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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ;).
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 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.