“Hey Scott. I have a proposition. Would you be interested in potentially working with Team BridgeLane later this year and shooting the Tour of Utah?” read the message that dropped into my inbox. Would I be interested in shooting Australia’s most successful Continental cycling team, responsible for launching the World Tour careers of Richie Porte, Nathan Haas, Nathan Earle (and many others) at America’s Toughest Stage Race? 100% yes.
I was tasked with taking daily shots of pre, during and post each stage which would be used on BridgeLane’s social media and provided to their sponsors for promotion who make racing at these events possible.
The Larry H Miller Tour of Utah, aptly nicknamed “America’s Toughest Stage”, for 2019 consisted of a prologue and 6 stages starting at Snowbird Alpine Resort and finishing at Park City. The stages would cover 477 miles and 38k feet of elevation gain. Wild.
Nikkor 70-200mm f4
Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 (thanks JB)
Nikkor 50mm f1.8
4 SD Cards
1 laptop (which died, more on that later)
1 Surface Pro (new purchase in Salt Lake City)
2 External HDs
I landed in Salt Lake City on Saturday August 10 and was picked up by Tom the team owner/manager and taken to our hotel. I would be staying with the team in the team lodging, sharing meals, transportation etc. I had time for a quick shower before we headed up to Snowbird for the team presentations.
The squad consisted of 7 riders, aged 19 to 33 and featured an Olympian, multiple national champions but most importantly all round top guys who rips on bikes. The team presentation was inside a big tent at the top of Snowbird. I think the organisers missed a trick by not holding the presentations outside with Snowbirds beautiful mountain backdrops. Next year maybe?
Sunday morning, pre breakfast, I turned on my laptop and was greeted with a BiOS screen and a message that it couldn’t find a bootup device. Super cool. My laptop was bricked and was now an expensive paperweight. Super cool.
After braekfast we went to the Capital building to grab a team photo and then the plan was to follow the boys on a shakeout ride but they took a road that cars couldn’t drive down and we lost them but met up at the brew shop (Campos - an Australian cafe!).
After we got back to the hotel I jumped on an electric Scooter and headed to Best Buy and decided to buy a Surface Pro. An expense I didn’t see coming but hey I had been looking at a Surface for a while and there was no time like the present.
Prologue - Snowbird Resort
The prologue was a 5.3km loop around the Snowbird Resort sitting with a pretty nasty little climb gaining over 200m. Snowbird also sits at 2,365m above sea level and was a tough test for the team. We had 3 riders in the top 30 and could have possibly had Hayden in the leaders jersey (+30”) if he didn’t slide out on the first corner.
The prologue was the least stressful of the stages to get around as I was able to borrow an electric road bike from Giant who were having a demo weekend in the village. I started at the start line and made my way around the course capturing our 7 riders from different spots.
Stage 1 - North Logan City
The first stage of the tour started in North Logan City heading out for two laps of a rural KOM before heading back to North Logan City for a 3 lap finishing circuit. The rough plan of the day was to jump in a car with Wil Matthews (@photowil) after the start to shoot the rural KOM before heading back to the finishing circuit climb and then heading to the finish. We were lucky enough to grab a ride with another photograher Cathy Fegan-Kim (@cottonsox_photo) in her Porsche for the trip out and back, neat!
The stage finished in a selective bunch kick, our boys missed the selection but everyone but got through the stage unscathed. Later that night however, word trickled down from the team bosses that we were losing two of our riders to illness.
Stage 2 - Brigham City to Powder Mountain
I headed down for breakfast and got some disappointing news that a couple of our key guys were out with illness and wouldn’t be racing the rest of the tour, leaving us with 5 riders for the rest of the week. The profile for stage 2 was straight up nasty. A lot of the chatter with the team was about how the road to powder mountain wouldn’t actually be legal if it was built today, yep it was that steep. My plan for the day was to shoot the start, jump into the van to the feedzone shoot the feedzone and then get into the second team car which would be taking a deviation from the race circuit and heading up the climb.
Not everything went quite to plan! After I took the shot at the feedzone from a rock face, I was sliding down to get to the team car and sliced my hand on a rock! It was bleeding quite a bit so we pulled up next to the medical car to get some antiseptic cream and bandages which got me through the stage. We got to the climb at the 5km to go point where the team had some “tippers” (water for tipping on the riders heads) and water for taking on the bike. After our first 3 riders came through we got notification that Team Car 1 had overheated and couldn’t get any further up the climb. We jumped in our car and weaved through the riders so we could follow our GC guy Scott Bowden up the climb. Scotty had a ripper ride and came in 10th on the stage and I got 3 stitches for my efforts!
Stage 3 - Antelope Island State Park to North Salt Lake
This stage started in the very picturesque Antelope Island State Park; home to many Bison but not many coffee shops. After the start the boys who were no longer racing planned to grab a coffee before heading to the feedzone. On the way out I bumped into Cathy again who had a spare spot in her car. So I upgraded rides and got to shoot a couple of extra spots, that’s a win in my books!
The course was relatively flat until the suburban KOM circuit in North Salt Lake and was a perfect day for a break. Each of the boys (except our GC rider Scott) had a crack at getting in the break. Eventually one stuck and Hayden solo bridged across just before the first lap of the KOM circuit. Unfortunately the GC teams turned the screws on the last lap and managed to pull the break back. Hayden collected 14 points enough to sit second on KOM and Scott finished 9th on stage. A really solid day out for the team.
Stage 4 - Salt Late City
The course for Friday was set at night on an 8 lap circuit around downtown Salt Lake City and logistically it was the easiest for me to get around. I used a combination of running and Lime Scooters to get around the course. With a media credential the scooter was mostly easy except for a couple of overzealous marshals but I made do.
For the team the race was going well with Hayden making his way across to the big break. Unfortunately for Hayden, a combination of factors led to him celebrating a lap early. These things happen in cycling all the time, amateur and pro. I was so impressed with Hayden’s attitude towards what had happened on stage. He was obviously disappointed not to win the stage and to celebrate early, but the way he handled himself on the podium (he won most aggressive on the stage) and in the interviews post race was very impressive.
It was a late night for us, after the presentations were done we headed up to Park City for the last two stages. By the time I had eaten and edited photos from the day it was well after midnight.
Stage 5 - Canyons Village at Park City
Stage 5 started and finished in Park City utilising the Olympic Parkway KOM. The day would be a tough one to shoot without a photo moto so the plan was to hit the feed zone with the team and then get dropped off somewhere on the climb to the Olympic Parkway KOM.
The team’s goal for the day was to get Hayden in the break to make a run at the KOM jersey. The break worked out really well with both Hayden and Dylan making it into the day’s breakaway. The feedzone wasn’t as scenic as Stage 2 but you can’t win them all. The final climb was under construction and there was a section of hard packed dirt for about a kilometre so I decided that would be my spot. I found a digger that I climbed on and was able to watch the race on the Tour Tracker and see the riders enter the bottom of the KOM.
Having strength in numbers in the break meant that Dylan was able to attack and force the other teams to chase. Eventually Lachlan Morton went across and Hayden stayed glued to his wheel. After the GC group went past I jumped in team car 2 who was following Scott up the climb. It was really cool to listen to the radio communication to Hayden through the descent and the finale whilst also leaning out of the car and shooting Scott up the climb. I think my favourite pictures of the whole tour came from this stage. Ultimately Hayden would end up 2nd by the smallest of margins but it was an awesome redemption ride. 2nd on stage and the KOM jersey. Nice.
Stage 6 - Park City
The final stage of the race would start and finish in Park City with an ascent of Empire Pass thrown in for good measure. Before the stage was due to kick off, I went for a short 4km run to see what training at altitude was all about. I wasn’t running fast and still felt like I was breathing through a straw. It gave me a good appreciation for just how hard the riders would have to work during the day.
The team’s plan was to protect Hayden’s lead in the KOM competition. The only rider who could take the jersey off Hayden was Alex Howes, so the team was instructed to follow him like a bad smell and if he got in the break, we were in the break. My plan was to shoot the start and then Empire Pass. Without having access to a photo moto the course was impossible to get to multiple locations and get back in front of the riders.
The break went without Alex so the team switched their focus to protecting Scott and hoping to move him up on GC. Meanwhile I had lunch in Park City and then caught a lift to the top of the KOM with our feeders. The crowd was pretty thin as I got there but as it got later in the day, more and more people rocked up and the vibe was excellent. I exclusively used the 24-70 on this stage to capture the crowd, mountain backdrops and general madness. As the riders started coming through the crowd got rowdier and rowdier and the riders not in GC contention played to the crowd, taking cookies and doing wheelies.
After the last of our riders went through I jumped in team car 2 and we headed to the descent. Unfortunately I didn’t get to shoot any post race scenes apart from the final podium presentation (which I had to run about a km to as all the team cars got stuck in traffic). Hayden managed to hold onto the KOM jersey and Scott finished 12th on GC, a very successful tour for the team. After the final presentations it was off to the press conference and anti-doping for Hayden.
We got back to the hotel where the riders were busy packing their bikes, some were heading back to Europe whilst others were heading back to Aus, their first time home since early May.
The Tour of Utah was a crazy busy week. I left the team at 9pm after the last stage after riders and staff shared in a few Coronitas and Pizzas to catch a red-eye back to NYC. Highly un-recommended.
I thoroughly enjoyed the week on the road with the team; I formed some great friendships, saw some nice (and not so nice) bits of Utah and (I think) took some nice pictures. I am super grateful to Team Bridgelane for the opportunity.
Some outgoing tidbits:
Cyclists eat a LOT of rice. Rice was a staple at every team breakfast and dinner
The lack of oxygen at high altitude makes recovery for the riders extremely difficult. The team had an oxygen machine that was used by the riders after their massages so they breath pure O2
The amount of stuff that a team needs to make sure a week long stage race goes smoothly is mind blowing. We had two team cars, one people mover, one RV, one box truck, 20 sets of tubs, 3 spare bikes (the team shares spares), bars, gels, electrolyte powder, beet juice, massage table the list goes on
Pre stage team meetings are just like our slack threads but in person. Ok, they probably have a bit more direction.
Post stage meetings are also very like our slack threads; “Coulda done this, shoulda done that”
The days are very long for the staff; the soigneurs and the mechanics are up way before the riders get to breakfast and only get to relax once the riders are in bed. There is washing to be done, bikes to be prepared, bidons to be made up, supplies to be bought, the list is endless
Getting to multiple locations to shoot is very hard without a photo moto credential. Obviously it can be done, but with the short fast stages I was stoked to be able to hit 3 spots in a day.
The camaraderie is (mostly) very excellent between the photographers. I got to work with some excellent photographers and it was nice to share our work with each other if we were in different spots.
And finally the latest “pros; they’re just like us” moment came when one of the riders told me he was starting at the back of the bunch at the start line to get the stage Strava KOM, gave me a good laugh.