With 2018 about to wind to a close I decided to go back through the more than 40 thousand photos I shot throughout the year in an attempt to create some sort of recap to showcase all the highs, lows, and in-betweens. But as I went along I was having trouble finding inspiration to re-tell stories that have already been told through the various photo epics seen on the site through the season. So in an attempt to avoid redundancy, I settled on a different theme. Picking out twenty photos spread through the year that all stood out to me for various reasons, be it entirely personal, based a particular photography technique, or a notable moment in the sport. Most importantly though, I wanted them to all stand alone which would allow me to tell their own individual story. Below you will find the final twenty I selected and the reason why, in no particular order other than chronological.
I get asked quite often how this style of shot is taken, and even more often a know-it-all feels the need to inform me how I just photoshopped the whole thing. So I thought I would write a few words to explain the technique and thought process here. Most people are aware of how to take a silhouette, where the bright sky is a bit underexposed and the foreground becomes nearly solid black. Now just take that concept and reverse it. The key is to have your subject in harsh light, and the background (preferably far away) in the shade. Simply underexpose the brightest part of the image slightly, which is the helmet in this case and you will see all the shade in the background go black or nearly black. Yes, you might have to dodge and burn a few hot patches in the background to even it out during post processing, and adjust the backs and contrast accordingly, but that's totally acceptable and to be expected with just about any photo spit out of a camera in RAW format. This particular photo of Finn Iles was taken on the last corner in Leogang. The corner is a big hard packed and reflective berm so a little light bounces off the ground and back up onto the bike and rider from below to give some shadow detail on the subject. The background is the final chute out of the woods and some big thick pine trees which are all in the shade. Look closely and you can still see some color from the clothes of spectators sitting in the background. I love how just the action is visible in the this shot, the focus of the eyes, the body position as he pops out of the bermed corner, the highlights on the tire tread, etc. And it is a great example of how you can use the camera to control light in a way that allows you to see something in a way your own eye never could. Again it's not an easy photo to take and lots of environmental variables have to all line up, but when they do it is one of my favorite style of photo to take. Or you could just spend an hour clipping the rider out in photoshop and putting them on a black background, but where's the satisfaction in that?
A lot of times the race circuit brings everyone to some truly unique and inspiring places, but less often is there enough time to actually venture off for a more curated and local experience. It's usually straight to the venue and straight to work for a few long days before shipping out to do it all over again in another country the next week. During the EWS in Colombia, the organizers made a concerted effort to be sure this would not be the case. With most racers and support staff having never been to Colombia before and with the narrow-minded view of the country as nothing more than a cocaine empire being so dominant in pop culture, it was extra special to be able to soak in the local vibe a bit more. Upon arrival to Manizales, we were directed to shuttle buses that would act as a sort parade through the local streets and up into the hills of a plantain and banana plantation. There we were greeted by a live band, the mayor, and a party in addition to local riders who would act as tour guides through the network of trails. Additional rides and tours were organized through various coffee plantations as well, all before the more hectic and regimented practice and race schedule began. To be honest I was more interested in riding and just taking the whole experience in than shooting photos (I'll jump at the opportunity to shred without a heavy pack on my back whenever I can get it), but this bobsled run through the plantain and banana trees was just too good not to stop for. I shot a ton of photos during the race but this is the photo that reminds me the most of how much fun it was to ride in Colombia.
It's probably safe to say that we have all given our share of blood, sweat, and tears over the years to the sport of mountain biking, but some certainly give more than others. This photo is of my friend Eduardo who is one of thee three partners responsible for all the Chilean EWS rounds raced over the years, as well as the annual Andes-Pacifico Enduro, and a host of Enduro events thought out Chile. He's just crashed on his face while riding one of the Andes-Pacifico stages, loaded down by a pack full of course tape, stakes, extra water, and probably my lunch that I forgot back in the truck. To me this shot represents all of the race promoters out there who work tirelessly and often thanklessly behind the scene. They all bleed mountain biking and bleed for mountain bike racing. Without promoters we would have no races, we would have no World Cup or EWS, and we would have no racers for all of us as fans to look up to. I would not have a job, your bike probably would weight 5 pounds more and have less suspension travel, and the progression of the technology would slow greatly. So much in our sport comes from racing both directly and indirectly, and without the dedication of race promoters and trail builders around the globe we would all be worse off. The next time you are at a race be sure to find the promoter, seek them out for a reason other than to complain about something, and thank them for the work they do. It's likely not a phrase they hear often enough.
If you've ridden or even seen the track at Fort William you know it is brutal. Not because it is technically that difficult, in fact it's probably one of the easier tracks on the circuit just to cruise down, unlike Val di Sole. It's brutal because it is long, unrelenting and rough. The faster you go the rougher it gets and then after four-plus minutes, you have to hammer on the pedals through the final motorway. It's a track where you have to pace yourself and leave a little in the tank for the end, and if you come out of the gate guns blazing there is a good chance you'll have no spark left by the end. Nearly the first minute of the track is relatively straightforward and a mix of swooping corners and long straightaways that are all about conserving energy and carrying speed. This section ends in a long board walk sending riders straight into the first rock garden, and it is from there down that the misery really begins. This shot of Kaos Seagrave was taken right near the end of that long boardwalk and you can see his eyes focused ahead at the fast approaching rocks. In a speed tuck, stretching out his fingers for the last time and exhaling, you can almost feel what must be going through his head. That it's go time, and sh*ts about to get real. That temporary moment of zen before Fort William begins to exploit any physical or mental weakness a rider may have.
I'm going to assume most of the folks reading this are acutely aware of how gnarly the track in Val di Sole is. Even in the best of conditions, it's a handful for the best in the world, and with any kind of moisture added in can be an absolute nightmare. This season saw a few overnight storms roll through that helped keep the dirt grippy, but never enough moisture to make the spider web of top to bottom roots too slick. Riders spent their training sessions prior to qualifiers riding in perfect conditions, dialing in lines that cut across roots and rocks, hitting the brakes late into corners, and doubling up some of the bigger holes as they transferred for one good line to the next. It was all too good to be true though, and as if it was intended just to throw a wrench in the works and keep riders on their toes, the heavens opened up as soon as the women's qualifying runs were over. It didn't let up until just minutes before the first men were scheduled to hit the track. It's one thing when it rains during training and the water gets churned in and ruts begin to form. It's a completely different animal when it pours down on a closed track just prior to a timed race run where precious points are on the line. No ruts, no tire tracks, no prior riders to scrape the top layer of pure slime off, and no chance to just roll down and check things out. If you are curious what it's like to race on a bike setup for the dry (or quickly setup blindly for the wet) down the gnarliest tack on the circuit in the slickest of mud after only ever practicing in the done dry, then just have a look at Finn Iles face after crossing the finish line. The question just asked of him was "how was it up there", and this photo is a pretty accurate answer.
The La Thuile EWS has always been big and epic. Almost too much so this past season with the heavy rains each night and storms rolling through the day. All but one of the stages took place at one end of the valley above the ski area so originally I had decided that getting to the top of that rogue Stage 2 would not be possible or practical when covering the race. Besides being on the other end of the valley it also required a climb of over 1000m to reach the start. But as the storms began to build on race day I began to feel as if I would be missing out if I didn't at least make an attempt to reach the start as it would surely provide an epic view of the valley below. When race director Chris Ball offered to shuttle me half way up the climb so I could get ahead of the top riders I jumped at the opportunity, and while the second half of the climb was a bit of a grind with camera gear on my back, the effort was certainly worth it. I've posted a few shots here before
that show the view looking back down the valley, with the village of La Thuile, the pass up into France, the snow capped peaks, and moody patches of light cutting through the storm clouds. But it would be this shot of Sam Hill that would stand out to me the most. The helicopter had been following a few prior riders off the summit but would peel off before reaching my search a few hundred meters below. However, with Sam being the final rider on the stage there was time to track him all the way to the tree line. Before coming into the frame Sam would drop out of my line of sight and I had to listen for the sounds of the bike to know when he was approaching the stone wall. In this case, though it would be the giant red helicopter coming over the ridge that would alert me Sam's approach and just as he was about to pop into view it tuned 90 degrees to the right to line up perfectly above the action. Definitely not a shot I was expecting to get and it's one of my favorite race shots of the year. It also helps that I was the only photographer to make the trek up to this far away stage and would be the only one with a photo like this from the event. Shooting events it is inevitable that angles will be shared and duplicated with other photographers and colleagues which is totally fine, but it is always a bit special when you can capture something unique that no one else will have.
Fun fact: It was also Sam's Birthday, and he won the race.
I've always been a fan of street racing, not so much for the quality or legitimacy of the tracks and more for the spectacle and accessibility it brings to our sport. More often than not racing and riding happens far off in the mountains, but when the opportunity arises to bring it all into urban population centers then there's always a bit of controlled chaos that makes it a bit special. Massive crowds of enthusiasts who know the sport but may have never the stars up close mixed in with scores of people who have never seen a mountain bike in their life, let alone seen one raced through narrow alleys and down staircases. Trying to replicate the feel through a photo often requires pulling back and shooting things from a wide angle showing the buildings, streets, and massive crowds. Tight action shots are great for showing what the rider is doing but often the greater context of a unique event gets lost. During the street stage of the EWS in Colombia I wanted to be sure to get good shots of Marcelo Gutierrez racing through the streets of his home city in Manizales. He was the rider everyone had come out to see and the enthusiasm around Marcelo was electric throughout the event. I have a few wider shots from this run as well where Marcelo looks to be swallowed up as he rides through a sea colorful spectators, but what is missing is both a sense of action and sense of energy that could be felt when standing there in person. I settled on this photo because it combined all of these elements. City streets and urban buildings, peak action as the riders drops a set of stairs at the apex of a corner, and spectators packed in as tight to the action as possible. The look on the faces of the spectators and the two fists pumping from each side frame the action of Marcelo in the middle, and shooting through a small gap between two people's shoulders gives the viewer a perspective that puts them right there trackside and in the middle of the show. Hopefully, race promoters and event planners continue to bring the sport to the people every now and then to add a bit of spectacle and new found enthusiasm to the masses.
Val di Sole is without a doubt the gnarliest track on the World Cup circuit, and this rooty bombed out chute to right-hand corner pretty much exemplifies what riders experience top to bottom. The lines are always changing, there are huge holes appearing with each new run, and the loam often covers the anaconda sized roots that are just waiting to grab your front wheel. It's a minefield that requires full commitment and the ability to constantly react on the fly as rarely does a fast run happen one hundred percent on the intended line from top to bottom. We all kind of have this idea that the top DH racers are truly fearless, if not even a bit crazy at times. Of course, they are also extremely calculated and a little crazy doesn't mean reckless or no one would ever make it through the season. It is, however, a bit humbling to witness these men and women scare themselves now and then and to see that yes they are indeed still human, despite the way they throw themselves down a track like VDS. That is exactly what is happening in this photo. No one hit the section as fast a Dakotah Norton on the first day of practice, and because of that no one got themselves as compressed into the hole that he is about the be catapulted out of either. Nor did they simultaneously slide across the roots hidden below all that loam at such a harsh angle. And they certainly didn't pull over immediately after, look right at me and say "I think I just sh*t myself" as Dakotah did. It's one of the most aggressive looking action shots I took from the event, and it's good to know that the rider was as on the edge of control as this shot makes him appear.
This one should be pretty obvious to anyone who has followed the sport over the year. I can't think of a bond of friendship between two riders that is stronger than the one shared by Jared Graves and Richie Rude, and I doubt there were many riders more effected by the sudden news of Jared's brain cancer than Richie. Just a few days prior to this photo Jared had just undergone his brain surgery to remove the cancerous tumor that was threatening his life, and as a result has been left with a mohawk on top and massive scar on the side of his head. When your best friend is in a tough spot it's hard to be thousands of miles away, and even the smallest gestures of support can make a big difference on both ends. Here Richie is showing off his freshly shaved "Jerry Hawk" compete with the JG initials on one side and the number 53 on the other. In the background, similar hairstyles are being shaved into the heads of Curtis Keene, Shawn Neer, McKay Vezina, Patty Young, Shaun Hughes, and Remi Gauvin. All ahead of the final EWS race of the season in Finale Ligure as they tried to do their part to send a little #strengthforjared
back to their friend in Australia.
This one sums up those classic sayings "it's not over until it's over" and "never give up". Loic Bruni had been having a mediocre World Cup season up until this run at Val di Sole, all due to an untimely elbow injury sustained at the first round in Croatia. There was no hope for an overall title in his 2018 season and only individual race wins were the goal with no real need to salvage a bad run for points. A crash within 30 seconds of the fish line and just above this final corner had just derailed what had been podium race run, and with no points to chase after he easily could have just rolled to the bottom in frustration. Something many riders in a similar situation often do, and something many racers reading this can relate to. When you crash your run is over with the rare exception being some of the legendary runs thrown down by the likes of Sam Hill over the years (one on this very track from 2008 comes to mind). But just take a quick glance at the look on Loic's face and you can see that he's anything but phoning it in. Maybe it's anger, maybe frustration, or maybe just pure determination, but he looks like he's about to rip someone's head off. Never giving up, not before it's over. And that would also sum up Loic's season perfectly. After his WC hopes were dashed in the first corner on his first run of the season he would persevere, grit his teeth, push through the physical and mental pain, and never quit. When he came out of the last corner on his last run of the season he would be crowned World Champion for the second year in a row.
Burke Mountain in Vermont was chosen to be the final stop of the EWS North American Continental Series, and for this, the builders were looking to incorporate one special stage that would really exemplify riding in the region. To keep a long story short, the final result would be the refreshing of a classic old trail off the top of the mountain in partnership with Richie Rude and Red Bull. This beat down and outdated trail was brought back to life and affectionately renamed "Rude Awakening" and would be the final stage of the North American Continental series. Prior to opening, Red Bull would shoot a Raw 100 edit with Richie down his signature trail, and I was brought on to shoot the still photos that would accompany the video work. I was able to capture all the needed action shots and trail features through the first day of shooting, but personally I was still on the hunt for a photo to tie the whole project together. This shot came about as the video crew was shooting a sprint through one of the flatter sections of trail and since the action was less dramatic in still form than motion I wasn't really looking for any shots of my own at the time. There were some excessively harsh pockets of light poking through the trees so I decided to see what might happen with a heavy underexposure of the highlights (and in turn shadow in the background), very similar to the technique and style of the first photo in the story. To my surprise, the effect ended up being quite stunning, and the frozen action of Richie pumping over a water bar actually made a rather uninspiring section of trail take on a completely different feel. Immediately I knew this was the shot I was after. The heavy contrast and dark to light meshing perfectly with the idea I had in my head for the rebirth and Rude Awakening of an old trail.
This is another example of taking an idea and concept that you have in your head and executing it. Maybe not some epic action shot and crazy light but an idea rolled in with a little bit of pressure that resonates on a personal level more than anything. I'd shot this corner in Andorra from the inside/bottom a few years ago and liked how some riders gave the illusion of dragging their bars through the corner. the corner was loose and had a big hole in it so a lot of the time it would stand the riders up and the front wheel would slide giving the photo an awkward looking understeer. A fast line was also tocut the corner early to avoid the hole, and therefore not be leaned over far enough to look good for a photo. A third of the riders made it look really good, and it was my hope that the ones I needed to be shooting would fall into that ratio. In the above shot, you'll notice Bruce Klein isn't in his usual team kit, and instead is in an all black from clothing sponsor 100%. Basically, he was to do one run in this 2019 pant/jersey/helmet combo so I could get a catalog/ad shot before changing back into something with all the team sponsors printed across it. The idea was one run and one shot before anyone really noticed there was new product on display, and the hope was that this corner would make for a photo that ticked all the boxes for an ad. Good action, clean background, negative space for text/copy, and of course clear depiction of product. Thankfully Bruce nailed it, and all I had to do was push the button.
I stayed in La Thuile after the EWS round to shoot a project for Yeti Cycles throughout the Aosta Valley. Doing brand specific work away from events always has its own challenges as each brand has its own unique creative vision and it's the job of the photographer to capture that feeling and message along with the action, location, product, etc. I've done a good amount with work with Yeti over the years so by now I have a very good understanding of what they are after on these shoots, but when the final creative brief ends with the words "make it epic" you can't help but think you need to raise the bar a bit. But hey, you're in the Alps with talented and motivated riders so that should be easy. As long as no one gets hurt, it doesn't snow, the sun rises and sets without cloud cover, and you don't have to run for cover during a thunderstorm each afternoon. Basically, you control what you can control and set yourself up for the best outcomes so long as the things you can't control, like the weather, cooperate. I saw this reflective lake during the EWS and knew I wanted to revisit it during the dawn hours when the water would hopefully be still and the light soft enough to give a refection without hard reflections from the sun. All it would take you be getting up at 4:30am on a day that the weather said "mostly clear", getting 700m up the mountain and waiting for the sun to come up. It also couldn't be windy at all. So much more could easily have gone wrong than right on this one, and when telling riders they have to trek up a cold mountain at dawn for a shot, you'd better be sure the odds of success are in your favor. That you've triple checked the forecast, and gotten up earlier than everyone to have a look outside, etc. to be sure you are not wasting everyone's time. It's a huge reward when you plan a shot in your head and are able to execute on it, sometimes even more so when there's still that element of chance, and all the variables fall right in line as they did here. If you missed the Yeti Peak Season story I put up back in August
go have a look to see a few dozen more photos from this project. Hopefully you agree that we made it look epic.
This is a bit of the opposite of the style photo I like to take, with a highlighted subject against a dark and moody background, but it's another good example of how various camera settings can completely change the feel of a scene. A huge storm had just come through Fort William, and the Scottish venue is known for fickle and moody weather which is the feel I was looking to capture on this day. However, the storm came and went so quick that by the time the junior men were on track for their race runs it was all blue skies and bright white clouds. When this big cloud began to rise over the mountain, I walked across the hill to line it up with the track in hopes that I would use it to punch the riders on track out a bit more. It looked a bit to warm and pleasant at a normal exposure and the cloud was getting blown out as a big white highlight so I decided to darken things up a bit. I wanted to capture the texture of the cloud, and in doing so realized it was making the reflective race tape pop out as well as a few of the spectators trackside. This was the look and feel I was after, and at the time I was thinking I would shoot it with the intention to use it as a black and white shot of Thibaut Daprela's race run. In the end though, I decided to process it a touch desaturated to preserve some of the blue tone rather than black and white, and with a heavier contrast to give it a stronger silhouette. Another example of how a camera can see light in a way your eye can not, and allows you to better communicate a particular feeling of a scene, which in this case was a stormy day on the side of a Scottish hill. Yes it was sunny in this photos but it was foggy 30 minutes before and raining again 30 minutes later, so in my mind this was a better representation of the day than it would have been all sunny and bright blue.
Lenzerheide has never been one of my favorites for photos, or even as a venue or track. It definitely provides a good crowd on race day and good tight racing but there's just something about the events there that I've struggled to enjoy the past few years. 2018 was different though. Maybe it was the prestige of being World Champs or the date change to September from the usual July. The sun had moved in the sky, bathing the track in light from a different direction, and that created the opportunity for a different style of photos than what we usually saw in July. There was even a full day of fog this year that gave the opportunity to shoot something a bit more moody and artistic. But the favorite for me each morning was the light at the very top of the track as the sun rose over the mountains. Not only did it bring a bit of warmth to those who stood trackside in frosty dawn hours. It also brought with it a brief orange glow. The elusive golden hour is rarely seen when shooting at a World Cup in the summer months, and in this case it was more like a golden 15 minutes, but that is most certainly better than nothing. This shot was taken about two minutes after the sun came over the mountaintop, right as the colors were really starting to pop, and the backlit dust became illuminated in midair. The rider is Kade Edwards being silhouetted in gold on what would be the final practice run of his junior racing career. Three hours later the theme would continue as he would be holding the gold medal and rainbow jersey of a World Champion.
I have plenty of photos of Martin Maes smiling at the end of a stage or a race. Given his results and personality that really should not be a surprise. However nearly all of them are for getting second place, a result he has probably landed himself in more times than just about anyone. You'd think after a string of runner-up finishes you'd see him start to get frustrated though. After all, the men and women we watch on track each weekend in the summer are there to win not to come second, and when you are on the top of the game second really can be seen as the first loser. Not Martin though, as he seems to celebrate the results of those above and below him on the podium with the same enthusiasm. The EWS in Whistler would finally be the turning point for him in 2018 though. Having finished second at three of the season's previous EWS rounds all to Sam Hill, this would be the day the tables would finally turn. This round it would be Martin's turn to make up time on the final stage of the day and to knock Sam Hill down a peg to take the season's elusive first win. Of course, there was a smile on Martin's face as he headed up to the podium, but when he turned his head at the last minute for the camera you can see there's just a little more there than usual as he finally got the monkey of second place off his back. It would be the year of Martin Maes from here on out in 2018 as he would roll on to win a World Cup DH at the next event in La Bresse, stunning the DH crowd. That win would then be followed up by a silver medal at World Champs in Switzerland, another second place at the EWS in Spain, and the Pinkbike Award for being the Athlete of the Year. And at just 22 years of age, he's only just getting started.
I've tried to take this shot each year in Lenzerheide, and more often than not it completely fails. There is a brief straightaway near the bottom where riders come out of a left-hand berm and then start a long steady cut to the right. It is smooth ground and they tend to hold the body position steady the entire time which is ideal for a slow shutter pan shot. On race day it begins to fill in with spectators, but as long as there are still a few gaps between their bodies there's a chance you can still get the rider to pop out. The challenge is that you can't see the rider. You have to "pace" then from the previous corner as you pan with the camera, hoping that when they do pop out you are tracking them at the right speed. You also need to pre-focus on the tack and leave it locked there as no autofocus is going to pull a rider out from within a crowd at a fraction of a second. Then, of course, the spectators can't move too much, random people can't walk in front of you, and hopefully your rider is in a good body position if even visible at all. To get the colors to really blur the shutter speed needs to be low and in this case that meant 1/20th of a second. Too slow to allow any vibration of movement of the rider if the shot was to be sharp. Meaning that if they hit any bumps or corrected their line the vibration of their bike and body would blur the frame and helmet even if you were panning at with perfect technique. So again a bit of chance is involved. Maybe you could say luck, but I am a believer that you make your own luck by putting yourself in the right place at the right time for the right reasons. Anyway... I have a handful of shots from this spot where a rider is sharp but half covered by a spectator or there isn't strong action, and I have more than a few that are just blurring messes of garbage that were deleted upon import. So getting a shot like this of Brook Macdonald definitely made my morning this day. The blurred reds and blues of the crowd compliment his bike and kit, and the greens and yellows finish off the color of the rainbow stripes everyone was chasing after on this day at World Champs. It still doesn't beat my all time favorite pan shot that you can see here
... coincidently taken standing in the exact same spot back in 2016.
This is the bottom of the Parvazo trail in La Parva, Chile. Before enduro and trail bikes were a thing DH bikes were shuttled up the 37 switchbacks to the top and blasted back down to the bottom. It was the most famous trail in the Santiago area and probably the trail most responsible for the growth of mountain biking in the region. Growth that in the past decade has seen multiple trail centers established right from within the city as well as an expanded network across the surrounding mountains. I rode this trails for the first time in 2008 with my friend Adam Morse who is also the rider pictured here. At that time neither of us would have ever thought we would come back to the same spot together ten years later on trail bikes, me as a photographer and him as an EWS racer. None of those were even things to us back then, but here we were. I also remember on my first visit to Chile and first ride on Parvazo a handful of locals telling me that someday they would hold a race from the top of the ski lifts that would link to Parvazo and be one the longest runs ever raced. At the time the Mega Avalanche series was a big deal and these guys wanted to put Chile on the map in a similar way. I would be lying if I told you I took them seriously and thought of it as anything more than the wishful thinking we all have for the potential of our local trails. But here we all were ten years later, about to race an Enduro World Series with the best riders in the world, and the flagship stage would indeed be from the top of the ski lifts and down through the trail called Parvazo. To cap it all off, this 1800m descent of over 11km would voted the stage of the year by the EWS racers and support staff. Sometimes dreams really do come true, and I'm curious where we will all end up at the end of the next 10 years.
Fort William is one of those venues that you dread just a bit each year. It has the potential to be amazing, but also the potential to be pure treachery. There is no cover among the trees if storms roll in, it can snow at any time of year, and the wind has shut down the gondola all day on more than one occasion. Often when it rains it does so in biblical proportions, and no amount of protective gear and weather sealing will save camera equipment out on the open slopes from being destroyed. I still think back to a day there in 2015 that is still the most miserable day I have ever spent working out a mountain bike race. And each year I go back knowing it's not a matter of if that will happen again, but when. So as I'm writing this I am already crossing my fingers for the next visit in 2019. This shot was taken during the morning training session on race day. It was pouring rain when I left my house in town which luckily let up by the time I reached the venue, but everything was still covered in a dense layer of fog. Torrential downpours had washed away sections of the track and while maintenance crews were scrambling up the hill prior to practice to repair things the best they could, all I could think of was how miserable the day was going to be. Once I made my way to the top I found a track so densely shrouded in fog that I couldn't see more than 20 meters in front of my face, and I imagine for the riders that meant they would be riding a track at a faster rate than they could actually see. Given how rough Fort William is, it must have been the riding equivalent of reading braille. Then the sun came out. It's amazing the power a little sun can have on fog, melting it away and pushing it down the hill in seconds rather than minutes and revealing a clear blue sky above. Just like that it was a beautiful day for racing in the Scottish Highlands once again and a miserable day out in the wind and rain had been postponed for at least another year. This photo of eventual race winner Tahnee Seagrave captures this moment, and to me summarizes all the elements of nature that come with racing at Fort William. You just can't hear the wind, feel the cold or the midges biting, but you get the idea.
Side note: 30 minutes later it started to rain again.
I had a bit of a miserable experience at the last EWS round in Finale Ligure this year. All started off well and a week spent on the Mediterranean is always a highlight of the year, but my own body was simply not cooperating when racing got underway. I'm still not sure if it was some sort of food poisoning or after effects of the jellyfish that stung me a few days prior while swimming, but I was in bad shape. Nauseous wasn't even the half of it and I'll leave it at that. I did try to get out to shoot the race but upon reaching the top of Stage 2 on the day it became clearly obvious the only place for me was back in bed. Reluctantly I jumped on a scooter and motored my way back down the other side of the ridge and to the city below. I took a quick (forced) rest stop part way down and realized I was looking over at the ridgeline racers were descending, with them silhouetted against the mountains of Liguria that extended up out of the sea. The seaside topography is what makes this place a mecca for mountain biking and such and desirable destination as there are few places in the world where long mountainous descents terminate into a warm sea. Oddly enough my retreat from the race and back to my bed is the only reason I was able to see the race from this perspective, and it would be the only action shot I would take on the day, and the final racing shot of my 2018 season. I'd also like to give another big shout out to fellow Pinkbike photographer Ross Bell for saving my ass on this day by adding my workload onto his own, and all the other photographers who offered to pitch in their shots to be sure my client responsibilities were all covered. Cheers, fellas and happy New Year.