Some Races Are Easier Than Others
Appalling conditions on the Eschborn-Frankfurt 217 km Road Race
Over the May Bank Holiday weekend, we had pilots booked to shoot three consecutive live events. On the Saturday, the women's stage of the Tour de Yorkshire (live on ITV 4); on the Sunday, the Birmingham 10k (Channel 5) and; on the Monday, Germany's largest one day cycle race with a world class field - the gruelling 217 km Eschborn-Frankfurt (live world feed / Eurosport).
The 122 km Women's Tour de Yorkshire event went without hitch. The weather was fine, the temperature comfortable and whilst women's cycling is exciting, the power and speed of sudden attacks is not quite that of the world elite of men's cycling - giving the crews an albeit, slightly, easier job. And a relatively short distance too with Britain's Lizzie Deignan winning the race in a little over three hours. The only issues really were the twisting, bumpy and narrow lanes of the Yorkshire Dales that proved a challenge at times in holding steady continuous shots for the live broadcast.
Next up was the Birmingham 10k. Again live throughout but with world class athletes covering the distance in less than half an hour, a much less arduous affair. Normally in these events the real problem for the motocam teams is keeping the motorcycle stable at relatively low speeds (compared to cycling). Also, with that, is the constant changing between first and second gear and often feathering of the clutch to find the sweet spot for the engine.
However the new all electric, continuous drive BMW C-Evolution has changed all that. Now slow speed events such as running and speed walking are smooth, stable and easy. The only real problem is when the motocam crews are sent back into the mass participation events to film colour. Here the silent running of the Evo means that pilots have to be extra vigilant when shooting in amongst the thousands of runners that line the streets kerb to kerb.
The last event of the weekend, the Eschborn-Frankfurt proved to be an entirely different prospect. Our crews from the U.S., Belgium, France, Germany and the U.K. had been booked in order to get more into the action of the race than crews in previous years. No pressure then.
As we arrived at the television station to collect the camera motorcycles (on foreign events, bikes are normally provided by the television / RF company) we prayed that we'd be provided with BMW R1200GSs, the standard-issue camera bike for high speed, twisty, world class cycling events. Surely in Germany?!
What we actually got were huge touring biased FJR1300 Yamahas. Not bad bikes in themselves but massive lumps on twisting cobbled streets and when loaded with a camera op and what seemed to be a tonne of RF and communications equipment. Worse though was the fact that they had no footplates fitted (to offer camera op stability when standing) and the extra wide panniers for the kit left the camera op with no room to operate and the pilot with little room to pass or ride amongst the 160 rider strong peloton. The mid mounted mast compromised the movement further and left the operator without the stabilising option provided when the mast is rear mounted.
On top of this the cameras didn't have stabilising lenses, meaning that we would have to be a lot closer to the subject than we would with a stabilised lens option to gain steady shots. All this and a course that was really narrow and extremely twisty and cobbled in many places. Also it was to pour it down for the whole five and a half hour race with temperatures down to just four degrees at the top of the mountains.
Certainly we were anxious the night prior. It was a top quality field that involved all of the top Pro Cycling teams and riders including Alexander Kristoff (eventual winner) and World Champion Peter Sagan (one of the best bike handlers in the business). To descend with and output good shots alongside these guys in the pouring rain with the kit we were provided with was a daunting prospect. Early night then!
As things turned out and despite the ill suited equipment and appalling conditions (even Kristoff remarked that it was the coldest one he could remember), things went really well. We were always right at the heart of the action - at one point alongside the front of the field at over 70 mph! But hard work and intense concentration for the whole of the race had certainly drained us all.; I know, I for one slept all the way back to Manchester that evening! A mixed weekend and one that really demonstrates the diversity of our occupation.