Stage 11: Carcassonne – Montpellier
Stage 11: Carcassonne – Montpellier
Wednesday, 13th July 2016
Wednesday, 13th July 2016

Yesterday, A.S.O. (the people who run Le Tour) gave me a call to tell me that there would be a motorbike waiting for me at the start of Stage 11, and to be ready at 1pm sharp. Who was I to argue?

This was my first experience as a photo-moto (not to be confused with phomo or FOMO). One of our crew has been trying to get ‘motographer’ off the ground for a good year now, to avoid the above confusion, but is yet to reach any sort of significant groundswell or tipping-point towards getting it adopted into the cycling media’s vernacular (the number of converts is currently still standing at a less-than-overwhelming zero).

I will say this about my fledgling career as a photo-moto - it is definitely an interesting, and very different, experience for a photographer - with a steep learning curve. By steep, I mean a granny-gear-grinding, eye-bulging, get-off-your-bike-and-walk kind of steep. Just so we’re clear.

I met my driver for the stage, 'Moto Mark' (although the back of his helmet read 'Tilly'), a veteran of the game. It was clear from the start that ours would be a relationship of few words - he spoke about as much English as I do French. Luckily we are both the strong, silent type - 162km is a fairly long way to ride in awkward silence, especially with so many body parts crushed in together...

Accordingly, Moto Mark didn’t give me too much lip as I encountered my first challenge as an aspiring photo-moto - getting on the bike. With a camera over each shoulder and wearing jeans that were already in the fairly-restrictive-yet-fashionable bracket, I finally managed to mount the Kawasaki beast - ready to get in amongst the riders for Stage 11. Still, I couldn't help but think a few of them were already having a chuckle. Thanks Froomey...

I faced my second challenge almost as soon as starting orders were given, and I went to turn in my seat for the photo. It just so happens that it is much harder to rotate and get a photo behind you than I had initially thought. Unsurprisingly, I’m currently writing this with a couple of cold beers taped on my back in lieu of an ice pack.

The third challenge was the constant jarring and bumping that threatened to unseat myself and my cameras. This made framing my shot, let alone focusing, way harder than when standing on solid ground. I imagine it was not unlike trying to take family portraits of fidgeting children on the back of a mechanical rodeo bull.

During the race, the motorbikes are only allowed near the peloton for surprisingly small amounts of time. This is controlled by one guy who seems to be constantly standing up on the pegs and, in true western euro fashion, ‘talking’ with his hands. For the sake of painting a mental picture, we’ll call him ‘The Conductor’, on account of his sweeping, orchestral-like arrangements. Alternatively, he would be right at home as an air traffic controller, all he needed were some fluro paddles to go with his OTT gestures. Either way, he would usher one photo-moto at a time to approach the peloton to grab some shots, before promptly admonishing them back to the pack. Nothing like a bit of performance pressure to add to the stress of my first day on the job!

After several incidents in recent years, the motorbikes can no longer pass the peloton on narrow roads (The Conductor would pop a blood vessel). Accordingly, I had to change my style and instead look for opportunities in the road where we could pull alongside and look across to the bunch, instead of stopping.

Fortunately, the motos can get much closer to the breakaways, able to move ahead of the riders, or drop back behind them, as they please. This made for some good shots, as the viewpoint changed with each turn of the road - and as each of the riders took turns on the front.

All in all I was happy with the image haul from the stage, and just super excited to have had the opportunity to try my hand as a novice photo-moto. However, let’s call this one an experiment - next time I’ll know what i’m getting myself into!

See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.
Stage 21: Chantilly - Paris Champs Élysées
Stage 17: Berne - Finhaut-Emosson


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