - (c) Ken Conley Danielsville - (c) Ken Conley

We quickly jumped back on the back of the caravan and then split off to hightail it to Gainesville. The finish line was a bit of a shock. Looking at it, experience told me that it was an uphill sprint. But no, for the first time, I was seeing a downhill sprint finish. I believe the PA announcer used the folksy expression, "the sprint will be like rolling a bowling ball down an alligator pit." Many thought something bad was going to happen.

We got to see two laps, which is always a treat and gives plenty of time to figure out which camera settings you want to use. Rory Sutherland really kicked things up -- we heard about Sevilla, but we didn't get to see any of it.

Sutherland Soloes into Red - (c) Ken Conley Sutherland Soloes into Red - (c) Ken Conley High Road - (c) Ken Conley peloton - (c) Ken Conley

The actual finish was odd, due to its downhill nature. It seemed remarkably devoid of any of the chaos of a normal finish. I have not seen video of the sprint, but, as I recall it, High Road's Greipel led things out at the top of the hill, calmly pulled off, and there was Henderson. Quite strange for such a lengthy sprint, but not surprising giving the downhill speeds. More impressive than seeing Henderson take the stage was seeing Andre Greipel able to shut things down and still coast into second.

Henderson Wins the Sprint - (c) Ken Conley Henderson Wins the Sprint - (c) Ken Conley Greg Henderson - (c) Ken Conley Greg Henderson - (c) Ken Conley

Once again I handed my second camera off to Katrina Florence, who was right next to the finish line. I didn't have the camera settings dialed in right for her, but I got what I wanted: a shot that showed the separation on the sprint.

Greg Henderson - (c) Ken Conley

I spent the rest of the evening hanging out with the Rock Racing and Action Images folks. The Rock Racing 'Beast' truck had just arrived from a cross-country drive from Sea Otter. The Beast is a cross between a semi and a motor home, with less manueverability than either. We loaded it up with new Rock merch and then relaxed with beer and Photoshop/Lightroom tips because, when photographers get drunk, they talk about history brushes and layer masks.

About that jersey presentation...

The sprinters jersey at the Tour de Georgia is blue.

The best young riders jersey at the Tour de Georgia is green.

I had this backwards, but so have the organizers (you could argue the jersey designer had it backwards). It wasn't until today that the jerseys were correctly awarded.

Stage 1

  • Actual: Ivan Dominguez Overall/Sprint, Sanderson Young Rider
  • Awarded: Ivan Dominguez Overall, Sanderson Young/Sprint -- the sprint jersey was given to Sanderson based on the fact that he would be wearing it for Dominguez the next day

Jersey Leaders - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 2

  • Actual: Ivan Dominguez Overall/Sprint, Sanderson Young Rider
  • Awarded: Ivan Dominguez Overall/Young Rider, Sanderson No-Jersey (first take); Ivan Dominguez Overall/Sprint, Sanderson Young Rider (second take)

Ivan Dominguez Jokes About the Best Young Rider Jersey - (c) Ken Conley Jerseys - (c) Ken Conley

I assumed they were taking the iron-on off Sanderson's green jersey, when in fact they were trying to get it to stick on.

Stage 3:

  • Actual: Henderson Overall/Sprint, Farrar Young Rider
  • Awarded: Same
jerseys - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Stage 3: Henderson wins crazy downhill sprint, High Road 1-2

Henderson Wins the Sprint - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Stage 3 Photo Gallery

High Road took control of the peloton as it arrived in Gainesville and kept that control until the end. Andre Greipel lead Greg Henderson out at the start of the downhill and no one could challenge as the peloton reached blistering 50+mph speeds. Greipel was able to coast into second as Henderson managed a very quick arms raised salute before having to regain control of his bike. George Hincapie raised his arms in salute as well, having protected Henderson though the finishing circuit.

With the exception of the KOM jersey, which is firmly in the hands of Frank Pipp until the peloton sees another climb, there was a major reshuffling of the jerseys. Greg Henderson jumped into the top spot after Ivan Dominguez had major trouble staying attached to the peloton. I'm not sure what happened, but there were a lot of Toyota United riders off the back. Greg Henderson also got take the sprinter jersey that had been on loan from Ivan Dominguez. Tyler Farrar's third-place sprint broke the tie in the best young rider competition. He also moved into second place in the sprint classification.

Greg Henderson - (c) Ken Conley Greg Henderson - (c) Ken Conley Greg Henderson - (c) Ken Conley

Sutherland Soloes into Red - (c) Ken ConleyIt was breakaway central on the undulating circuit as Rory Sutherland was first to get separation on the peloton. His daring effort earned him the Most Aggressive Jersey award. Oscar Sevilla also repeated his breakaway attempt from yesterday and managed to jump past Sutherland, but was unable to hold off the lineup for the sprint.

An earlier, four-man breakaway of Scott Zwizanski, Frank Pipp, Rhys Pollock and Moises Aldape was able to get separation on the field after a crash in the peloton took out Slipstream's Tim Duggan. Frank Pipp used the break to gather up two of the three intermediate sprints while Pollock flew his Most Aggressive jersey.

Danielsville - (c) Ken Conley Breakaway - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Stage 3 Photo Gallery

April 22, 2008

Remote shots with no remote

Sprint Finish - (c) Ken ConleyStart of the First Lap in Augusta - (c) Ken Conley
Photos by Katrina Florence

I spent the day driving from Statesboro to Augusta with Mario, one of the Rock Racing photographers. He noted that the balcony of the media room looked over the finish line and wished he had his remote to shoot with, then came up with a brilliant idea: why not hand off his camera to someone in the press room? I couldn't let a good idea go unmimicked, so I handed my camera off to Katrina Florence/Elevation Sports/Rock Racing. I'm quite happy as she caught a photo of the peloton starting the first lap as well as the separation of the sprinters. One of these days I'll pony up money for a set of Pocket Wizard remotes, but until then, this is actually much better. Thanks Katrina and Mario!

Stage 2 Journal

Today started off a bit early as I was desperate to get out of my less-than-stellar, Hotwire-booked hotel room. This gave me plenty of time to admire the downtown architecture of Statesboro, which is so quaint that it lies at the intersection of not one, but two Main Streets. I caught the rider rollout through this intersection as well as a friendy Nydam/Leipheimer greeting and some Zabriskie mustache twirling. The highlight of the morning was Freedom, the young bald eagle. Freedom is so cool that he has his own Bald Eagle mascot.

Statesboro Start - (c) Ken Conley Honor Guard - (c) Ken Conley Dave Zabriskie - (c) Ken Conley Leipheimer and Nydam - (c) Ken Conley Bald Eagle - (c) Ken Conley Bald Eagle - (c) Ken Conley

The rest of the day Rocked, as in, I teamed up with the staff of Rock Racing. Mario, a Rock fashion photographer converted over to cycling hitched a ride with me along the stage. I'm glad I don't do fashion, as he told me how other photographers will screw with your gear if you let it out of your sight. We were reminded later that US cycling photography is much more friendly.

Despite overshooting our destination twice, we managed to catch the riders at Millen and the finish. I was caught a bit off guard in Millen as we were told that the Marco Polo rider was 2 minutes ahead. Instead, we were greeted to the sight of the Marco Polo rider being enveloped by a Tyler-Farrar-led sprint. I squeezed off a panning shot of Farrar taking the sprint and a series of slow-shutter shots of the riders zooming past Millen's stately building, hoping to get something usable. Intermediate sprints often don't have as much race story in them, so you're much more free to screw around as a photographer.

Millen Sprint - (c) Ken Conley Millen Sprint - (c) Ken Conley

After an accidental detour into South Carolina, we made it to Augusta. Mario noticed that there was a balcony overlooking the finish and came up with the idea of handing off our second cameras to the PR folks. He gave his to Sean Weide and I gave mine to Katrina Florence, who did a stellar job. Mario and I caught some shots of riders hopping the RR tracks and he was probably happy to get some shots of Sevilla jumping off the front with one lap to go.

I did the normal finish line shot from the photographer scrum. It was fairly easy to pick out JJ Haedo screaming up the middle, though I missed the victory salute because I flubbed my focus onto Farrar. I didn't realize until I checked my camera that the sprint was really, really close -- Henderson's wheel was maybe a quarter wheel behind Haedo's.

Peloton - (c) Ken Conley Peloton - (c) Ken Conley

JJ Haedo Sprints to Victory - (c) Ken Conley JJ Haedo Sprints to Victory - (c) Ken Conley JJ Haedo Sprints to Victory - (c) Ken Conley Dominguez Congratulates Haedo - (c) Ken Conley JJ Haedo - (c) Ken Conley JJ Haedo - (c) Ken Conley

Katrina Florence's photos:

Start of the First Lap in Augusta - (c) Ken Conley Sprint Finish - (c) Ken Conley

The podium presentation was interesting. They had grabbed Tyler Farrar for the Best Young Rider jersey, but after later realized that the tie-breaking rules actually kept the jersey with Sanderson. They brought Dominguez on stage instead to give him the sprint jersey, but the Lt. Governor accidentally grabbed the blue jersey with the Slipstream logo on it. Dominguez jokingly pushed it away, saying that he would get fired if he put that on.

Ivan Dominguez - (c) Ken Conley

Sanderson was fetched from his hotel, but the Best Young Rider had a Slipstream logo on it. In the first of three attempts, they brought Sanderson on stage and gave him flowers, but no jersey. Off stage they then stuck Sanderson in a green jersey and attempted to peel the Jelly Belly logo off of it. With the announcer already bringing the festivities to a close, they snuck Sanderson on stage with the green jersey. They still needed to show off the blue jersey, so finally brought all the jersey holders on stage and somehow managed to get Dominguez a blue jersey with a Toyota-United logo on it. Make sense?

I pretend not to understand these things -- for example, I have no idea why Sanderson was awarded the green jersey at yesterday's podium ceremony, when it was actually Dominguez who won it. I am also puzzled as to why Justin England didn't get the Most Aggressive Award today. Actually, not puzzled -- it's probably because Dominguez had yellow and green -- but I like Justin England and wish I got to shoot him on the podium, instead of in front of the broom wagon, tired from his hard work.

Nicholas Sanderson - (c) Ken Conley Nicholas Sanderson - (c) Ken Conley Nicholas Sanderson - (c) Ken Conley Jerseys - (c) Ken Conley Ivan Dominguez - (c) Ken Conley Justin England - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 2: A Close Victory for Haedo

JJ Haedo Sprints to Victory - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Statesboro Start - (c) Ken Conley Millen Sprint - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Stage 2 Photo Gallery

JJ Haedo sprinted right through the middle of the pack to take a close, close victory of High Road's Greg Henderson. A bandaged hand from a recent break seemed to be no impediment to Haedo, who is a familiar rider atop the podium at the Tour de Georgia. Ivan Dominguez put in a good effort to take third and protect his leader's jersey. Despite talking about how heavy the yellow jersey is, his Toyota United team has done a good job of holding onto it. Justin England spent a lot of time off the front in a breakaway that kept the other teams working and Toyota United rested. In a bit of a surprise, England didn't get the Most Aggressive Award, and instead it went to Marco Polo rider Pollock, who bridged up to England.

Slipstream put in a lot of work for young rider Tyler Farrar. Farrar took the first intermediate sprint to make up for his stage 1 deficit (due to a flat), but Haedo, Henderson, and Dominguez controlled the sprint today.

The best move of the day probably goes to Health Net's Frank Pipp. With no KOMs tomorrow, or Stage 4's TTT, Health Net gets to fly the KOM jersey for three straight stages -- all for a puny Cat 4 on the South Carolina side of the river.

Tour de Georgia Stage 2 Photo Gallery

April 21, 2008

Stage 1 Bikes/Pre-Race

Rock Racing - (c) Ken Conley Marco Polo - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 1: Bikes and Misc

I took quite a few Rock Racing bike photos before the race as they were all nicely lined up for me. The photo on the left is sort of a virtual Rock Racing skull -- each skull is an eye and the bike rack is the nose. Or perhaps I need more sleep.

The old Marco Polo bike (another photo) also caught me eye. It's way cooler than their new design, which is just the Astana blue Madones. Unlike Levi's backup bike, the Disco Logo still flies.

I also snagged some candids as the riders emerged from their hotels:

Chechu Rubiera - (c) Ken Conley Bobby Julich - (c) Ken Conley Tyler Hamilton - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 1: Bikes and Misc

Stage 1 journal

The day started off beautifully at Tybee Island. I stalked Ivan Dominguez and his luggage at the team hotel, figuring that he might produce a win today. I also shot some bike porn, pre-race car washing, and ogled the Jittery Joes BMW team car:

Tybee Island Start - (c) Ken Conley Ivan Dominguez - (c) Ken Conley Toyota-United - (c) Ken Conley Marco Polo - (c) Ken Conley Rock Racing - (c) Ken Conley Team Cars - (c) Ken Conley Team Cars - (c) Ken Conley

Team Type 1 has interesting bidons:

Team Type 1 - (c) Ken Conley

Then there was a quick stop at the lighthouse before I joined the race caravan leaving the island. The power lines are a bit of a bummer. I could have shot less powerlines if I had gone to ground level, but given the presence of three other photographers at the ideal spot down there, I stuck to my guns with the high shot. I could always photoshop out the powerlines ;) (in fact, I did remove one already)

Tybee Lighthouse - (c) Ken Conley

I failed to catch up with the peloton on the other side of Savannah. I made a wrong turn and by the time I corrected they had blazed past. With such a short stage it was a long shot to try and catch them so quickly.

For the sprint finish I attempted to shoot with two cameras: my 70-200 f/2.8 IS in my right hand and my 16-35 in my left. The result of the experiment was a bit of a failure as the wide shot isn't worth it and I couldn't adjust the zoom on my 70-200 -- it's a bit too wide. Next time I coming with Pocket Wizard remotes! (if I have the $$$)

Sprint Finish in Savannah - (c) Ken Conley Dominguez Wins - (c) Ken Conley

After the finish I took some shots up Dominguez's nostrils and did the podium thing. It was nice to see Scott Nydam reprise his role from the Tour of California. It was also amusing to see Robert Forster with lipstick on his cheek, which unfortunately doesn't photograph well.

Ivan Dominguez - (c) Ken Conley Ivan Dominguez - (c) Ken Conley Robert Forster - (c) Ken Conley Scott Nydam - (c) Ken Conley

Dominguez takes Stage 1

Dominguez Wins - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Tybee Lighthouse - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Stage 1 Photos

With his baby due any moment, Ivan Dominguez must have decided that getting a stage win early was important. Dominique Rollin set him up well for the sprint and Dominguez's jump was well-timed -- despite not being able to see the finish line until 100m to go. Dominguez now has the overall lead at the Tour de Georgia, but he noted that "it's heavy" and that he'd prefer one in green. His teammate Stevic was already out on the road today trying to sweep up as many sprint points as he could to protect Dominguez.

In an odd break during the day, Danielson, Julich, and Horner jumped off the front. Julich and Horner are easy to understand as they haven't been tapped as team leaders, but Danielson's jump either means his lieutenants failed to cover or that that he isn't their leader... or maybe he was just having fun. Either way, the break didn't hold and Nydam, Meier, Van Ulden,and Pipp had the honor of being the last break on the road. Nydam's effort put him in the familiar position of donning the Most Aggressive Rider jersey at the end of the day.

Today's stage was beautiful, brief, and flat. Chris Baldwin joked with a CSC rider before the stage that the route was a criterium. The KOM jersey won't be donned until tomorrow after riders are sent over a small climb on the finishing 5 mile circuit.

Stage 1 Photos

April 20, 2008

Pre-event photos

Levi Leipheimer - (c) Ken Conley Santiago Botero - (c) Ken Conley Christian Vandevelde - (c) Ken Conley Pre-event - (c) Ken Conley

Pre-event - (c) Ken Conley Pre-event - (c) Ken Conley Pre-event - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Pre-Race Photos

I don't think I offend anyone by saying that conferences are boring to tears. Thankfully this time around they did the race organizers separately from the riders, so there are no shots this time of riders jamming fingers and water bottles in their face to stay awake. The main highlights were that Levi said that this year's course looks easier, race organizers are happy to feature more of eastern Georgia, Ivan Dominguez's unborn child has told him that it doesn't want to be a cyclist, and Tom Danielson has bought up all of his Brasstown Bald coffee as its performance-enhancing powers spurred Levi to victory last year. It seems that Astana, Slipstream, and Rock Racing are the most invested in this race.

I also posted some photos from driving around Tybee Island where, due to its single road in and out, is quite easy to find top international cyclists.

Tour de Georgia Pre-Race Photos

April 18, 2008

TdG: 36 hours to flight departure

Last night was when I first started feeling the run-up to the Tour de Georgia. I'm mostly packed and should be in Savannah on Sunday. The weather forecast is hot weather plus thunderstorms, including on Brasstown Bald. Much like the California weather forecast predicts the same thing every day, I hear that repeating "hot with a chance of t-storms" will earn your salary as a Georgia weatherman. It makes me much happier about my lavish purchase of an Aquatech rain cover, though I'll be glad to keep it in mint condition if that's how the weather turns out. The Tour of California gave me enough rainy pictures for the books.

The setup for this year's Tour de Georgia looks pretty exciting. Slipstream will have a strong TTT roster (Zabriskie, Pate, Vandevelde, Farrar) plus Tom Danielson to challenge Astana. Astana will be well-motivated by the lack of other races on their calendar and even pull Horner from Amstel Gold to be in the race, though they left last year's winner Janez Brajkovic out due to overtraining. There are also several other teams with pride from exclusion on the line. Rock Racing adds a big question mark to the story as no one really knows what their top riders can do against an International roster of this caliber. Botero took Redlands against a field that contains many of the same riders and Sevilla could definitely do well on Brasstown. Symmetrics will have its first chance to show off in a Medalist event this year.

There's also some farewells, for me at least. This will be my last chance to see Chechu on US soil -- I'll be sporting a Chechu-signed Astana cap, courtesy of Nicky Orr. This is also the last time I'll see CSC, at least under those colors. After the Tour de Georgia, there's just the CSC Invitational + Triple Crown the first week of June.

April 17, 2008

Tour de Georgia Roster Posted

The TdG riders roster has been posted. I don't pretend to understand cycling rules and agreements enough to know why Botero/Sevilla/Hamilton can race the Tour de Georgia but not the Tour of California, but I go with what the link says.

I'm excited to see a good roster for the event, even with the small number of teams: Horner, Leipheimer, Chechu, Julich, McGee, McCartney, Haedo, Hincapie, Forster, Tuft, Danielson, Farrar, Vandevelde, Pate, Zabriskie, Sutherland, Menzies, Baldwin, Rollin, Dominguez, and more. American cycling will be well represented, though with Cozza on the DL, there will be only one mustache.

April 15, 2008

TdG: Will there be Rock?

Rock Racing - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Conflicting reports are emerging as to whether or not Rock Racing has negotiated its way back into the Tour de Georgia. Despite offering to pay its own way, Rock Racing was spurned from the initial list of teams. Rock sued Medalist for its exclusion and and is finding its case easier to make with the news that Saunier Duval has dropped out due to injuries.

Update: There will be Rock

March 20, 2008

15 Teams for the Tour de Georgia

The Tour de Georgia team list is now finally official. Adding to the eight initial teams are Symmetrics, Saunier-Duval, GE-Marco Polo, Jelly Belly, Team Type 1, Health Net, and Toyota-United. Symmetrics has also scored an invite to the Tour of Missouri. GE-Marco Polo is a Chinese Pro team with former Discovery rider Fuyu Li.

The organizers have tried to make it easy for the invited teams: time trial bikes are banned this year so International teams won't have to be troubled shipping in the extra TT equipment. It will be TT ala Merckx.

  • Astana
  • CSC
  • Gerolsteiner
  • High Road
  • Saunier Duval-Scott
  • BMC
  • Slipstream-Chipotle
  • Symmetrics
  • Bissell
  • GE-Marco Polo
  • Health Net-Maxxis
  • Jelly Belly
  • Jittery Joe's
  • Team Type 1
  • Toyota-United

Rock Racing appears to be in trouble. On the heels of Cipollini quitting -- but not to race Milan San Remo -- they now have no Tour de Georgia as hoped.