Monday, May 4, 2009

Maynard and Steve....oh, and Lance and Levi

In this fine Casey Gibson image from VeloNews Online, we see Levi Leipheimer in the Gila leader's jersey and what's-his-name from Austin wearing a black Mellow Johnny jersey. 

On the left we see a guy in a white motorcycle helmet. That's mechanic Steve Donovan of Denver, Colorado. If you look carefully, you'll see a guy in front of Steve on the motor. He's wearing a blue outfit and a yellow helmet. 

That's your blogger, watching the action on the final climb of the last stage, the Gila Monster, of the '09 Tour of the Gila.


Jim Feeley said...

Geez, best seat in the house. Sounds like fun

jeff said...

...and if you ever return to Mavic SSC, then shall I jump from a moto.

Great to see you - another reason to regret not going to The Gila this year.


philcycles said...

It is fun but here's a slightly different view.
Phil Brown

CHASE THE RACE by Phil Brown

I spent Saturday at a bicycle race but I have no idea who won. I was part of the race but I wasn't on a bicycle. I rode alongside the riders on the toughest climbs but I didn't even breathe hard. I had a great time.
About a month ago I got a phone call from my friend Maynard. I've known him for many years and we've ridden many miles together. He asked me if I would like to haul a photographer on my motorcycle at a bicycle road race, just like the Tour de France. Maynard's been doing this for years and you've seen many pictures taken from the back of his BMW. He's a great rider, smooth and fast. I was honored to be asked and I said yes.
Then I had second thoughts. This is a tough, demanding job. One mistake could send riders scattering all over the road. Was I good enough? Jim The Photographer said Maynard's recommendation was good enough for him. He knew it was going to be my first time. He said it was a low key race and it'll be fun. He almost convinced me.
And so after a cold early morning ride over the Grapevine I arrived at the race. First I had to find Jim, whom I had never met, and after a short search I did. He turned out to be a big guy. Now, when you think about putting a passenger on your motor (that's what they call them, bikes are bicycles) beautiful women are at the top of the list, not burly photographers. I turned the preload on my shocks up a notch. We talked a little about what we'd be doing and what the course was like. It was about eleven miles long along closed roads with two steep climbs and descents per lap. First we'd shoot the women's race and then the pro men’s race. The women's race would be good for me to learn the ropes. It'll be fun, he said, let's go.
The first thing we did was go to the first climb and wait for the women's bunch to arrive. When they did we were going to pace them up the hill to get those great shots of climbing riders you've seen so often.
Here's how it's done. You wait on the hill (steep, remember) for the bunch to approach. As they do you start up the hill, trying not to burn out your clutch, as slow as you can go. On a big BMW twin this means you can feel each cylinder firing. As the bunch pulls abreast you speed up slightly and the fun begins.
Motors like to go fast. They would also like the passenger to stay in one position. Neither condition obtains when photographing a bike race. We were moving at a brisk walk and Jim was twisting and turning behind me taking photos. As he twisted and turned so did the motor. Did I mention that we were on a narrow two lane road with steep dirt shoulders? With the riders taking up about a lane and a half? Furthermore, he had to get shots of specific people and so we moved up and down the bunch looking for the right riders. I have never worked so hard or concentrated so intensely on a motorcycle in my life. I have never been so glad to see the top of a hill, either.
We let them go on the descent. There was no way I could keep up with the bikes downhill. At the bottom of the hill we caught the bunch on flat roads and paced them for a while. It was great. Jim took some shots and then we sprinted ahead to the second climb to take some side of the road stuff. That done we followed the peloton over the hill and down to the flats on the other side for more pacing. Then we short-cut the course to the first climb to wait for the race to come back to us. This set the pattern for the day. After the first lap I realized that I could do this and started to relax. Did I mention that I was tense?
About halfway through the race a six woman break formed. Jim had been hoping that would happen because a small group is better to photograph. The riders formed a double paceline that was poetry in motion. They seemed to flow along the road and I was beside them with Jim shooting. I was thrilled and honored to be a part of it.
On the last lap after the second climb we shot the break and then sprinted ahead to the finish line. The ride to the line was a blast. The roads were closed and there were no police to watch for. In fact, the police were stopping traffic and waving us through as we flew along at seventy miles per hour. We got there with time to spare and Jim got his picture of the sprint. Who won? I have no idea.
There was no time to relax though because the pro men's race had already started. It was a big course. The men's race was more of everything, bigger field, faster riders, more intense all round. By this time I was getting the hang of things and was starting to enjoy myself. A motor is without question the best place to watch a bike race. You can see just how hard it is.You are part of a delicate ballet of bicycle, motor, and car, each depending on the other to do exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. It was exhilarating.
The best part was the last lap A two man break was about ten seconds ahead of a chase group of five with the bunch further back. We setup at the top of the last climb to shoot the break and chase from the roadside. After they passed we tucked in behind for the descent to the flats. When we got there the chase group was in full attack using the full width of the road. We needed to get by to shoot the break and go on to the finish. The trick is to get by without interfering with the racers or allowing them to use you for shelter because they will. We were looking for a chance when one side of the road cleared for an instant. I nailed the throttle and we flew through the gap. We got to the two man break and paced them for a few seconds while Jim fired off a few frames. Then it was on to the finish line. Once again it was a fabulous feeling flying through the crowd along the road. For some reason they were cheering us. It was wonderful. Once again we got there in time for Jim to shoot the sprint. Who won? I have no idea.
Needless to say I had a great time. It was fascinating to see a bike race from the inside. Even when I raced I didn't see what happened in the bunch because I was usually shot off the back rather quickly. It was fun to see riders talking, eating and even laughing at more than twenty-five miles per hour. Watching from the roadside or on the television just isn't the same. Jim got his pictures and said I did a good job. Did I say I had a good time? When can I do it again?