Cover photo: Greg Hull shooting at Tour de France 2015
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
No matter which bike race we are covering, rarely a day goes by without people telling us how they wished they could do what we do. It’s true, covering pro cycling is pretty cool.
But, it’s also a lot of work. We multitask and function on little sleep to get it done – and, we honestly rarely accomplish everything we want to in a day before it’s time to move on to the next town. So, I thought I’d share what it’s like with life on the road covering the Tour de France. I chose stage 3 which began in Antwerp and ended on the Mur de Huy to provide a glimpse into our day.
First thing each morning, after attempting to remember what town we are in, is to grab the laptop, check social media, post the day’s route map, and have a look again at the technical race guide to plan the day.
Each race provides a technical race guide for the teams, support staff, and media that contains route information, time schedules, maps, parking locations, team hotels and host city information. It is frequently referred to as the “race bible.”
Following a quick shower and jamming everything back in the bags, it’s back to editing photos from the day before. We each typically shoot several hundred to a thousand images in a day, so many photos will remain unedited until after the race.
At this stop, we stayed in the same hotel as Movistar. Heading down to check out, we step off the elevator into a lobby filled with fans waiting in hopes of getting a photo or autograph from Quintana or Valverde.
Not disappointing, Valverde appears just after us and stops for photos with fans.
We head out the door and make our way behind the Movistar guys to the stage start, which is about a 10-minute walk from the hotel through the crowds.
We also frequently hear, “You get to see so many awesome places.” Yes, sort of. We see a lot of hotel rooms, whatever is along the side of the road as we head from start to finish each day and the scenery at the starts and finishes.
Unfortunately, there is rarely – make that never – anytime for sightseeing or exploring the beautiful host cities we find ourselves in each day. Some of the sights are stunning, such as the stage 3 start location in the center of Antwerpen/Antwerp/Anvers (it’s Antwerpen in Dutch-Flemish, Antwerp in English, Anvers in French) and at the finish in Huy.
Shooting the start is the most relaxed part of each day. Riders are casual as they sign in, which at the Tour de France, is actually a push of a button by each rider creating an electronic signature.
Following sign in, riders stop by the PowerBar tent for some snacks, chat with one another, and sign autographs for fans. On this morning, Tommy Voeckler also stopped by the Vittel water station and used some water from the melted ice to wash his tires.
As sign-in grows to a close, we head to the start line. Each day actually has two starts – an unofficial start, where we were near the sign-in and an official start after a parade route/neutral zone. The riders line up, and after they depart, they ride through the neutral zone and then stop again for another ceremony and the official start.
As soon as the riders set off, we grab a takeout lunch and head for the car. Next stop, Huy.
Meanwhile back in Boulder….
A 1:00 pm start in Belgium means a 5:00 am start in Colorado when Todd Hofert rolls out of bed, turns on the race and begins to write. The one disadvantage of covering a race in person is that you actually see very little of it. We have the app on our phones and in Europe, the race is streamed on the Tour website with the ability to switch between moto feeds, which is really cool.
However, in reality, the majority of our day is spent navigating the off-course itinerary and editing a few photos to put up during the race. Some days we intersect with the actual race course for some mid-stage coverage, but not on this stage as we anticipated (correctly) that the Mur de Huy would be quite crowded.
Which brings us back to Todd, who writes the stage recap as it happens throughout the race, capturing the events as they occur, which on stage 3, included some serious crashes.
Like Hansel and Gretel and their breadcrumbs, the race leaves a trail of signs for us to follow on an alternate route from the race to guide us from the start city to the finish line. In many locations, we actually drive the last part of the race route, which is quite helpful in understanding the last kilometers of the race course.
On the way through Huy a couple of guys stopped us and asked for a ride, so they piled in the back and we headed up the hill.
Press parking and the press center is normally very close to the finish line at races. We typically stop by the press center to grab water, head out to scout our locations to shoot the finish, then wait.
The riders hit the finish line, with today’s winner being Team Katusha’s Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez. Chris Froome (Team Sky) was second and Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R La Mondiale) was third.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), who started the day in yellow, crashed mid-way through the stage and was forced to abandon the Tour. Chris Froome (Team Sky) moved into the overall race lead.
Races are carefully choreographed presentations with thousands of people handling the countless tasks that occur each day in multiple locations. Podium at the Tour de France is managed down to the last detail, with a “director” changing the stage background with the push of a button as each jersey is presented and cueing timing with signs.
After shooting podium, we head back into the press center, which at the Tour is massive. Todd’s article is usually in my inbox when I sit down and power up my computer and TravelWifi, our personal wifi. Travel Wifi is a sponsor and is what’s keeping us connected throughout the entire Tour no matter where we happen to be – in our hotel, in our car, in the press center, or out shooting on course.
Results go up, the recap article gets added, we each quickly edit & add the finish line and podium photos. Rider comments are added as they are obtained.
Time to head out for our hotel – always a slow process as the thousands of cars leave the parking areas and head through the small European streets.
Our stage 3 hotel was in Namur, about 40 km away. Planning and scheduling hotels for the entire Tour took a little over three days of work and has to be done after host cities are announced but before the actual race route is published, which takes a bit of guesswork and a lot of searching.
We arrive and the guys we gave a ride up the hill were sitting in our hotel lobby. Quelle coïncidence!
Time for wine, dinner and editing photos. We head to the bar, grab a table near a power outlet, and begin to work again.
11:00 pm – 1:00 am
Back upstairs for more work. Stage 4 is the cobble stage, so we make our plans on which sectors to cover then decide to call it a day at 1:00 am.
One day of 21 at the Tour de France.