The Shot: Sanremo’s iconic coastal backdrop

The Shot: Milano-Sanremo’s beautiful coast

By: Jim Fryer | BrakeThrough Media

Editor’s note: In “The Shot,” BrakeThrough Media photographers Iri Greco and Jim Fryer will pick their favorite photo from select races throughout this season and provide the background story on how the image was captured.

2016 Milano-Sanremo, 291km

The peloton traverses the classical curvy coastline at Noli some 200 kilometers into the race.

Over the course of history, it can be argued that this location in Noli has delivered the quintessential iconic image that defines La Primavera — the Italian classic Milano-Sanremo. The rocky hillside bathed in sun, the peloton stretched out in its typical amoeba-like formation and the defining burst of color that can only be found in professional cycling make this image a classic, year after year. I first saw this image as young upstart cyclist back in the mid 1980s and, of course, it was shot by none other than cycling photo legend Graham Watson. Despite the massive technological advancements in photography that have coursed through the industry since I first saw this image some 30 years ago, the impact of the subject and the location is as strong now as it was then.

I decided to shoot this for the first time this year having already done five previous editions of the race. As my partner, Iri Greco, and I researched images from previous years (a typical part of our process to challenge ourselves not to do the same or “safe” shots year after year) I came across an image from the 2001 edition of Milano-Sanremo and said to myself, ‘This is my must-have from the race this year.’ We typically shoot the race by car so our options are not as great versus being in-race on a motorbike; nonetheless we made our plan and a few obstacles notwithstanding (including a landslide that rerouted the race course) we made the spot in advance of the approaching race — timing being of the essence since this location affords extremely limited options for car parking. I was the first photographer at the location, knowing full-well most of the photographers on motos would arrive shortly. True to form, a mass of motorbikes arrived within a minute of each other. About eight or nine of us were suddenly perched on this narrow sliver of the crumbly hillside vying for space to capture that perfect shot.

As expected, the statesman of our trade, Graham Watson, arrived last and with his typical ease and elegance settled into his spot showing no stress or strain and just getting on with the work at hand. As we all stood there doing test shots for framing, composition, exposure, etc., I reflected on what and who brought me to this specific spot and a wave humility and gratitude set in as I was here alongside my colleague, and now friend, that inspired me over three decades earlier. It occurred to me that I was bestowed with a responsibility — not only to our clients and to our business but also to Graham — that I honor the work and legacy he created in cycling with images like these. And true to his character of always being the coolest cat on the course, and with his dry wit, Graham looked up at me and said with a big grin, “I was doing this shot before Luca [Luca Bettini of Bettini Photos who was standing next to me] was even born!”

The connection to my experience as a young cyclist and the realization of where the journey has taken me in such moments like this make the job of a professional cycling photographer that much richer and so very inspirational.

Key image specs:
Canon 1DX
Canon 24-70mm 2.8L II USM
1/1000 sec @ f/3.2 ISO 160
Focal Length: 47mm
File format: RAW