Graham Watson’s ’40 Years of Cycling Photography’

By Fred Dreier • Published

Last February, Graham Watson hung up his camera, having spent four decades photographing pro cycling for the sport’s premier magazines, books, and websites. Watson’s career spanned multiple eras of the sport. One of his earliest action shots is of Eddy Merckx sprinting along the Champs-Élysées in 1977. His final professional images were of Richie Porte winning the 2017 Tour Down Under.

During his career, Watson earned a reputation for knowing exactly how to capture the most compelling action during a race. This is far easier said than done; a photographer must have intimate knowledge of each race’s parcours and participants and then convince his motorcycle driver to position him perfectly to capture the action. For 40 years, Watson seemingly managed this at every race.

Watson also created friendships and relationships with the riders he photographed. Watson’s photography is on display in his latest book, titled “40 Years of Cycling Photography,” which is available through pre-order on his website. The book includes several hundred of Watson’s images, arranged chronologically throughout his career. Flipping through Watson’s book takes the reader on a backward journey through pro cycling’s various kit styles and bike technology.

Each image includes a lengthy caption explaining either how Watson took the photo or the significance of the moment. The book includes Watson’s written commentary on his career, as well as the athletes and the sport. He discusses the many ways in which he saw pro cycling change and evolve during his 40-year stint and discusses cycling’s efforts to combat doping, reach new global markets, and capitalize on the rise of English-speaking stars.

The book also includes sections written by Cadel Evans and Sean Kelly.

One can only write so much about a photography book. We here at VeloNews prefer to let Watson’s images do the talking.

I spotted Laurent Fignon sitting on a curb in Bordeaux in 1984, pouring Perrier water over his swollen feet at the end of a long hot stage of the Tour de France. Images like this are to treasure, for today’s cyclists head straight for their buses, denying the public and photographers the chance to see their true emotions after a big race. Photo: Graham Watson

 

A crash in the women’s Kierin at the Rio Olympics caught my eye in time to capture the spill on-camera. But it was only later, in the editing room, that I noticed the activity in the top-left corner, where a Dutch cyclist, Laurine van Riessen, has ridden on the ‘wall’ to avoid another crash. Photo: Graham Watson

 

Thousands of fans cheered Fabian Cancellara as he raced up the Mur de Grammont on his way to winning the 2010 Tour of Flanders. The Flemish adopted Cancellara as one of their own thanks to his legendary rivalry with their own hero, Tom Boonen. Photo: Graham Watson
Greg Lemond recounts his epic day at Paris-Roubaix in 1985 (right).

 

Nelson Vails was one of the nicest guys I ever met on the race circuit and one of the fastest sprinters around in the late 1980’s. He was a natural entertainer at the six-day races in Europe, playing the clown alongside bigger hitters like Michael Hubner and Claudio Golinelli. Here, Vails is on his way to winning the 1985 tandem sprint world title in Bassano del Grappa. Photo: Graham Watson

 

Greg LeMond on the attack to Luz-Ardiden during the 1990 Tour de France. Photo: Graham Watson

 

Rolf Sorensen struggles to recover after falling on muddy cobbles in the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. I lived for wet and muddy days in the Classics, for me there were never enough days when I could really go to work and create stunning images. A ‘bad’ day for a cyclist is a ‘great’ day for a photographer, there’s no denying that. Photo: Graham Watson
The Gewiss trio of Berzin, Furlan and Argentin race away from Lance Armstrong in the 1994 Fleche Wallonne. Photo: Graham Watson

 

Ryder Hesjedal on stage twenty one of the 2012 Giro d’Italia. Photo: Graham Watson

 

An eccentric Belgian fan tracked the 2004 Tour de France on a stage from Charleroi to Namur. I’d been lucky enough to be well in front of the race, and in-time to spot the horseman warming-up, and to line the shot up before the race arrived. Luck was at least 85-percent of the shot. The American flag was a key element too- sort of General Custer-ish in its interpretation. Photo: Graham Watson
Tom Boonen made his winning attack in the 2009 Paris-Roubaix. The cobbles at Mons-en-Pevele are the worst in the race, slightly uphill and on a right-leaning camber. It’s the place to be if you want to capture some of the best race action. Photo: Graham Watson