What's Cool In Road Cycling

Darrell Parks’ Cycling Calendar 2017

Now that we’re into the holiday season, it’s time to start thinking of the cycling fan on your gift list. Photographer Darrell Parks’ 2017 Cycling calendar is packed with his breathtaking photography we feature here on PEZ throughout the year. This year’s calendar features the two biggest stage races in the US with images from The Amgen Tour of California and The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Follow along as Darrell takes us through the stories behind a few of his selected calendar images.

Order your “Darell Parks 2017 Cycling Calendar” HERE.

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I could have made an entire Calendar from the images taken on Stage 4 of the AMGEN Tour of California alone!

There’s something compelling about bike races and bridges. We love to see that special shot of the peloton stretched out high above the water below, isolated on a narrow strip of concrete. This year’s cover shot captures that view as the peloton crosses the Big Creek Bridge along the California coast during Stage 4 of the AMGEN Tour of California. A bit south of it’s more popular big brother “Bixby”, this bridge is still very scenic, but without the typical battle for position from other photographers trying to stake their claim to get the perfect shot. The race had been in and out of the coastal fog for most of the stage. Sometimes you just get lucky and the weather cooperates when you need it to.

pic2dpcal2017story-920The Peloton as viewed from the San Simeon Pier on Stage 4 of the Amgen tour of California

And speaking of the weather cooperating, this shot earlier in the same stage exemplifies that perfectly. Traveling north on the Pacific Coast Highway, I had planned on getting a shot of the peloton from across the water, by shooting from the end of the San Simeon Pier. The race had spent the morning enveloped in fog and as we approached San Simeon, I began to lose hope that the peloton would be visible through the fog. With less than a mile to go to the pier we broke out of the soup and into the sun! The picture of me waiting for the peloton to emerge from the mist, shows just how lucky I was to get a clear shot from the pier!

pic3dpcal2017story-920Waiting for the Race to emerge from the fog

Photo moto access was not in the cards for me on Stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California. That meant I needed to scout a location for a shot the day before the stage. The course made it impossible to arrive at multiple photo locations by car, so I had to be selective in choosing my location for the stage. I had settled on a spot with some wildflowers in the foreground and Lower Otay Lake as a backdrop. During scouting, the location seemed a bit nicer as it was a bright sunny day with a clear blue sky in the background. Things were a bit different on race day though, as an overcast sky left the intended image a bit flat and dull.

pic4dpcal2017story-920The original plan for my Stage 1 image at Lower Otay Lake

I kept shooting as the race went by, now focusing on the peloton from behind. Though the intended features of the original shot were the flowers and the lake, as luck would have it, World Champion Peter Sagan came into the frame, resplendent in the World Championship stripes kit. His presence in the image, the diminishing perspective of the front of the race fading into the background, and the mountains and a bit of blue sky made for a much more compelling image!

pic5dpcal2017story-920World Champion Peter Sagan saves the day, and the image, on Stage 1 of the AMGEN Tour of California

I once again found myself without a photo moto on Stage 5 of the AMGEN Tour of California. I studied the course map in an attempt to find an interesting feature that might present something special from the stage. Silver Lake seemed to be fairly close to the road so I chose it as one of my destinations for Stage 5. After a quick capture of the race in Historic downtown Sutter Creek I drove ahead to check out the lake. I could see on my GPS that I had driven the entire length of the lake, but unfortunately I was never able to see it from the road. I turned around and headed back to look for some elevation.

pic6dpcal2017story-920I’m sure I can see the lake and the road from the top of that rock, but how do I get up there?

I found a spot where I might possibly be able to take in the view of the lake. Unfortunately it was about 50 feet up, on top of sheer rock wall, with no easy way to get there. After a bit of searching, I found a potential route to the top. The problem was it was going to take a while to get up there, I wasn’t sure what I would find, and the race was no more than 20 minutes away. Add some snow and ice into the equation and I wasn’t going to break any speed climbing records on my way up.

pic7dpcal2017story-920The long cold climb from the road on the way to my vantage point for my December image

Of course I had to give it a try and once at the top I could see I had a great view of the lake. The new problem was having to get right out on the edge of the cliff to get the road in the frame as well. Of course that’s when I realized just how hard the wind was blowing. I got on my hands and knees and crawled out to my vantage point. I brushed away some ice, snow, and loose rocks to provide a “safe” place to stand about 2 feet back from the edge. After the break came through I stood up and shot the peloton as I fought hard to keep the wind from blowing me over the edge!

pic8dpcal2017story-920High winds and a sheer drop off almost kept this image from being captured

Stage 2 of the AMGEN Tour of California took the race through the Angeles National Forest. Southern California must have had quite a few April showers because the May flowers were in full bloom. We started the day climbing out of the fog in Pasadena and soon came to a tunnel bored strait through the mountain. Exiting the tunnel was like entering a new world as we popped into the sunshine of the National Forest!

pic9dpcal2017story-920We entered this tunnel in the fog and exited into the sunshine

You can’t help but notice these bright yellow flowers that seem to be everywhere you look. They are known as Spanish Broom and must be at the peak of their bloom this time of year. They really turn the arid and dull landscape of this part of Southern California into a colorful treat for the eyes. I like to feature a “May Flowers” shot in my calendar so I could tell right away this stage wasn’t going to let me down. As we dropped down a winding descent well ahead of the race, we came across a spot that had a particularly dense thicket of flowers. My initial shot turned out to be a winner as Peter Sagan came around the corner in the Yellow race leaders jersey led out by his Tinkoff team in their yellow kits!

pic10dpcal2017story-920Team Tinkoff leads team member and Stage 2 yellow jersey wearer Peter Sagan down the mountain

As much as I liked that image, I opted for a different flower shot for the Calendar. If you’ve noticed, I really like to feature big scenic images in the calendar. The main reason I stopped to shoot at this location was for the view I got when I looked over the edge to the road far below. Here the Peloton snakes down the twisted canyon road with the yellow of the Spanish Broom almost overwhelming in its abundance. The foreground blossoms make for a nicely framed lead into the frame as well.

pic11dpcal2017story-920The Spanish Broom casts its bright yellow hue all over this part of the Angeles National Forest

The other big American race I attended this year was the Larry H Miller Tour of Utah. This was my first year shooting this race and I was particularly excited when I heard the race would be starting in Zion National Park. No moto access and a long back country loop route meant that getting another shot after shooting in Zion would be extra challenging. My original plan was to shoot near the start in Zion and then back track to a location about 10 miles before the finish, for a potential second shot of the race exiting one of the big red rock canyons. I knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get around the race on the narrow Utah roads, in time to get to the second spot. A plan was hatched by the race personnel, that a media car could pick us up after shooting in Zion. We would then ride in the rear of the race caravan, and be able to get around the race and to the finish. I would then, theoretically, have plenty of time to get to my car and drive back to my preferred shooting location 10 miles before the finish. Against my better judgement, I opted for a ride in the media car. Needless to say, it took quite a few miles before we found a safe place to pass the peloton. To add insult to injury, the weather for the start in Zion was overcast and the flat light didn’t really do the red rock formations justice.

pic12dpcal2017story-920Having the 2016 Tour of Utah start in Zion National Park was incredible, if only the sky had cooperated

So we finally made it past the peloton and sped out in front of the race towards the finish. Once we got a few miles ahead of the rolling road closure we ran into traffic. As we came upon my chosen spot it became clear that there was no way we could get to the finish in time for me to get back to my second shooting location ahead of the road closure. There was only one thing to do. ”Stop and let me out here” I told our driver. “But you’ll be stuck here with no way back to the finish” she replied in disbelief. “I’ll take my chances!” I exclaimed, as I jumped out of the car. One of the other two photographers in the car decided to join me and there we were. Just the two of us, stuck 10 miles from town, with no way back. We climbed to our shooting positions and waited for the race to fill our frames. Not a minute had passed when a vehicle showed up and pulled off the road right into my shot! Now I needed to climb back down and have a chat with them to see if they wouldn’t mind moving down the road a bit. As it turns out they had come from shooting the start and back tracked to get here before the race showed up! I told them that was my original plan and how we had ended up stranded here without a ride back. Being a fellow photographer, he was not only kind enough to move out of the way, but also offered us a ride back to the finish! The story has another happy ending as I managed to capture one of my favorite images from the race, if not all of 2016.

pic13dpcal2017story-920At the risk of being stranded, I grabbed one of my favorite shots from the 2016 race season

Like flowers are to the month of May, rain is synonymous with the month of April. The final stage of the Tour of Utah made sure my May calendar image would substantiate that folklore. I hadn’t been scheduled for the photo moto on the last stage of Utah, but apparently the threat of nasty weather scared off whoever was. However you want to look at it, I was either lucky enough or unlucky enough to be next in line for the ride. It’s never fun to be shooting from a motorcycle in the mountains, during a thunder storm, but the potential for amazing photographs is a risk I’m willing to take. I had dressed my main camera in its rain gear and was as prepared as I could be for the impending storm. The first half of the stage greeted us with the occasional sprinkle, but you could see the sky getting particularly angry as we started into the mountains. I picked my spot about halfway up the first climb where there was a nice scenic background and a relatively easy climb to a good vantage point. As I settled in at my shooting location, the light was fading rapidly and the winds were now howling as I fought hard to stay upright. All of a sudden the sky opened up with sideways rain and painful hail. I turned myself away from the wind in an attempt to shield the front of my lens from the driving rain. As the race began to fill the road in front of me I quickly turned into the rain, took a shot, then turned back again to use my chamois to wipe away the water that had collected on the face of my lens. I repeated this several times, as the race passed in front of me, hoping that I would capture at least one clean image of the amazing sight before me. The month of May features the only “keeper” I was able to salvage from that series.

pic14dpcal2017story-920Driving rain and hail made for difficult shooting conditions but amazing imagery

After the front of the race had passed, I carefully made my way down to the road. And just when I thought it couldn’t rain any harder, the storm actually intensified. I was fairly well protected with a motorcycle helmet, and a full set of rain gear, but even with my back to the wind, the rain and hail managed to find exposed spots of my body on which to inflict pain. Just then, the tail end of the race started to appear in front of me with nothing for protection but lycra and bike helmets with holes in them. Most were using their hands in a futile attempt at shielding their eyes from the hail that was blowing strait into their faces. Others were grasping at rain gear from the team cars while grimacing in pain. I pointed the camera at them and pressed the shutter, hoping I would capture all this as I struggled to see anything at all through the now fogged and saturated viewfinder. The lens I was using stopped working shortly after these shots and had to be sent back to Nikon for repair. That was a risk I was willing to take. The reward was the following image. Was it worth it? I believe it may well have been…

pic15dpcal2017story-920More proof of just how how brutal and demanding pro cycling can be

To see all the calendar images and to order your “Darrell Parks 2017 Cycling Calendar” please visit www.darrellparks.com

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