Friday, February 27, 2009
This was one of those assignments where the hype is bigger than the event itself. In a light drizzle, among the hundreds of people gathered on the shoulder of Linne Road a fleeting glance of cycling elite passed by. It took only five seconds for the main body of riders called the peloton to flash by. Fast and furious to be sure, a sporting spectacle had returned to Tracy. Welcome to the Tour of California.
This was the second time the bicycle race had come to Tracy. Back into 2007 they made quick detour through town heading down Corral Hollow for a few blocks giving race fans a frenzied glimpse of their path. This year the race’s third stage heading from San Jose to Modesto would follow the south edge of town as it wound its way from Patterson Pass Road to Highway 132.
Planning is everything in an assignment like this and I mapped out my shooting a couple days in advance. I figured my best bet for a combination of race action and fan action would be somewhere along Linne Road. I thought maybe near the ACE station at Tracy Blvd. but later settled on the intersection of Chrisman Road and Linne Road next to Jefferson School. That put me near the end of a sprint line on a flat stretch of road along with a sizable crowd.
The plan was this. As the bikes approached I would shoot with my 300 mm lens with a 1.4x extender to give me a nice compression shot of the racers. As they got close I would switch to my personal Canon 40D with a 24-70 mm wide angle lens for a tight shot of the pack as they passed. I had previsualized the shots I wanted so it was just a matter of getting the lens in the right spot to make it happen.
I arrived at the intersection about an hour early to find a parking spot before the road was closed. For about a half an hour I waited in my car in the light rain as the fans gathered. Signs, lawn chairs and umbrellas sprouted up along the shoulder as the estimated race arrival time neared. I worked the crowd for feature shots ranging from chalk messages being written on the road between passing cars to sign bearing fans of Lance Armstrong. Eventually the roadway was closed as the racers neared the edge of town
It was easy to tell when the racers were approaching, the procession of CHP and motorcycles worthy of a presidential motorcade signaled their arrival. A breakaway pack leading the main body by five minutes were first to pass by. They were greeted by music from the school’s marching band along with the cheers from hundreds of fans lining the shoulder of the roadway.
Minutes later I spotted a helicopter making it way toward the road. This was the aerial camera platform following the main peloton. Another round of escort cars approached and behind them a pack of racers covered the roadway. I started shooting and when the pack was about 100 feet away I dropped to a knee and switched to the wide-angle camera body. I straddled the white fog line and brought the camera up to find a sea of bicycles flashing by. I held the motor drive down; I don’t even remembering focusing and held the shutter release down until they passed. My camera time stamp recorder the time between the first frame of the racers approaching and last frame as they passed as five seconds between them. In that time I took 26 frames as the pack drove past me at near 40 mph. The distance to the racers was closer than I expected, some of the framing was a little tight. I could have shot with a 16-35mm lens and had more space around the frame but I was happy with the results. In a flash they were gone, five seconds is all it took. A day of planning, an hour waiting and five seconds of action.
I am amazed how many people came out for the fleeting glimpse they get of the racers. Someone one told me it is not so much about the action, it is just that they were there when it happened. I guess it is quality over quantity of action. It had to be one of the quickest assignments I have been on, fast and furious and gone in a flash. We will have to see if they make a return trip next year to Tracy during their tour of California.