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This weekend, hundreds of thousands of fans from around the world would have been expecting to line the cobbled climbs of West Flanders, to watch their heroes race by at De Ronde. The infamous Belgian race is the opening event to cycling's 'Holy Week' which sees the two cobbled Monuments play out on consecutive Sundays around Easter.
Sadly, due to COVID-19 there will be no Holy Week in 2020. To give us our fix of Belgian racing, we thought we would catch up with friend, photographer and cyclist Chris Auld, to bring you an insight into what it's like to photograph Flanders and Roubaix from inside the race itself, complete with an image gallery from previous seasons.
I've been a professional photographer for 20 years, working across many industries and sectors. I started shooting cycling around 2015, covering the British domestic scene, I moved onto World Tour at the end of 2016.
For the past 3 years I've shot all of the major classics, the Monuments and all three Grand Tours, plus the Tour Down Under, Paris Nice, Tour de Suisse, Binck Bank Tour, World Championships, pretty much every World Tour race.
I shoot a lot of interviews and features for Pro Cycling Magazine, so the list of riders I've shot is pretty extensive, its probably easier to say who I haven’t worked with. I've worked on behalf of multiple World Tour teams, major brands and sponsors, and for race organisers themselves.
The best race to shoot by far is the Tour Down Under. Being from the cold North of East of England, jumping off to 40c temperatures is a nice escape! The weather is always awesome. The races are relatively short, and unlike pretty much ever other stage race, you can stay in the same hotel every night. The pressroom has a Barista and free bar too, so what’s not to like.
For pure excitement and adrenaline it has to be Roubaix, once the race hits the first section of Pavè its literally full gas till the finish.
Covering the Classics is all about logistics, it's normally an early start to drive to the finish line where we park the car and get picked up by my Moto Driver and taken to the start. We normally aim to arrive around two hours before the race starts.
Flanders has a pretty extravagant team presentation which is always worth shooting, Roubaix is a bit more low key.
The main objective other than getting around safely is to service my clients as best as possible, as well as telling the story of the race. I always try and paint a picture of the race, so even if you've not seen the race, you get a feel for the atmosphere, the weather, the full gas racing, the suffering, and the glory.
Different clients will want different types of shots, so I need to ensure I get everything covered as best as is possible. The main goal is to shoot bangers, plain and simple.
I've just changed over to the newly released Canon EOS 1 DX Mark iii, although I'm yet to shoot a race with it due to the current lockdown. For the last three years I’ve used the Mark ii. I use two bodies, one with a long lens, 100-400mm and the other fitted with a wide 24-70mm. I also carry a slightly shorter 70-200mm plus a wider 16-35mm, plus a standard 50mm f1.2 for something a bit more 'arty'.
The big Classics are always shot from Moto, it just makes life easier as traffic can be bad with spectators trying to see the race as many times as possible. If you're driving, It's so easy to get your car blocked in while shooting and if that happens that’s game over.
The route is a pretty tried and tested formula, especially at Roubaix, as long as the Moto in front knows where he’s going it's normally pretty straightforward, if not it's an absolute maze with farm tracks crisscrossing the route if you get lost you're out of the game.
My Moto rider is an ex Pro Cyclist, Frank Kersten, he used to race with the PDM team back in the day of Greg Lemond. Moto riders with a UCI license are in pretty short supply so once you find one you hang on to them. Riders are normally found by word of mouth, everybody knows everybody and it's a pretty small circle.
Routes and shooting locations are pretty much cast in stone, most photographers stop at the same points, there is no point trying to reinvent the wheel with the classics, everyone knows the key iconic locations. The Muur, the Paterberg, the Oude-Kwaremont etc.
The two biggest Classics of the season aren’t the time to get arty and experiment with new ideas.
There’s various reasons for choosing a spot, the overriding reason in the Classics is how easy it is to get to your next location. It's all about seeing the race as many times as possible to get the maximum number of shots. I also take into account where attacks may happen or where the race maybe won or lost, plus you also have those iconic shots of the most famous Bergs and stretches of Pavè.
My favourite locations are the Carrefour de l'Arbre and the Paterberg in Flanders. Both sectors are pretty much the last throws of the dice for the riders and photographers. By this time in the race the excitement is at fever pitch and its when your day as a rider and photographer can be won or lost.
With these two locations being so close to the finish its literally full gas to the line on the moto, one wrong turn and it could spell disaster. From leaving the Paterberg we get to the finish line with literally minutes to spare before the race is won. It makes you realise how fast these guys actually ride, when you're trying to stay ahead of the chasing peloton on a moto.
During the race we have pretty much no idea what is happening. We have a race radio which we can garner some information from, such as the length of any breaks but other than that we're pretty blind.
At both Roubaix and Flanders we have Hors Course Accreditation which means we can ride the route outside of the race convoy, where only agency or pool bikes are allowed within the race envelope at Flanders and Roubaix.
The cobbled Classics are normally a bit of a blur, everything happens so quickly and you're so focused on the job in hand. Looking back at the shots I guess the most memorable shot is Peter Sagan and Silvan Dillier working together on the Carrefour de l'Arbre 2018 or Van de Poel chasing back on at Flanders 2019.
Fortunately I've not shot a wet Roubaix or Flanders and I don’t particularly want to, purely for self-preservation. Those cobbles are incredibly slippery when wet and falling off a Moto hurts, a lot.
The weather makes a huge difference to the pictures you get, with a dry race you're focusing on the effects of dust, at a wet race it's riders caked in mud and grime.
Nobody wants it to be wet, riders or photographers. Equipment gets ruined and riders crash, it does make great pictures and great viewing on TV but the risks outway the rewards.
Our day isn’t done after the race finishes. It's straight to the press room for around three hours worth of editing. We need to send the urgent shots to clients as soon as possible, then it's working through the 2000-3000 images taken take during the race.