Cover photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media
Ever wonder what it’s like to ride in one of the cars on the course of a pro cycling race?
The cycling photography aspect of Chasing Light Media provides opportunities to view pro cycling races from numerous vantage points, including within the peloton. One of the most frequent questions we get, is what riding with the peloton is like, so here’s a recap of a typical day…
A carefully choreographed caravan
A pro cycling race is much more than some guys on bikes riding at high rates of speed on a given day.
The race route is carefully planned months in advance and requires the efforts of hundreds, if not thousands, of people to ensure the race is both safe for riders and enjoyable for fans. As each race day dawns, the roads are closed to the public, as a mix of motorcycles and cars travel amongst the 100+ bike riders, carefully weaving in and out of the cyclists to support them and provide race coverage for fans worldwide.
Who’s in those cars & on those motorcycles?
A variety of people.
First, there are the organizers of the race. That includes race officials, marshalls and race operations personnel that ride throughout the race ensuring the riders are safe and the course is as secure as possible.
Next, communications. Race radio keeps everyone updated on the status throughout the race. Information continually flows over the radio with information on riders, locations and current conditions. An example of an update… “The lead group is 40 seconds off the front and includes 11 riders. The riders are 51 5 – 1, 91 9 – 1, 45 4 – 5…”
Team support cars. Each team has a couple of support cars carrying extra bikes and supplies to assist their riders on the course with flats, broken chains, etc.
VIPs. Let’s not forget that it takes money to support a race. VIPs pay up to a reported $10,000 to ride in a car during certain races.
Press. The motorcycle photographers roam in and out of the riders and along the route to get shots as the race progresses. We were in one of the media cars that carries the press during the race.
And, there are other vehicles, including medical support.
So, what do you do in the car?
We start out ahead of the peloton. Typically, a few miles out, we stop and wait along the side of the road for the riders to “catch up,” then, when they get close, we proceed out ahead of the group.
We ride along, listening for news on race radio, waiting for the breakaway. Just before the sprint, we were notified that we could fall into the gap (area between the breakaway and the peloton) after the sprint.
Our driver stops periodically along side of the road so we can get shots of the breakaway as they pass. We then start again, this time in between the break and the main group. As a chase forms, the process is repeated, then we fall in behind those riders.
The first climb
The route on this day of the final stage of the Tour of Utah was fairly simple – flat with two huge climbs.
On the first climb, the breakaway fractured with gaps forming between the riders as they made their way up the 2.15-miles with up to 22 percent grades. It was hot and the riders were suffering as we passed them on the climb.
After going over the top and the first King of the Mountain (KOM) point, we passed the feed zone, and then we flew down the winding descent, just ahead of the helicopter.
A race back to the finish line
Now ahead of the riders, with just the final pass waiting between us and the finish line, we race ahead to get to the finish line before the riders.
On this day, we arrived back in Park City just about the time the first of the riders went over the pass and began their descent into town. Jumping out of the car at the finish line, we took our places on the course with the other photographers and about 10 minutes later, the riders hit town and race to the finish line.