The Shot: Sagan’s savage Flanders attack

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 Tour of Flanders, 255km

Peter Sagan attacks on the final pass of the Paterberg, 13 kilometers from the finish in Oudenaarde.

I had learned from previous years of covering the Ronde, and from other photographers before then, that the second pass of the Paterberg was “the place” to get the decisive moment of the race.

There are several ways to shoot the action of the Paterberg and as photographers you have to decide what your motivation is — where on the climb you shoot. The Paterberg is close enough to Oudenaarde that if you stay there too long, you could miss the finish. We discussed doing a shot from the bottom looking up at the climb. We knew the middle of the climb was the best angle for the action and the flags, fans, and environment as a whole. We had also already decided that Jim would shoot from the top (the least attractive angle of the Paterberg) in order to make a quick exit to the finish line. In the 2015, I shot in the middle of the climb, just above the steepest pitch. From that vantage point, you can get the telephoto shot of them approaching from the bottom and, if your timing is right, you can get their profile on the steep pavé. But anytime you try to shoot two angles in the same spot you risk missing the chasing rider(s) if you pan with the leader.

On Sunday, Sagan and Sep Vanmarcke arrived at the base of the Paterberg in tandem and started the climb. Looking through the viewfinder, it was hard to tell who would attack first from their respective positions. As they started the 22 percent grade, however, I saw Sagan attack. Capturing great moments in the race is as much about watching — and processing — as it is about the technical aspects of maintaining focus, frame, exposure, etc. When I saw Sep’s head slowly start to hang, I knew Sagan would break clear and I could get a perfectly “clean” profile shot of him alone on the Paterberg.

As I took the first of several frames, I noticed Peter’s head start to turn, frame by frame. Instead of getting the profile shot of Sagan and quickly pivoting back to Sep I stayed with Sagan. As he climbed up toward the summit of the Paterberg, he looked back over his shoulder at the widening gap between him and Sep. This was, in my eyes, the key point of the race. The instant that he knew he got away. And would stay away until he met the line in Oudenaarde.

Key image specs:
Canon EOS-1D X
Canon 16-35mm 2.8L II USM
1/500 sec @ f/3.2 ISO 100
Focal Length: 16mm
File format: RAW