The newspaper had assigned me to cover a cycle race on May 1st, which is a legal holiday in Luxembourg. The 27e Grand Prix OST Manufaktur was scheduled to start at 14:30 and the first riders were supposed to cross the finish line around 17:40. In between, they were to cover 13 laps of 9.3km each. Over three hours from start to finish is quite a long time from a photography perspective, knowing that these races tend to be quite unspectacular when only viewed from the finish line where there’s only a brief moment of action and then fifteen minutes of waiting for the next loop to be completed.
But 9.3km is quite doable on foot in three hours, even when taking into account some photography; so instead of hanging around the finish line or driving out to a few interesting spots I decided to hike one loop and hit all of the interesting spots along the way.
I narrowly missed out the start, which in cycle races tends to be quite uninteresting from a photography perspective anyway. I went to retrieve a list with the names of the riders at the finish line, and then started following the course clockwise (race direction).
I had covered less than a kilometer when the cyclists appeared after their first loop. They were still in one large group.
On the third loop, I had reached a fairly nice spot on the Jakobsbierg climb, the first of the three climbs on the course. This allowed me to use the Canon 24-70 at its wide end to take a nice scenic view of the leading group with a nice countryside landscape in the background.
By this point, it had begun raining, and I was glad I’d taken both a rain jacket and my umbrella.
By lap 4 I’d covered around 3km, walking along a straight road that wasn’t as scenic. Lap 5 saw me at a low point of the course, at an intersection where riders turned right towards Berbourg. Once again, this wasn’t a very photogenic spot but it allowed me to isolate some of the riders as they went around the bend. Of course that’s a mixed bag this early in the race, because with almost 60 mostly regional and local riders – some with international experience, some less so – it’s impossible to tell who’s going to matter by the time the finish comes around. Not to mention that even with a fast camera, it’s impossible to concentrate on more than a handful of riders in the peloton.
Luck would have it that I managed to get a nice shot of the cyclist who would end up winning the race.
By this time it was raining hard, and even with the umbrella over my head my two cameras were getting quite wet. Good thing the professional Canon lenses are (mostly) weather sealed and can withstand a bit of rain.
Lap 6 saw the riders attack Esperbierg, the biggest climb (650m length, 42m elevation, 6.5% avg). The leading group was quite large at this point (I counted at least 11 riders), so it was once again quite difficult to know which rider to concentrate on. I waited at the top of the climb for a few minutes, and with the rain coming down hard I was starting to regret my choice to walk this, rather than drive around the course in my car.
Lap 7 saw the riders go through the town of Berbourg, which sounds more exciting than it was. Lap 8 I caught them on the start of the third climb, Groussebierg. I reached the top a few minutes before the riders came around for lap 9. It was still pouring, and the riders looked about as excited to be out in the rain than I felt. At least I’d covered around 8km by this point, which meant I was getting near to the finish line.
By lap 10 I was back in the town of Bech, close to the finish line. I dropped off my second camera in the car and retrieved the laptop so I could start post-processing my pictures. During lap 11 and 12 I downloaded and started tagging my shots, and then set up close to the finish line with just the 70-200mm, thinking that the 300mm was too specific for a race with a finish line that wasn’t busy (only one other press photographer, one TV guy, and a hobbyist).
The winner ended up putting some distance between him and the rider in second place, so at least there was not going to be a sprint. I therefore had no trouble isolating the winner, although the background of the picture wasn’t really very exciting: one single spectator had elected stand on that side.
I covered around 10.5km (including distance from/to the car) to cover this race. The race profile indicated a total of 125m of climbs; which means my Garmin 910XT was pretty accurate when it recorded 133m of elevation gain. My average moving pace was 10:17 min/km; which I suppose is not bad with two big cameras and two large lenses (300m f/2.8 and 70-200m f/2.8) dangling around.