Treading Lightly on the Lonely Road.
I never wanted a solitary profession. One in which my colleagues were remote or virtual. One in which I had no peers or, even, adversaries. I wanted the tête-a-tête with all the camaraderie and all the challenges that feisty competition brought to the surface. When we started shooting bike racing in 2009, I immediately gravitated to fellow media folks with deeper roots in the scene. It came natural to me and I didn’t realize that it could be a much lonelier road if you chose it. There are the shooters that stick to themselves, the lone wolves, that prowl the races. There are the requisite old-school types that keep the newcomers at a distance, waiting for them to slowly tire out and disappear. And there is the expected hierarchy, and seniority, and politics that goes with any industry de rigueur. And cycling is no exception. But it doesn’t all have to be that way.
Yes, the days are long and the kilometers are endless. The job has high demands. The clients’ have even higher ones. Going the lonely road can drain the spirit and the creativity. And, well, it can be a liability. Whether you find yourself working as a TV cameraman, a journalist, a photographer, or live commentator – you will at some point find yourself in a pinch, a bind, a pickle, or a jam. It might happen daily or only once during a Grand Tour. And in these moments, lone wolf or not, you will need supporters.
One of the first things I learned when I started working around professional cycling was that bike racing was a team sport. And cycling media can be equally so. In a small handful of years, the sheer number of acts of valor, generosity, and teamwork that we have experienced from our colleagues astounds me. There are too many moments of chivalry, openness, and outright help we’ve received to name them all. But to share a few serves as our dedication to all the amazing people that exist in this traveling circus.
I don’t think Jim and I would have succeeded in covering our first Paris-Roubaix in 2009 without the unrequited assistance of veteran photographer, John Pierce, who helped guide us through the A.S.O. media credential maze. From that day on he played a bit of a mentor role with us – always willing to share trade tips and lending an inside hand. With over 40 Tours de France under his belt, he certainly had a lot of wisdom to share. And as the years play on I realize just how rare that can be.
We knew Renaat Schotte before we ever met him. Most people do. He’s the voice of moto-race commentary during The Flanders Classics, the live feed commentary for Belgian cyclocross, and does the SPORZA TV reportage at all the Grand Tours and World Tour races. Already a celebrity within his own country, we first had the chance to work together at CrossVegas on a joint project after breaking the ice at Five Guys Burgers. Not that all collaborations are sealed over greasy American patties, but with Renaat we had the makings of a lifelong bond. Two years later during the start of the Spring Classics, he offered to let us live with him and his family after our rental flat in Brugge fell through. It still nearly brings tears to my eyes to think such heart exists in this community.
This year’s Giro d’Italia was replete with such moments. Perhaps it was the long transfers, or the wildly shifting weather patterns, or the outright blizzard when half the peloton was already sick. Perhaps it was the Italian civility and hospitality that was so infectious. Whatever it was, there seemed to be an even greater sense of teamwork at play. From the loaner wool hat and scarf that Caley Fretz offered us on the first “snow” day of the Giro on top of the Jafferau to the Omega Pharma – Quick-Step ride up to the top of the Galibier that we got from team soigneurs, Halbi and Aldis, when we missed the last media shuttle to the top at 3pm. We never underestimate these small and spontaneous acts of kindness that come at the exact moment that could save our day and, therefore, our work.
The Giro pièce de résistance, however, came from fellow photographer, Kei Tsuji. After Stage 9, a race day literally swept away in torrential rains, one of our camera bodies died. No matter the rain gear and camera covers, our little Canon 5d miii up and quit with 13 more shoot days left. In a trade with outrageously expensive gear and fair bit of guardedness about sharing technical know-how, imagine our surprise when Kei offered to lend us his extra Canon 1d camera body for the remainder of the race! It’s hard to imagine how we would have performed for the rest of the Giro without this amazing gesture.
One of our most faithful friends in the bike racing scene is Chris de Vos, a soignuer with BMC Racing Team, affectionally called “Fox” by all who know him well. We first met Fox at the USA Cycling host house in Izegem, Belgium, in 2009. More like a big bear than a fox, Chris has a heart of gold. He embodies the role of soigenur – one where protecting and taking care of his charge is a life and death matter. This is the guy you want in your corner. This is the guy we called at 2am during the 2011 Tour de France when we ran out of gas on a deserted French country road. Men like him bring honor to the sport and could even make a lone wolf feel loved.
And on the topic of Fox, Tejay van Garderen (who Chris keeps protective eyes over at every race) is another white knight. From a media perspective, the riders can sometimes be elusive – hidden behind team infrastructure, race organization, or just the normal remoteness of being “the subject.” But there are riders that become friends and make your job in the scrum easier and more rewarding. Tejay is one of these guys. Bringing an air of professionalism mixed with genuine Montana humble-pie, he always gives you more than you could ask for. Another American rider that stands out in this fashion is Taylor Phinney who gives us reason to smile even on a tough day. There are endless stories of amazing moments shared with individual riders, team staff, and the whole organization that make your work feel less fierce and lonesome.
Lone Wolf be damned!