The Shot: Chasing Liege snow

2016 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 248km

Xhoris (FERRIÈRES) 30.0km covered

Days before Liège-Bastogne-Liège even started, all the pre-race chatter was about the cold front that was coming in … and snow. When a race is predicted to face extreme weather, there is endless consternation. The team staff talks about the weather — they talk about race strategy and rider safety in unpredictable weather, and they talk about nutrition, extra feed zones, and hot bottles. The riders talk about the weather. They talk about crashes and frozen hands, equipment malfunctions, and exhaustion. The race organizer talks about weather, about precautions, cancellations, and safety. For photographers, a huge chunk of what we talk about on any average day is the weather. And when there is a storm approaching, you better believe we talk about the weather ad nauseam.

For this year’s Liège, we decided to work the race by car instead of by motorbike which meant fewer chances to see the action. So the pressure was on to get “the shot” of the storm. We figured the guys on the motorbikes would have plenty of opportunities to get the story of the day, but we had to nail it the first time. The complexity of that manifested in the erratic quality of the weather. One second we were in a full-blown snowstorm and freezing temps while three kilometers later, it is blue skies and puffy clouds.

Once we found a big, open field where the snow was frosting the tree branches and the grass is blanketed in white — stop the car, park, get the cameras ready, and then five minutes later the sun explodes and melts all the snow in sight. Another time, within a 10-minute period, we drove from a sideways blizzard to a sunny and vibrantly green pasture with an eight-degree temperature change. It was enough to make you crazy. Needless to say, we were determined to capture at least one snowy photo at the race. At kilometer 30, we pulled over when we saw a miniature forest of frosted trees. It was risky because the sun was actually peeking through, and the snow on the road was already melted. But it was our last chance before our cut-off point, so we had to give it a go. We set up one shot as a profile so we could capitalize on the trees in the background as the riders came through. It worked well since the sun provided highlights and some shadows on the road which had a nice wet sheen. The missing element was any actual falling snow but this location did provide us with context for the severity of the changing weather.

After that stop, all of our further attempts to capture the weather of the day failed. Same routine as above, repeated. We seemed to be chasing the snow all day. When we met other photographers, their stories were similar; our race was to chase the falling snow. In fact, very few ideal snowy race shots succeeded. The weather just played cat-and-mouse with us. In the end it was just this one shot that made the cut.

Key image specs:
Canon 1DX
Canon 16-35mm 2.8 II USM
Focal Length: 16mm
1/1000 sec @ f/3.2 ISO 640
File format: RAW