What's Cool In Road Cycling

TDU’12 St.6: Greipel, Gerrans, and GreenEDGE

Roadside St.6: It’s Sunday, and I can’t believe that this is the last stage of the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under. I’ve had such an amazing week. The week has been full of great stories in cycling. My favourite has got to be when UniSA rider William Clarke pulled off the stage 2 victory with an incredible solo ride to hold off the peloton. There’s still one great stage of racing to go though…let’s take a closer look!

I have met some amazing people this week. Everyone from riders, media, and fans have been amazing. Even though each stage attracted crowds of around 100,000 people, the race still felt small and intimate to me. I always ran into fans I had chatted with the day before somewhere on a stage throughout the week.

Stage six is a 20 lap criterium through the streets of Adelaide totalling 90KM of racing (that’s 4.5KM a lap). I’m not sure who, but someone thought it was a good idea to start the race at 1:15PM, with the full strength of the Australian sun beating down mercilessly on 110,000 fans and the competitors. Not only is this time of the day extremely uncomfortable to be outside in, but the light at this time of the day is very harsh for photography as well.

Though the temperature was only +37C, the heat coming off of the road made it feel a lot hotter. It was so hot that the Tour Hosts held umbrellas over riders as they signed in for the board of signatures. Rabobank rider Graeme Brown rolls up with his son Andy in tow to sign the board. He lets his son forge his signature on the board. Can we get a ruling whether that is cool with the UCI?

Rabobank rider Graeme Brown’s son forges his father’s signature. Good thing the UCI wasn’t looking.

As I photograph the riders in the start area for the last time, I kneel down to get a shot of GreenEDGE rider Robbie McEwen stretching, and feel the full force of the heat as my knee touches the black asphalt (or bitumen for the Australians). Ouch, that’s hot!

Robbie McEwen stretches for the last time before the start of a Tour Down Under stage. The great Aussie cyclist is retiring after this season, as announced at the beginning of this year’s Tour Down Under.

The riders all seem to be very relaxed, and are often seen joking around in the shade, a very different scene as compared to yesterday’s start area. Today’s start area is very cramped though, and for the first time this week, riders are sitting back to back with colleagues on competing teams.

Simon Gerrans jokes with teammate Matt Goss prior to the final stage 6 start.

I had a goal of speaking with the top three riders going into the final day, Simon Gerrans, Alejandro Valverde, and Tiago Machado. Valverde is sitting down with his legs up, the same as I see him every morning. He has a big smile on his face as he jokes around with teammates. I ask him if I can speak with him briefly, and I hear those words I dread: “I don’t speak English”. Really, Valverde?!? He said them very well in English… I tell him that my Spanish is crap. This isn’t going to work.

Yesterday’s stage winner, Alejandro Valverde seems relaxed prior to the start of the stage.

I spend some time looking for Machado, and don’t see him, perhaps he is off giving interviews. My interviews are not going as well as I had hoped for. I move on, and find Gerrans wearing the Ochre jersey sitting by himself, so I take a squat next to him, and ask him if can ask him a couple questions. He responds: “it depends on the questions”, with a big smile on his face. I ask him about the pressure he must be feeling, and how he is dealing with such pressures. He responds that: “there is the pressure to defend the jersey, we have worked really hard all week to be in this position into the last stage, so there’s a big pressure there”.

When I ask about how he deals with the pressure, being a marked man going into the final day with the same time as the likes of Valverde and Machado just a few seconds behind them, he doesn’t have much to say. He says: “nothing in particular, nothing specific”, so I try to poke and prod a little deeper, asking if he tries to relax with music, or anything to stay loose before a day like this, but all he does before the stage is to “just focus on the job ahead”.

When I ask about strategy and watching out for attacks, he tells me that: “I’m watching Alejandro Valverde, I’ve got to keep a close eye on him, he’s a world class bike rider, and he’s spent some time out of the sport, but he seems to be back now at a really good level, so I’m certainly trying to keep a close eye on him”.

Simon Gerrans has a long 90KM of racing today. He will have to fight to keep the Ochre jersey.

It’s a bigger course than the Tour Down Under Classic, which was also a criterium held in Adelaide, and for today there is a media van that continually drives the race circuit behind the riders. This makes it very easy for me to get around to different vantage points to photograph the race without worrying about getting back to the finish line. I start the day by heading to the king of the mountains point, and grab shots as breakaway groups lead the peloton for the first few laps. There were many early attacks, and breakaway groups throughout the stage.

The race gets underway Sunday afternoon in Adelaide.

An early breakaway passes under the king of the mountains banner in the early laps of the race.

And the peloton chases.

Another breakaway group, this time they are climbing to the king of the mountains banner for points.

The 1:15pm start time meant harsh sun for the spectators and riders, and harsh shadows for photography.

Because the riders are racing 20 times around the circuit, I have 20 opportunities to photograph the riders, allowing me a lot of time to try to get arty photographs. On the previous 5 stages I only had the opportunity to photograph the riders between two and five times a day.

The first arty shot of the day.

Many years ago I used to race on a very novice level, and I remember criteriums as my least favourite road race. The constant stop and start as you brake into the corners, and accelerate like mad into the straightaways just saps your energy. I remember at one point in a crit race, I thought about swerving my bike into a tree on the side of the road, just to end the pain that the race was causing me. I did finish the race, and puked immediately after. I did feel a little proud that I didn’t finish in last place though.

I remember hating racing in criteriums, as the constant acceleration and braking for the corners just kills your legs.

The peloton is strung out as it enters a corner on stage 6 in Adelaide Sunday afternoon.

GreenEDGE took control throughout the race. They must watch the Movistar team like a hawk. Unlike Le Tour de France, there will be no champagne drinking on a cruisy lap around this track. Sprint points matter, and it’s anyone’s race. I chat with the GreenEDGE team doctor as he gets ready to hand out bottles in the feed zone. We talk about yesterday`s strategy and how it almost worked, as well as todays strategy with Meyer on the breakaway leading into the final laps, with the GreenEDGE team leading the peloton simultaneously. GreenEDGE have to control the field and not allow any attacks to get through, but they also have to balance the control with saving themselves for the final sprint.

GreenEDGE was often at the front, pulling hard, even with Cameron Meyer on the loose.

Simon Gerrans looks nice and protected amongst his GreenEDGE teammates towards the end of the 20 laps of the final stage.

I make my way to the finish area for the final few laps of the race, and notice that there is a lot of effort at the front of the peloton by the GreenEDGE, Rabobank, and Lampre-ISD teams. They are pushing hard to catch the breakaways, and setup for the final sprint.

I posted a photo of one of these riders on the hill yesterday on a pixie bike. They were back today, and these two support staff guys have a dual on the race course to entertain fans.

I decide to photograph the final few laps near a very tight corner. The first lap around, even shooting with my widest lens (11-16mm on a 1.5X crop camera), the riders are leaning in so far towards me that I can’t keep their entire body in the frame. The riders are so frickin’ close to the curb, I’m just waiting for one of them to hit it, and fall over on me and the other photographers. On the third to last lap the pack are slowing down at the last minute, and I hear that distinct sound of a peloton of road bikes braking. It sounds terrible and beautiful at the same time. Riders try to get around the slow peloton on the corner by hopping over the curb to get through, narrowly missing photographers and their camera gear that is strewn around the median.

I loved watching how the world class photographers worked, and getting to know some of them. It is always cool to see their name in a photo credit below an amazing picture, and then meeting them, and putting a face to the name. I got to be known as the guy eating a carrot stick at the finish line, and/or podium. I tried to explain that it was too hot for chocolate, and how the heat forces me to eat a little healthier.

Riders come in tight around a corner in the last few laps of the race.

Luis Leon Sanchez is framed by two wheels as he comes around a corner with only a few laps to go.

The peloton tries to hold it together with only a few laps remaining.

I have a great position for the final finish line photo, in the middle of the street, but a good distance back. As the peloton swallows up the breakaway group, and Cameron Meyer in his last effort to win the stage, all the riders are pulled together again in the 19th of 20 laps.

Photographers get ready for the final sprint finish of the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under.

This is one of the 3 areas photographers can photograph the finish line from. I am in this group, and it is the furthest position from the action. Being the furthest can be an advantage if there is a late celebration from the winner, but not in this case today, as the winner today has an entire bike length and celebrates before hitting the line.
It’s coming down to a bunch sprint, and Lotto-Belisol rider Andre Greipel easily wins it over Rabobank’s Mark Renshaw, and Lampre-ISD’s Alessandro Petacchi. Simon Gerrans ends up finishing in 27th place, and Alejandro Valverde coming in 2 places ahead at 25th position. Gerrans wins the 2012 edition of the Santos Tour Down Under with the same time as Valverde.

Andre Greipel wins another stage! He edges out Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi.

As Simon Gerrans returns to greet teammates, I’m in the perfect spot to get photos of him being congratulated by his GreenEDGE teammates. I’m looking through my lens, and everything looks very dreamy. For a second I think, perhaps I have heat stroke and I am about to collapse. That would not be good. I’m here to cover the news, not become the news. I take the camera away from my eye for a second, and my vision is fine. It turns out that a photographer beside me, grazed the front element of my lens with his sunscreened arm, and the lens is smudged with the grease. Half of my images are too blurry to be usable. The worst possible moment, but I quickly clean the lens, and I’m back in business for the celebrations.

Simon Gerrans after the finish of stage 6. He is congratulated by teammate Stuart O’Grady. Both O’Grady and Gerrans have won the Tour Down Under two times now.

There are two Ochre jersey presentations today. One for TV, and the official one on stage. I like my kiss photo of Gerrans as the Hostesses move in for the double kiss during the first presentation.

The girls move in for the double kiss as Simon Gerrans wins the race.

At the end of the second presentation, all of the jersey winners are invited on stage for the sparkling wine presentation. Ochre jersey Simon Gerrans, Jayco sprint jersey Edvald Boasson Hagen, most aggressive rider jersey Jan Bakelants, and Skoda king of the mountains jersey winner Rohan Dennis shake up their giant bottles of sparkling wine, and spray each other. My favourite image of the sequence is when I caught another photographers flash in my photo, adding some drama to the scene.

Ochre jersey Simon Gerrans, Jayco sprint jersey Edvald Boasson Hagen, most aggressive rider jerey Jan Bakelants, and Skoda king of the mountains jersey winner Rohan Dennis shake up their giant bottles of sparkling wine and spray each other.

Gerrans became the third winner in the Tour’s 14 years of existence to win the race twice. He joins today’s stage winner, Lotto-Belisol rider Andre Greipel, as well as his GreenEDGE teammate Stuart O’Grady. Gerrans repeatedly thanked his team for their help in his win. There was a lot of strategy at play over the past two days, and it has paid off. Not a bad start for this Australian team’s debut race. The entire team is invited on stage.

The entire GreenEDGE team comes on stage for the celebrations.

I had an unbelievable week this week in pro cycling heaven. Gazing upon millions of dollars of carbon fibre beauties every day, working side by side with the world’s best cycling photographers, and having the opportunity to speak and watch the best professional cyclists in action. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the tour organizers and media race operations staff for making everything run so smoothly. I also want to thank PEZ cycling for the opportunity to tell my stories, and of course our lord and savior, Eddy Merckx and Phil Liggett. Just watching the guys in action always brought a smile to my face.

At the podium presentation Eddy Merckx made some quips about “the sun was a little too hot”, and how he is looking forward to the cooler weather in Belgium. The crowd has shown him lots of love every time he made an appearance, and he returned the love, and always made a point of signing autographs for fans.

Before I left the podium stage, I had to get one last photograph. I call out to Tour Hostess Eloise as she is running around, looking a little frazzled. I ask her if I can get a shot with them, as they have been so friendly with me all week. She says “forsure, but I think the other girls are already changing”. They are in a bit of a rush to get out, but they happily agree to my photo request.

Me and the ladies.

A little about me.
I took a year sabbatical from my photography business in Winnipeg, MB (Canada) to travel and work, wherever I find it. I am a full time professional photographer; primarily a photojournalist, working for the Winnipeg Free Press, and Canadian Press. I also shoot a lot of advertising and weddings. I have spent a month in New Zealand, and 7 months in Australia so far as part of my year off, and loving every minute of it. I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, and gave this week’s race reports my all. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I had fun writing them.

David Lipnowski

The confetti lies in a pool of sparkling wine on stage, bringing an end to the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under.

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