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Graham Watson retires from cycling photography

British photographer and longtime VeloNews contributor Graham Watson has retired after 38 years capturing cyclists racing.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — British photographer and longtime VeloNews contributor Graham Watson has retired after 38 years capturing cyclists racing.

Watson, who snapped from the beginning with VeloNews, hung up his Nikon cameras after finishing the Santos Tour Down Under January 22.

“I am no longer a cycling photographer,” wrote Watson in a release. “If you want, you can now refer to me as an ex-cycling photographer or as a former cycling photographer. Yes, after almost 45 years as a professional photographer and 38 years of that as a cycling photographer, I am retiring.

“I had always wanted to stop at 60, reasoning that my vision and reflexes would be left intact if I stopped now — stay too long and the quality and commitment were bound to fall at some stage. By stopping at 60 I also have the chance to discover other things in life, or at the very least get out on my bike more and maybe climb a few of the mountains I’ve photographed for so long.”

Watson shot almost every modern star in cycling, from Eddy Merckx on the Champs-Élysées in the 1977 Tour de France to Sky’s Chris Froome.

That “lucky” shot of Merckx won him photograph competition in Cycling Weekly magazine and started his career down the road.

Since, he said, “my career has been one long, unbroken, enjoyable, unforgettable, exciting, roller-coaster, highly successful adventure.”

The adventure saw Watson clinging on the back of motorbikes and racing down mountain passes for the best shots. A keen eye could spot him on television with his white helmet.

Without it, after the race, he would welcome you with a smile to his dinner table to speak about the day or the years that passed.

“My favorite road cyclist? Sean Kelly, a constant source of great photography when I was a young lad starting out,” Watson explained. “I then say Indurain came close, ahead of Fignon, Ullrich, Armstrong, Delgado, and Wiggins.

“I also tell them that if I was just 21 years of age today, then Wiggins would be my favorite cyclist — the most enigmatic of them all, but as a five-time Olympic gold medalist, multi-world champion, winner of a Tour de France, and current holder of the hour record, he is by far the most talented cyclist I’ve ever photographed.”

Recently married and a new homeowner in New Zealand, Watson will have time to reflect on a career of 38 years and to enjoy the work of other photographers — now almost all digital and instantly zapped worldwide.

“Will I miss this fantastic, crazy, wonderful sport and its unique lifestyle? Yes, for sure, though I’ve yet to know which parts I’ll miss the most,” he added.

“I will miss the races, but not all of them — too many events clash or cross over, and it’s impossible to enjoy everything with so much to take in. I’ll miss the true classics. But I’ll miss the stage races the most, especially Paris-Nice, the Giro, Vuelta, Romandie, and Suisse. I won’t miss the Tour as much as people might think — it’s become a claustrophobic colossus that is not always as enjoyable as I’d like, even though it dwarfs all other grand tours.

“More than the races, I think I’ll miss the fun of travel-planning, of the subsequent adventures, the chase of a good meal and good wine, the intimacy of an evening spent with your car and motor-bike drivers, or the camaraderie with colleagues. I know I’ll especially miss the excuse of buying the latest photographic gear, simply because I could buy it. Much more than this, I’ll miss watching my boys racing their hearts out.”

“He’s an elusive figure, an icon, an unintentional patriarch,” said photographer Iri Greco of BrakeThrough Media.

“He doesn’t talk much. He doesn’t have to. His work speaks for itself, and there are mountains of it. He never once tired of it — the daily grind, the endless hotels, the inevitable mental fatigue — because his boyish passion for it eclipsed all inconveniences.

“He saw the race in poetry, he lived the dream. We were lucky enough to have these years with him as a colleague and a mentor and a friend. The peloton will not be the same without him.”

Said photographer James Startt: “I thought you would have to unglue him from his moto before he retired. Graham was a rock in the sport, always focused on getting his shots. What I came to appreciate the most over the years was Graham’s professional detachment. He loved the sport, obviously. You have to if you going to cover it so intensely for so many years. But he was never a fan. There is a fine line, but Graham didn’t cross it.”

Watson photographed for nearly every English-language and foreign-tongue cycling publication through the years and, “thanks to the exploits of LeMond and Armstrong,” saw his shots in magazines like Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair.

He thanked the journalists and editors for making his work possible, including VeloNews‘ former editor John Wilcockson.

“Top of the list has to be John Wilcockson, a doyenne of English-language journalism who guided me through my early years at Cyclist Monthly, Winning, Inside Cycling, and VeloNews. He even inspired me to write articles and blogs in my later years, so thanks mate!”