Behind the Lens: 2018 Tour of Flanders

The weather in Europe this year has been pretty grim, with most races I’ve covered being raced in wet cold conditions. Flanders was no exception.... 

The weeks leading up to the “Queen of the Classics” see several races each week taking in parts of the main route; these are just a warm up for the main event.

The prospect of another wet cold day on the moto didn’t fill me with enthusiasm, and the weather had a dramatic effect on the size of the normally fanatical Belgian crowd. It was quite a contrast, as last year’s race played out under blue skies.

Local knowledge is key to getting the most out of photographing Belgian Classics races. The parkour is criss-crossed by dozens of farmers’ tracks, allowing you to catch the race on numerous occasions: these shortcuts are especially crucial in the last 50k, when the tempo goes up several notches and the main contenders begin to show their hands. 

The key climbs of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterburg are where the fireworks start, linked by a single-track road allowing the convoy of photo motos to speed between the two climbs. 

Once the leaders of the race have passed, it’s a quick dash back to the bike with engine running. Your pilot gives it full gas to catch the ascent of the Paterburg. Confidence in your rider is crucial; with no time to remove your helmet, you jump off the bike whilst your rider parks up. 

Shooting positions are limited as the priority is to get back on the bike and make it to the finish, so you never stray too far from your moto. 

When there’s only 15k to go to the line, this part of the race is nerve-wracking and exhilarating in equal measure; once the leaders have passed again, I dash back to the bike.

We wait for the commissaire’s signal letting us know it’s safe to go, then a dozen or so bikes head off toward the finish. Small Belgian villages flash by as we deviate from the race route in order to get ahead of the riders and beat them to the line in Oudenaarde. 

I arrive at the line full of adrenalin after the dash to the finish, and am waved through to the mixed zone with time to spare, capturing Terpstra with hands aloft.

Words & Images: Chris Auld

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