Tag Archives: tour de france

TdF 2010 – Stage 3

Tuesday was my last day on the Tour de France. As I already had ~900 images from the previous three days, I decided to leave the heavy equipment (and my press-card) behind, and hit the road on my racing bike, to catch the peloton at the one and only climb of the stage, at the Côte de Bothey (1.4 km climb to 3.4%, Category 4 – basically this is nothing, you can not even notice such a slope if you are riding in the peloton). Of course this meant that I had only my compact camera with me, so the pictures from this day are incomparable with the ones from the previous stages – but when you are not paid by a professional agency, then you have the freedom to choose between good pictures and just pure fun. That day I went for the fun only. We (as Tijl and Kristof – a postdoc and another PhD student, both from Belgium – did also join me on that day) left the Institute of Astronomy at 10:45, so we had three hours to our destination (as the expected arrival time of the riders at the climb was between 13:44 and 13:50, assuming an average speed of 46-42 km/h). As the distance was around 48 km, this was a very safe plan. The roads were generally OK, though we ran into some trouble with one-way streets in Wavre, and we had to ride on cobblestones for 5 km between Court-Saint-Étienne and Villeroux… I have to say that really do not like (or using the word “hate” might be more appropriate in this situation) the cobbles, but I tried to look at that part as the final stage of my integration into Belgium as a cyclist, which made me feel a bit better, and struggle a bit less. Still, the pain building up in my hands during these kilometers was incomparable to anything which I have ever felt on the bike before. And these were really the worst kind of cobbles, with large spaces in between the stones, and with a road-surface which was far from flat with a small bump running along the middle, and two small depressions along the sides (created by cars passing through). But this was the day when even the Tour riders had cobblestones (13.2 km compared to our 10 km, but on a route which is twice as long as ours), so at least we got to know the pain they had to go through later on… Anyway, at the end we arrived a bit more than one hour before the scheduled pass (just after the publicity caravan had passed).

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The weather was really nice, sunny but not too warm, not too windy, with no chance of precipitation during the whole day. While we were waiting for the peloton to arrive, we asked someone to take a picture of us (check out the Hungarian flag which I brought along with me):

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The breakaway group arrived almost exactly on the expected time, and the peloton followed them 4’45″ later. We made some interesting observations about the whole stuff around us. 1) The number of support cars and motorcycles are incomparably higher than the number of cyclists. They are just coming and coming and coming for long-long minutes before and after the riders. And knowing that e.g. the team buses move along another route to get from the start of the stage to its finish, it is really shocking to see, that there are still this many vehicles following the peloton itself. 2) The climb was not big, still both the breakaway group, both the main pack was relatively slow after the “top”, so they probably just took a short recovery break there… 3) The gap of 4’45″ felt surprisingly long.

After the closing cars passed, the organizers started to clean up everything very quickly, so we had to be fast to make a picture with the gate itself on the “top”. But we made it of course. (I know it’s way too over-photoshopped, but the lighting was terrible, and our “photographer” was and old French guy who probably took his first picture with a digital camera at that very moment…)

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On the way back I tried to keep up with Kristof on the climb with cobblestones, and I managed, but as soon as we left the slope behind, he dropped me immediately. Yeah, he is definitely the King of the Cobblestones among us. (Though if there are no cobbles, no one can stop me ;D) But you really have to be a native Belgian to be able to ride fast on these roads. I think it is in their genes. When I arrived home (which is a mess now, with clothes and gadgets all around the place, as I had no time to clean up anything in the last days) I was still in time to watch the end of the stage with several paved sections (it was crazy!), then I left to play badminton with my colleagues… Yes, we have a very sporty department!

Now something for the geeks among us. I lost the second part of our ride, because I had only a one-way course loaded into my Edge 500 cycling GPS, so while we were riding back to Leuven, it was complaining all the time, that I was off-course, etc. Then after a while (on the biggest climb right after Wavre) it just died… So, if you want to follow a course back and forth, have both legs planned! And some interesting sites on the net for the Tour-fanatics: 1) You can follow the HTC – Columbia riders on Google Maps live here. 2) You can check the recorded data of selected Garmin – Transitions riders here. These are both really cool projects!

This brings us to the end of the story about me and the Tour de France of 2010, it was a great experience, a lot of fun but also hard work, and I hope to repeat it somewhen in the coming years. With a bit more sleep, if that is possible. Vive le Tour!

TdF 2010 – Stage 2

On Monday it was really hard to get up in the morning, as I was still very tired after the events of the weekend. I took the day off from work, so this became my first holiday in 2010. My original plan was to go to Brussels for the start of the signing-in, and stay in the area of the team buses, to get pictures of the riders passing by towards the podium, but I had a small trouble with the trains. To be more specific, my train did not come at all, so I had to take another one a half hour later, which meant that I had lost a lot of precious time. So the official paper-work had already started when I arrived, but that was the time also, when I had one of the nicest (most cool) moment of my tour-experience. I was heading to the entrance of the restricted area, waving with my press-card, so the crowd of people standing at the fences just opened up for me, then the security guy checked my ID and wished a good day while he let me inside. So first I took a short walk around the teams’ buses and cars, to take some pictures about the bikes (see the back-up bike of Lance Armstrong and Jurgen Van den Broeck).

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The integrated (into the chainstay) speed and cadence sensor is very cool on the Trek bikes. Later on I took a spot along the way which the riders were using to get to the podium (and back), so I could take pictures of several cyclists passing by. I have chosen Gregory Rast to show from this batch of images, because I like how it gives back the feeling of the moment – with team cars and riders moving slowly between the buses and people…

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The weather was not at all good, so probably there were discussions going on about the expectations and forecasts for the afternoon – I guess these guys (someone from Radobank – leave a comment if you know who he is – and Maarten Wynants) were in the middle of one of these conversations.

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I had only one important wish left to be fulfilled: taking a good close-up photo of Lance Armstrong; so I made sure, I would be in a good position when he comes. The moment was not really hard to be noticed, as the photographers started to move towards someone in the distance, and flashes created an artificial storm of lightning – slowly getting closer and closer… But Lance stayed calm, and smiled for everyone :)

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I think no amateur photographer can hope to take much better pictures than these. At least I had no expectations to really get this close to perfection (from my not-so-professional point of view). To be honest, it is quite hard to find good portrait photographs of Lance online.

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The 7-time Tour de France-winner even came back from the signing-in and spent some time in the team bus before he finally left to the start-area (passing by us again both times). This gave all the photographers at least three opportunities to take pictures of him. This is good PR ;)

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I did not see the start this time, because I stayed in this area to watch all the riders and official cars leaving. I had a much better view than the crowd in front of the Royal Palace ;) Yeah, it was a tiny little bit more spacious inside…

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I took some pictures of the team cars and even the drivers in some cases, so for example here is Giuseppe Martinelli, the director of Astana (the team of Alberto Contador).

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After the start, I went to the city centre, to take pictures of the Manneken Pis – a statue of a small peeing boy (an icon of the capital of Belgium), dressed in the yellow jersey from the 3rd till the 5th of July. Then it started to rain…

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As I was still very tired, and the weather forecasts predicted rain for the finish, I decided to go back home (to Leuven). I was really not in the right mood (or the word “shape” might fit the situation better) for spending more than four hours (back and forth) on the train to take pictures in rain again. I have had enough of that on the Prologue. But I was extremely happy about the pictures of Lance, and the whole experience I got in the previous days, so everything was fine. After a short nap on the afternoon I organized a small ride to watch the riders passing by on the next day (I will write about this in detail later), then I went to play beach-wolleyball for two hours before I hit the bed :) Some people say I am overdoing this…

TdF 2010 – Stage 1

Sorry for no post until now, but I was extremely tired, and I could not manage to work on the pictures. But let me continue from the evening of the Prologue. I was almost kicked out of the Press Centre at 23:00, because they already started to disassemble the set-up (killing the internet connection and turning off half the lights is an international way to say that you are expected to leave now – but I was not the only one still there at that time). Speaking of them, they were cheering for the Spanish team (on the World Cup quarter-final game against Paraguay) in a vary loud manner… So accredited personnel are humans too :)

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But to turn back to my story, I left the building and started my all-night-long journey in the city. I did not book a hotel or any accommodation for the night, because my train tickets were already expensive, and 2 weeks before the Prologue (when I had received my accreditation) all the cheaper hostels/hotels were already completely booked. And I thought I am young, so one night without sleeping should not be that hard :D It was not THAT hard, but it was not easy. Anyway, at least I had time (and a lot of it) to walk around the second largest city of the Netherlands. And Rotterdam turned out to be very cool to me. I really love the bridges and the modern buildings! The Erasmusbrug is the most amazing from all of them.

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I walked around the following areas of the city: Centrum, Noordereiland and Wilhelminaplein, while the Press Centre was in the Ahoy to the south. Based on my memories and calculated from the maps I have, I walked at lest 36 kilometers in Rotterdam while I was there. And my backpack with the equipment and laptop was around 8 kg, so you can make the rest of the math yourself. But after sleeping a half hour at the train station (uncomfortable) and in the McDonald’s (loud), I felt much better, so I went for another walk around sunrise (and I have seen noctilucent clouds too!!!). Honestly, I think this city is an amazing architectural showroom. Panorama of the skyline from the Willemsbrug:

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My PRESSE card (the coolest Tour de France souvenir one can ever get!):

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And some other selected images about the city:

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So after I had taken pictures of the Erasmusbrug from every possible angle, I went to the corner of the Westerlaan and the Westerkade, from where the 1st stage supposed to start around noon. This was at 8:45, when the Tour de France village opened. (Minor comment: if you install mobile toilets, make sure that you refill the tap-water for those crazy foreigners, who may want to wash their hands after using their nice WC… Luckily I found a fountain nearby…)

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After I considered my options, I took a place in the first row outside the closed area (which I could have entered with my badge if I wanted), because I knew it would be too crowded inside, and the view to the podium where the riders had to sign in would have been even worse from a closer distance (the “desk” would have been in the way completely). At this point, I have to share my opinion about photographers and journalists on the Tour. They are too many. Especially around the start and the finish. The organizers should restrict the number of people allowed into given areas (it is only done just behind the finish line), because I have the feeling, that we arrived to a point, where everyone has to fight already for taking a picture, but there is literally no space left to have a well-composed, decent photo. So we end up with a lot of crappy pictures instead of a few quality ones. (Of course this way there is a bigger chance to have something unique, but that’s all.) And I really do not understand why do we need so many journalists on-site. I have seen several reporters discussing the key events of the race based on rumors, when just watching the live coverage could have given the full picture about the stage to them… This is really scandalous… The only thing which was worse, is the distribution of press-release printouts in the Press Centre. Come on, this is the 21st century, what shall we do with printouts? Send the news updates around on the internal network, or something, because a printout can only be used on the toilet. Anyhow, you get information from the riders themselves on Twitter much faster… But back to the 1st stage. First the Publicity caravane passed by (long line of cars representing all the sponsoring companies), then the first cyclist started to roll in for the signing in (see Aleksandr Kuchynski arriving below).

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Then they had to walk up to the podium, and sign in for the stage. The speaker introduced everyone, and some “random guys” even got some extra information (OK, FYI it is Lance Armstrong on the pictures).

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At the beginning there were only a few riders every minute, but after a quarter it got really crowded… Some other big names signing in on the next photo (Fabian Cancellara in the yellow jersey after winning the Prologue on the previous day, and Frank Schleck in the “Champion of Luxembourg” jersey).

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After placing their signature, they waved and stepped down from the podium. Some of them hope to be on another kind of podium later on this year’s Tour de France, like Alberto Contador (from Astana) below.

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Then they could pick some energy bars and gels from the selection of PowerBar (Alexandr Pliuschin from Katusha Team and Gerald Ciolek from Team Milram).

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Some guys (like Ruben Perez Moreno here from Euskatel-Euskadi) even made some final adjustments on their bikes too :)

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Then they left towards the start line (Levi Leipheimer here).

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The guys are waiting for the start (with Gregory Rast in the middle).

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The unofficial star was at 11:50, this is the time when the Peleton starts its journey towards the official start (it is a bit like the warm up lap in F1).

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The pack was led by Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam. (He had to sign the official start by waving with the white flag.)

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And then came the riders, led by the holders of the important jerseys (Fabian Cancellara in yellow, David Millar in green on the right and Tony Martin in white on the left – at the start of the 1st stage).

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And after this point, I have not seen anything :) This is the downside of being there “live” at the Tour de France. They pass by you, and then au revoir. I had two hours till the departure of my train, so I walked back to the McDonald’s for some junk-food, and had a small sleep at the station (waking up to my alarm clock 10 minutes before the arrival of my train from Amsterdam). Then I was sleeping on the train too, and even though I set my alarm clock to the arrival time in Brussels, I woke up twice thinking that I had missed the capital and that I was already on the way to Paris :D Luckily this was not true, and I managed to get off the train in Brussels. Then I took the metro to the Heysel station, and walked to the finish line. Now I entered the restricted area with my pass, but I could not take a place behind the finish line, because that was reserved for selected photographers. (I do not know how they do the selection – as the guy who tried to tell it to me spoke only French -, but I do not really care now…)

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Still I managed to take a picture of the winner (Alessandro Petacchi) right after crossing the finish line, so I am quite happy about this day too.

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Here at the press area I even saw the last 25 km of the race on TV, which was installed there for the media representatives. Then I left the street of the finish with the cyclists, really just casually walking right next to them! I tried to stay calm and professional, but I was dancing and shouting inside :D At the bus of Team RadioShack I met some Hungarians too, who were there to see Lance of course. At the end I just went back to Leuven as fast as possible, then I had a dinner in Domus (my favourite casual place in the city, but this was the first time that I went to eat alone), because I was too tired to prepare anything. I went to bed at 23:00, 41 hours after I got up on Saturday morning…

TdF 2010 – Prologue

20:30 (back from the race) – I am tired as hell. The weather was really bad, with shovers all the time, except the last quarter. I did not manage to find a really good spot, so I stayed on the Erasmusbrug at two and a half kilometers into the course, where the riders had to climb the bridge (so it was a bit easier to photograph them because of their slower speed uphills). At the beginning, I was very bad-mooded and demotivated because of the weather (really, this was the first rainy day in two weeks, so typical), but as the cyclists passed by, I started to take pictures (what else I could have done?). It was much harder than last week in Leuven. I had less space to move, less light, I had to protect my equipment from the almost continuous rain (I have hidden it under my jacket between exposures), and other people were leaning over the fences just in front of my lenses (that’s the reason why I have no pictures of some of the riders). But at a point I started to enjoy it, as I have never taken pictures in such harsh conditions, so I had to deal with something new. I used only my 15-85mm lens and a flash, because I could not change between lenses in the rain (and it would have been much harder to take pictures in the crowd with a long and heavy tele-lens). And at the end, I got a lot of OK pictures (if I think back to the conditions, then I really should not complain about them at least). So the results of the Prologue with my own pictures (I will upload the large versions later) of the top 9 (as the tenth Gerdemann rode too close to me…) finishers (plus – as an update – those who were in a good overall position after the first week of the Tour) are:

1. CANCELLARA Fabian #13 (TEAM SAXO BANK) 10′ 00″

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2. MARTIN Tony #115 (TEAM HTC – COLUMBIA) 10′ 10″ + 00′ 10″

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3. MILLAR David #57 (GARMIN – TRANSITIONS) 10′ 20″ + 00′ 20″

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4. ARMSTRONG Lance #21 (TEAM RADIOSHACK) 10′ 22″ + 00′ 22″

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5. THOMAS Geraint #39 (SKY PRO CYCLING) 10′ 23″ + 00′ 23″

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6. CONTADOR Alberto #1 (ASTANA) 10′ 27″ + 00′ 27″

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7. FARRAR Tyler #53 (GARMIN – TRANSITIONS) 10′ 28″ + 00′ 28″

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8. LEIPHEIMER Levi #25 (TEAM RADIOSHACK) 10′ 28″ + 00′ 28″

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9. BOASSON HAGEN Edvald #36 (SKY PRO CYCLING) 10′ 32″ + 00′ 32″

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14. ROGERS Michael #118 (TEAM HTC – COLUMBIA) 10′ 35″ + 00′ 35″

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20. KREUZIGER Roman #44 (LIQUIGAS-DOIMO) 10′ 38″ + 00′ 38″

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23. EVANS Cadel #121 (BMC RACING TEAM) 10′ 39″ + 00′ 39″

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37. HESJEDAL Ryder #54 (GARMIN – TRANSITIONS) 10′ 46″ + 00′ 46″

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46. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen #101 (OMEGA PHARMA – LOTTO) 10′ 49″ + 00′ 49″

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74. MENCHOV Denis #191 (RABOBANK) 10′ 56″ + 00′ 56″

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75. SANCHEZ Samuel #181 (EUSKALTEL – EUSKADI) 10′ 56″ + 00′ 56″

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122. SCHLECK Andy #11 (TEAM SAXO BANK) 11′ 09″ + 01′ 09″

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Full “official” story with detailed results and standings, maps and etc. about the Prologue can be found on the official Tour de France website. So as you can see, at the end I enjoyed it and it was a huge experience after all. And I have a TdF PRESSE badge now (with my name on it without spelling mistakes), plus I have the official Tour de France booklet (a 232 page Roadbook, printed on heavy, glossy paper), which is a true collectors item! I have seen photographers, whose equipment weighted more then themselves, plus I can work in the Press Centre (though I had to pay for the internet, which is really crazy, because for example, there was free food and drinks on the afternoon…). Though I am a bit sad because I could not take pictures around the team-buses (I had other things to deal with in the rain), and I have no pictures of the city itself with all the temporary TdF flags and road-marks. But the latter things might be solved tomorrow morning.

It is also part of the story, that I slept 4 hours yesterday after we went out with colleagues (for drinks and ice-cream, as that day was said to be the warmest day this year), so I am not 100% full with energy, and I do not know if I will sleep at all tonight (because that was not part of the plan), but who cares, life is fun ;) I do not know when are they going to kick me out from the Press Center (because I suppose they will close somewhen), but until then I will probably stay here and write my report in Hungarian to the Bikemag Magazine (as it is claimed on my badge).

One more minor detail: the Thalys was fun, it is so amazing that you travel with 300 km/h, and all the cars on the motorway seem to be very slow. But, after we crossed the border, there was a temporary problem with the train, and we had to wait for 20 minutes before we could continue our journey… I so not know if this was part of the high-speed experience :D

I plan to be there at the start and the finish tomorrow, so sleep well, and Vive le Tour!

14:15 (two hours till the first rider starts the individual time trial) – I am in the Press Centre of the Tour in Rotterdam, and there are discussions going on about two major questions. First of all, we all have ideas about today’s winner, but the rapidly approaching storms are a bit more important for all of us at this moment. I have no 100% safe idea about what should I do at the given situation. I could wait a bit, but then all the good places might be gone along the course – as I got “only” a PRESSE badge (still so cool!), and not the highest level professional photographer’s badge, which gives access to really everywhere. So I have to find a good spot now. This might involve walking in the rain, but I am prepared, and I brought an umbrella and a rain-proof jacket with me. I will just grab a free sandwich and a bottle of water and hope for the best. So if the weather permits, then I will update the post with pictures and much more information about today’s adventures on the evening. (Watch the race on TV if you can, because the weather will make it very interesting… And you might also catch me for a second!)

Getting ready for the Tour de France

Tomorrow morning I am leaving to Rotterdam for the Prologue of the Tour de France. I will be there as an accredited photographer (so cool, isn’t it?!?) shooting for Bikemag, the market leader cycling magazine of Hungary. I will take the high-speed train (Thalys) from Brussels (leaving with a local train from Leuven on the very early morning – at least getting up at 6:30 is extremely early for me) – for the first time in my life – which will cross the Dutch border traveling with 300km/h on a quite recently (end of 2009) completed new track. After taking pictures on the Belgian Championship last Sunday, I am not (too much) worried about my equipment anymore – though I am far from being experienced in sports-photography -, but I am a bit afraid of the weather… At the moment (17:35 CEST), it is quite likely that there will be showers passing by on the afternoon as a moderate cold-front swipes through from the west, meaning that there is a chance of 33% that rain will fall on a given spot (where I stand with my camera). Though this is much better than constant rain (because you can take photographs at least in between the – hopefully – short rainy periods, and wet roads look great in pictures), but it still makes the life of the photographer much harder (extra clothes needed, and you have to search for places when you may take cover if needed). Also, stormy weather is very unfair during individual time-trials, because conditions (wet/dry road, wind, etc.) can change radically in 5 minutes, and completing the course on dry roads with no wind is incomparably easier than riding against the wind in heavy rain. So it might be a very interesting afternoon (but the Tour will definitely not be decided on the first day), but I keep praying for dry weather anyway.

As I am not a professional photojournalist, (I mean it is not my job, but a hobby – something I do for free, just for fun), I can not spend a huge amount of time on preparations (like reading through all the predictions and interviews, memorizing the face of all the riders – to be able to recognize them around e.g. the team buses, to always know whom I should take a picture of -, etc.), because I have already spent a lot of money on train tickets (100€ just for a return ticket to Rotterdam) and new equipment (I do not want to count that). But as we all know: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard”. So experiencing the atmosphere of the Tour from the photographers’ side will be probably unforgettable. I will try to do my best (of course I have red a lot of things, plus I am following several cyclists on Twitter – and not only Lance Armstrong -, and I have a good guess about which cyclists should finish around the top 10).

This is the equipment I will use on the Tour de France (TdF) – all goes into a Lowepro Fastpack 250 backpack:

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Canon EOS 7D body
Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens with EW-78E hood and a B+W UV filter
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM lens* + ET-86 hood + Hoya UV filter
Canon Speedlite 430EX II flash
Canon LP-E6 battery packs (2x) and charger
SanDisk memory cards (8GB Extreme III, 4GB Ultra and a 1GB normal – very old one)
MacBook (with Adobe Photoshop CS4) + mouse, power adapter and Tucano second skin
and other small things (money, phone, USB-cable, B+W lens cleaner)
*thanks to Dr. Stefan Uttenthaler

What else am I supposed to say now? I am very excited, I have already packed almost everything, so I could leave in a half hour, if I had to. (Luckily, this is not the case, so I can still go for an ice-cream and watch the World Cup with my colleagues tonight.) In the following couple of days, I will try to give an insight into not only the most important and famous cycling race of the year, but I will also show you the photographer’s life on the Tour. Look back regularly, I will try to keep you updated! Vive le Tour!