Bicycle Races / by Graham Dew

In July we took a trip into rural Essex to watch the Tour de France ride past on the stage from Cambridge to London. It was a good mini-adventure; B&B at a nice farm, a good curry the night before and a lovely bike ride through the countryside to the village of Felstead which was in party mode for the day. Standing at the corner of the road (always a good place to watch) and opposite the pub, there was a lot of funny banter as we waited for a couple of hours until the peleton flashed by. But unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of cycling to be seen. The main pack shot past in a matter of seconds, the stragglers delayed by mechanical, food or ‘comfort’ reasons in the next minute. Then it was all over and time to go home after a walk around the village and a spot of lunch.

 A much better way of getting close to the action of a bike race is to watch a criterium race. This is where a kilometre or so of a town centre is cordoned off and cyclists hare around the twisty narrow lanes for about 100 laps.  The event is free and spectators can wander around behind the barricades to find different vantage points. My home town of Winchester hosted such a race last Sunday; I happened across the event only by chance when travelling out of the town earlier in the day. On our return, I stopped off in time to see the final race of the day, the men’s elite race. 

 All I had with me was the G3 with the standard 20mm lens, so the only way to take pictures was to get in close, something that is pretty easy to do at a criterium as the riders come perilously close to the barriers. It is also easy to find a good spot to take pictures as the there are many sharp corners and the crowd is spread thinly all around the course apart from the premium position at the finish line.

I started by taking pictures using a high shutter speed but these pictures were pretty dull. Sharp backgrounds and static riders didn’t really tell of the speed and danger of the event. So I dialled down the speed of the shutter to about 1/15th, pre-focussed the camera with a small aperture, panned the camera and started blasting away. Electronic viewfinders are hard to use for sports events, so these pictures were taken by keeping one eye on the rear preview screen for composition and one watching the riders and trying to assess the peak moment. It’s one reason that we were born with two eyes...