Amgen Tour of California 2011
Contributed by: David Wilkins
The Amgen Tour of California is a professional bicycle race held at various locations in the state. There were 8 scheduled individual races or stages to determine the overall winner and it was held May 15-22. The first stage was scheduled to be at Lake Tahoe, but was snowed out. Four of the stages were within 4-hour driving distance of Southern California. Chris and I went to see and photograph three of the stages. One of the interesting things about photographing this race is one’s approach can range from very casual to extremely serious. One can just show up at the finish line or start line and take pictures as the riders start or finish. It can be crowded and you may need to get there early for a choice spot. Photographing the crowd can be rewarding as well.
This year we decided to try for the action near the finish line on one of the stages. The stage that finished in Paso Robles was a mass sprint to the finish. The riders were going all out for the last 500 meters or so. Lots of action and color, but it was all over in a flash. The work comes in trying to figure out the best spot to catch the action. The race finishes in the middle of the afternoon so the sun was high overhead and cast harsh shadows. We picked a spot 200 meters from the finish but on the south side of a road that runs east west for the best light. Barriers to keep the racers out of the crowd separated the last 500 meters or so. The racers flashed by and you hoped you got a good shot. This was the place for burst mode!
The other type of stage was the time trial where each rider started singly and raced against the clock. From a photography standpoint I feel this is the best race. This year the time trial was in Solvang and was 24.1 KM (15 miles) long. The course was closed to traffic, but parking and access for spectators was limited out on the course. One can always show up at the start or finish line. The good thing about the time trial was that every second counted so the riders were going all out all the time. We found a back road access, parked and walked to a spot to catch the riders.The riders left the start gate at one minute intervals, except for the last 13 that went off at two minute intervals. That means one has a chance to shoot each rider individually. This year there were 130 riders. Plenty of time to practice panning, close ups and approach shots. There were no barriers in this part of the course, so one can get very close. I tried a very wide-angle lens with panning and Chris tried close up panning. We had lots of time to perfect the technique and to take various frontal shots as the riders approached.
This year one stage finished at the Mt. Baldy ski resort after starting in Claremont. Parking on the finishing climb was extremely limited, but parking was much easier on some of the other climbs. We picked a spot and waited for the riders to come by. During the early parts of the race all the team cars, TV crews, photographers, marshals, highway patrol and VIP cars are in with, behind or ahead of the racers. The racers also get split into several groups by the long climbs. So there is quite a procession with many photo possibilities. We had a second opportunity to see the riders again by walking a short distance and seeing the riders as they came around for the final climb. Generally speaking the racers are working harder when they are going up hill and can be massed in groups. On downhill portions of the course they tend to be spread out. It takes some effort to keep the distracting elements out of the shot.
We had a good time seeing the races and working for the shot.