The Shot: Time to focus

By BrakeThrough Media • Updated

2017 Vuelta a España: Time trials

With the rest day behind us and the individual time trial kicking off the last week of the 2017 Vuelta a España, it’s a good time for “The Shot” to reflect on the joys and challenges of showcasing TTs at a grand tour. We have developed a nice formula for capturing time trials. The majority of the time, Jim shoots the action while Iri circulates around the buses to bring the intensity of all the team preparations, rider focus, and the countdown before the start house into view. Time trials have a weird hurry-up-and-wait pace. There is a lot of sitting around. Riders who start later in the day usually hide in the bus on their phones or visit family and friends. And while the staff have their hands full, there is also time for socializing, eating pizza, and hosting VIPs. Time trial preparation is most interesting because of the details and the evolution of the sport itself. Trainers lined up row on row. All sorts of fans and mist to cool the riders, ice vests, and stockings filled with ice cubes. Specialized nutrition and breathe-right strips. It’s a world of minutiae.

On the (team) time trial in Nîmes, it was hot, very hot, and the sun was intense. Many riders were hidden under team bus canopies fighting for shade. Some teams have started situating their riders facing the bus so that they are not distracted by ogling spectators. Some teams have easier access than others. Getting great warm-up shots of riders partly comes down to the relationships built with team staff and press officers. On our end, a lot of invisible preparation goes into the time trial as well.

We always look for the obvious top riders warming up but also for the riders that are more expressive and known to make faces of effort and intensity while warming up. You hope, as a photographer, that the background isn’t cluttered with boxes, garbage bags, or stacked wheels. You hope that there is light and shadow to give your shots some dimension. On this day, we swooped in and out of team bus compounds searching out the faces covered in sweat, the grimaces, the grit. None was more compelling that Rafal Majka who, at the edge of the team line-up, was caught between the shade of the awning and the ray of hot sun on his left side. He’s already an intense-looking guy. We knew the setting would bring out even more of that.

Iri shot on the 100-400mm lens since it has incredible macro abilities and I could get in tighter without being right in his face. By over-cranking the ISO because of the shade, she would not lose too much detail in the shadows. She closed down the aperture to avoid blowing out the highlights. When he finally looked up, after minutes of waiting, it was that intense look which summarized the whole of what a time trial brings — singular focus, effort, intensity, training, and determination.

Key image specs:

Canon 1DX
Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM
1/640 sec @ f/5.0 ISO 5000
Focal Length: 100mm
File format: RAW
Shot from inside the Bora-Hansgrohe team compound