Better than expected

Lance Armstrong - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

To see the photos I'm talking about, please visit the gallery

First off, thanks to Paul of Vero for loaning me a spare 580EX flash and a 40D body. The shots today would not have been possible otherwise as you need the faster recycling and external battery compability of a 580EX-level flash to shoot the race starts. The 40D is also produces much better images than 30D.

I tried and failed again to get in a moto. Based on the route's flatness, I didn't think that there would be many opportunities to shoot the peloton. As it turned out, the peloton decided to take a break at the beginning of the day and let the break gain some easy time. This meant it was easy to drive the long, straight, flat roads of the Central Valley to jump in front of them.

That doesn't mean I made the most of each stop.

I decided to finally really shoot a race start. I kind of did that yesterday, but I skipped the callouts and spent most of my time shooting the bikes. I don't like doing the race starts as they usually cost you a stop further down the road and everytime it's the same thing, but it's worth it to do it at least once so that you have a catalog of all the cyclists that you need. I stocked up on some Armstrong shots as he's always hard to find and then hit the road.

At the first stop, I accidentally bumped my dial from Av to Manual and had to throw away some overexposed shots. I also went against my instinct and didn't shoot the angle I originally intended. The longer I wait for the peloton, the greedier I get about using both my cameras and jumping from one position to another. Usually my greediness results in half-ass versions of both shots with technical flaws. Always make sure you get the first shot before you try for the second.

At the second stop, I originally drove up to the feed, only to discover it in the middle of a dirt-flat wasteland. I did a quick U-Turn, drove around the bend, and almost immediately found what I was looking for -- pink flowers. I had already jumped through several rows of trees when I noticed what I wasn't looking for -- bees everywhere! It hadn't occurred to me that the big white boxes along the road side were in fact beehives. I really wanted the shot, so my solution was to pull down my sleeves and act unflower-like.

I knew the break was several minutes ahead so I walked to the roadside to shoot them alone. This was where being just after the feedzone cost me an extra shot. It was easy to tell with my 300mm lens that I was witnessing a nature break. Even though the nature break ended before they were fully in range, they were hardly posed for a suitable photograph. Luckily the peloton was better.

I wasn't going to take any shots after that -- I had gone through the last two sprint points without seeing anything but brown hills and powerlines, but as I made my way to turn onto the road into Paso Robles, I noticed the course go uphill past a vineyard. Bingo! I drove up the hill and saw a big farm lift with a platform seven feet off the ground -- Double Bingo! Then the farmer came out to watch the race and made me get down, unwilling to let me stay there due to "liability reasons." Less Bingo.

It's all for the best as the moto photographers arrived shortly thereafter and would have been standing in my frame had I shot from there, instead of where I placed my camera on remote a little further up the road. That's one of the frustrations you have to deal with when covering a course by car. No matter how good of a spot you find, someone on moto will arrive just minutes before the peloton and shoot it too, possibly stepping into the framing you've so carefully chosen. Accept it.

I barely made it to Paso Robles ahead of the sprint -- the peloton finally started riding much harder and threw off my estimates -- but I got there in time to shoot Cavendish gesturing at his white shorts. It was one of the easier sprints to shoot as Cavendish won it so easily from so far out. Usually the sprint is a giant mess of confusion and you hope you pick your horse correctly. No such troubles this time.

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