I’ve been racing bikes since 2014, and naturally, became a fan of professional cycling as well. I always figured I’d go and watch the pros race at some point in my life, and likely at the Tour of California since it’s the closest professional race to me here in Seattle, but just never knew when that would be. I’m a husband and a father with 6 and 8 year old Fenglets, and a family trip to watch professional cyclists simply didn’t seem possible. Little did I know that “someday” would materialize last week.
I was asked to shoot a wedding down in San Francisco on Thursday, 5/18, and while arranging travel plans I realized the Amgen Tour of California was happening that very same week. I asked my wife if it’d be possible for me to head down earlier to catch the first stage or 2 of the race on Sunday and Monday and she said I could. My wife…I definitely don’t deserve her, but if you know our family at all, you’re already well aware of that fact.
So I’d originally planned to just go and watch two stages since they were relatively close to my brother’s place in Sunnyvale. Then I thought I should try and apply for a media credential but saw on the application that I had to be affiliated with some sort of publication or website to apply. I then asked David Longdon, author of the Velocity: The Seattle Area Cycling Blog, if he’d allow me to apply under his blog and he did! I crossed my fingers, said a quick prayer, and submitted my application for a media credential for the first stage only. The next day when I received confirmation that the credential was approved, I couldn’t believe it. As I read further, not only was my credential approved for the first stage, but it was good for the entire race.
And thus began the trip of a lifetime.
Stage 1: Sacramento
Staging at my first World Tour race. Glistening bikes everywhere. Riders I’d only seen on Youtube or TV standing right in front of me. I even got in their way as they were rolling towards the stage for the team presentations. It was mind-blowing to say the least.
Then Marcel Kittel and the Quick-Step Floors squad rolled towards where I was standing. I had to pinch myself. And yes, Kittel’s hair is unreal.
Then the current World Champion of Cycling appeared and the crowd went crazy. I’m not one to get starstruck but I’ll admit I got a bit jelly-legged until I was able to collect myself…”Stay cool, act like you belong…stay cool, act like you belong…” It was awesome to see in person just how accommodating Sagan was to the fans’ requests for autographs and his attention. You always want your heroes to be good dudes…and he’s a good dude.
Once all the teams were announced, the race began. I pulled the rookie move of getting stuck in traffic and wasn’t able to get to the spots I wanted to go to, so I headed back to downtown Sacramento where the Amgen Breakaway From Heart Disease Women’s Race was concluding with its final stage with a 20-lap, 90 minute circuit race around downtown Sacramento. At first I took my usual place behind the barriers and behind rows of other fans and strained to get position for a shot. I then noticed another photographer in front of the barriers next to a cameraman and for the first time realized the true power of the media credential. I walked past the security guard, positioned myself next to the other photographer in front of the barriers, and pinched myself before settling in.
A few crashes had happened before I arrived and there were a few break attempts from a few different teams in the final laps, but ultimately Giorgia Bronzini of Wiggle High5 wrested the sprint from crowd-favorite Coryn Rivera of Team Sunweb to take the stage.
After the women’s race concluded, the men returned from their 3 laps around downtown Sacramento to wrap up their first stage.
I then learned that for race finishes, there was a designated area in front of the barriers for photographers to stand and capture the finish, but you had to get a special blue vest to be allowed to stand there. Though I asked for one, I wasn’t fortunate enough to get a vest, but thankfully I got a good spot behind the barriers and just beyond the line to capture the finish. The Quick Step Floors leadout was timed to perfection and Kittel took the sprint by a good margin.
I tried to get as much advice from other photographers as I could, and Andy Bokanev (the guy’s work is killer if you haven’t seen it before…and you should!) told me to dash over to where the soigneurs were just beyond the line as that’s where the riders would stop and hang out for a bit while getting rehydrated. Definitely amongst the best tips of the entire week.
That’s me in the red shirt on the right from the video coverage of the stage! Seriously. This credential had to have been made of fairy dust and unicorn hooves.
Stage 1 was unreal. My first day covering a professional bike race absolutely blew my mind. I figured it couldn’t get any better than this. Little did I know it could. Stay tuned for recaps of the next 3 stages I had the privilege of covering!