The majority of shutter clicks are never seen, destined to spend their lives laying dormant in the digital depths of a hard drive. I take anywhere between 6,000 to 10,000 images on a World Cup race weekend, coming away from each year with thousands of images and several terabytes stashed away on hard drives. Trying to select a handful of images from the year is both easy and hard in equal measure.
I'm massively self-critical and it's rare that I'm ever that content with the images I'm taking, mainly because of the insane level of photography that surrounds the mountain bike world and fills our social media feeds, websites, and magazines. Above all else, it keeps you on your toes and keeps you motivated. There's a lot of very humbling work out there, both inside and outside of the racing world.
I've whittled down a selection of 20 images that I think capture a particular moment or stir up a certain memory that unfolded in front of my camera lens in 2019, each with some blurb explaining a little bit about them.
Thanks for looking.
Jolanda Neff - Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic
I headed to Nové Město na Moravě with a little bit of trepidation. I'd never been to a stand-alone cross country World Cup and had only shot a couple of XC races prior to that. I'd heard that the crowd and atmosphere in Nové Město were one of a kind and it didn't disappoint. Cross-country gives you bundles of opportunity to capture a lot of raw emotion and in a lot of ways pre and post-race is my favourite part of the weekend to shoot. I had the opportunity to document Trek Factory Racing as they went about their World Cup racing this year meaning I had good access to a lot of the behind the scenes action. This shot was taken in the pits as Jolanda got stuck into her warm-up for short track. I noticed the sweat beading and dripping from her chin and positioned myself as low as possible. I then manually focused on her chin and let off a burst each time a drip departed earthward. In truth, it was a simple shot to take, but it would've been even easier to miss that little detail of the drip altogether.
Thomas Vanderham - Cotopaxi, Ecuador
My first trip of the year in March could well have been the best one too. Alongside H+I Adventures
I travelled to Ecuador with Thomas Vanderham and Scotty Laughland for a week roughly circumnavigating the countryside around the capital city of Quito. Having ridden in lush green jungles and baren dusty deserts in the days prior, we headed to the Cotopaxi National Park to ride on its volcanic slopes. Our prospects didn't look great in the morning having woken to Cotopaxi shrouded in cloud, but we were teased by occasional glimpses before the clouds finally parted as we drove into the National Park. We'd planned to spend our whole day on the volcano itself, but having seen how impactful a backdrop it was, I knew we had to grab some wider shots on the way. We scouted out a little roller on the flat plain with a little huck and Thomas and Scotty did the rest. I like the sense of scale you get with Thomas being dwarfed by the just shy of 6000m peak.
Hugo Frixtalon - Vallnord, Andorra
Perhaps the dictionary definition of right place, right time. Admittedly this is probably one of the more innocuous corners on the Vallnord World Cup track both from a rider and photographer's point of view, but that didn't turn out to be the case on FrixFrix's first practice run of the day. Pushing into the turn, his tires gripped up and he was spat out the front door and over the top of the berm. He landed a few metres away from where I was shooting in disbelief and confusion at what had just happened and the fact he'd survived it unscathed. My French isn't great but even I could get the gist of the words he was shouting... I couldn't decide which frame of the sequence worked the best, the later ones show more of the severity of the crash, but ultimately it's the look in the eyes that kept me coming back to this one.
Ella Conolly - Inverness, Scotland
I'd been shown this trail over the summer and as soon as I rode this section I knew instantly I had to shoot it at some point. The gently meandering singletrack through the lines of pine trees was so satisfying to my eye. With a little more free time after the season and no agenda, I headed up with my girlfriend Ella to tick it off. It's nice to shoot without the constraints of racing or company's needs once in a while, taking me back to why I started this whole photography thing in the first place. It's pretty ridiculous that I can call this a job now.
Loic Bruni - Vallnord, Andorra
There's a decent amount of Bruni in my selection. Sorry, not sorry. It's only natural that I ended up with a lot of moments from his 2019 campaign considering the majority of the season revolved around him as he took home both the overall and World Champs stripes. Small details can often be overlooked or missed completely, but I think these shots contribute so much, especially to our daily photo epics from the World Cups. The tire buzz on the back of Loic's pants not only shows the steepness of the Andorran track but just how much you have to hang it out to win a World Cup these days.
Elliot Jamieson - Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada
More often than not we'll be hit by a summer thunderstorm at some point over the course of a weekend in Mont-Sainte-Anne. Although bad weather wreaks havoc on camera kit and generally makes your life a lot tougher, it does offer up different opportunities for fresh images. More often than not I'd say my style is better suited to dark and moody conditions. I always love the results off the back of it. What makes this image for me is the rooster tail of roost following behind Elliot as he storms down MSA in a deluge of rain and mist.
Vali Höll - Les Gets, France
I love hanging around at the start hut as riders get warmed up for their qualifying or race runs. There's a serene calmness with the only noise coming from the constant buzz of turbo trainers. With only a few minutes to her start time, I saw Vali cranking her way up the hill away from the crowds for one last moment to her self before dropping in. Laying flat on the ground, I was able to hide the chair lift in the background and have Vali cast against the moody sky which I made a little bit punchier by underexposing the image slightly. It's definitely one of my personal favourites from my time spent covering the World Cups so far. What I subsequently didn't manage to capture was Vali slipping out on the grass as she rolled her way to the start hut! After picking herself and her bike up laughing she went on to lay down one of her best race runs so far, even beating all of the elite women's times for good measure.
Loic Bruni - Fort William, Scotland
A bruised and battered Loic Bruni watches on from the crowd towards the end of finals. He'd managed to salvage as many points as he could after a huge crash in qualifying the previous day. This day ended up playing a pivotal part in the 2019 season given how small a margin he ended up winning the overall by. It could well have been this day of damage limitation that won him the overall. The expression on Loic's face says a lot and it almost looks quite philosophical, like he's resigned himself to his fate somewhat as he watches faster riders bump him down the order.
Sam Blenkinsop - Fort William, Scotland
Even by Fort William standards, this year's World Cup was an absolute washout. There's absolutely zero shelter on that hillside from the rain and wind. You're somewhat at the mercy of mother nature and just keeping your camera gear alive is a task in itself. An umbrella became an integral part of me that day and I don't think I even dared to risk a lens change or to open my bag until I got to the woods later in the afternoon. Shooting editorial for Pinkbike means that alongside all the action shots you need a load of details to accompany them and tell the story of how the day unfolded. This shot of Sam Blenkinsop bursting through one of the many puddles littering the course helps to portray just how biblically wet it was that day.
Nina Hoffmann - Vallnord, Andorra
Nina Hoffmann gained a lot of fans in 2019 thanks to both her riding style and her approach and outlook on racing. She threw everything at each race run and mixed it up at the front, ending up with some amazing results but some crashes too. She was on it in Andorra and looked comfortable and flamboyant on track all weekend. She ended up qualifying fastest before a hectic race run, crossing the line with her shoeless foot aloft before crashing as she tried to place it back on the pedal. The body language in this shot is what makes it, casually brushing shoulders up against the tree in the deep dust and steep slopes of the Andorran track.
Scotty Laughland - Kinlochleven, Scotland
With a brief from Scott to capture their new winter clothing in some typically Scottish conditions, there was only one place we could go: Kinlochleven. Even with both Scotty and myself being Scottish we got more than we bargained for with a weather warning for the afternoon. The rain fronts drifted in and out all day and provided us with the perfect conditions to shoot the new kit in until later in the afternoon when it became brutal with ridiculously heavy rain and winds forcing back to the van. The view down that ribbon of water is one that's synonymous with Scottish mountain biking and it's not hard to see why.
Amaury Pierron - Les Gets, France
I had to include a shot of Amaury Pierron in Les Gets. In my opinion, it was one of the best if not the best race runs of the year, I struggle to think of an atmosphere I've experienced quite like what the Frenchies put on in Les Gets this year. The track didn't have masses of variety in terms of photos, but it's hard to beat the simplicity of a flat grass turn being ripped a new one. This was taken in qualifying and I should have known then what he'd do on Sunday, he hit it way more aggressively than anyone else. Tentative isn't a word in Amaury's vocabulary.
Loic Bruni - Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada
Bruni always turns up the heat for the biggest race of the year and this year he had the opportunity of being the last man down the hill with all eyes on him. The scramble into the finish area after the last rider crosses the line is always hectic and can be pretty hit or miss for getting clean celebration shots with bodies everywhere. There's quite a lot of praying and spraying going on. I think the arms being aloft into the white of the sky helps this image a lot, it gives more separation from the background and makes Loic that bit more impactful.
Lachlan Blair - Fort William, Scotland
Having wrapped up shooting for another project, I decided to hang around in Fort William for an extra day to ride and catch up with some friends. Having met up with Lachlan at the local bike shop Nevis Cycles, we were indecisive and swaying with what to do. I'd seen a few clips of a new track and fancied shooting it, but Lachlan was more than a little hesitant because "it's basically a river". It is Fort William after all... I managed to lure him in with the promise of stocking up his Instagram content and off we went. This huge fallen tree caught my attention on the push-up and clambering onto the straight piece of timber gave a slightly different perspective of the woodland. I feel like it draws your attention into the image nicely as well as giving the composition a good balance with it splitting the middle of the frame.
Myriam Nicole - Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada
It's Myriam Nicole's stubbornness and determination I like. She's had a lot of horrific injuries over the years, but no matter how hard she goes down she always fights her way back. This year was no different. Her season was over before it'd even really begun, missing most of the season with a broken foot. She returned to action for World Champs in Mont-Sainte-Anne in the best possible way, taking her first elite World Champs win despite being far from 100%. It was great having her back at the races and seeing her steely death stare in between the race tapes once again. This was taken in the infamous MSA start hut which is a photographer's paradise. The riders depart through a narrow strip of light which floods into the darkness of the gondola hall, allowing you to capture some unique and almost studio-like images.
Laurie Greenland - Les Gets, France
The track in Les Gets provided my favourite race of the year as well as my favourite finish area to shoot. Quite often the last stretch of a track isn't all that interesting to shoot in a normal riding scenario during practice but more often than not a decent finals crowd transforms how you can shoot it. The finish area in Les Gets had a lot of different angles which combined with the crowd and wild racing, made for the most enjoyable race of the season for me. This pan of Laurie Greenland on the final drop was one of my favourites from the day. Panning through or against the colourful crowd always makes for an interesting effect and gives some variety to the usual tight race action. People will no doubt pick up on the dust marks on the sensor, (which are always more obvious when panning) but that's the reality of shooting World Cups. Our gear takes an absolute hammering and there's very little respite to get equipment cleaned and serviced properly during the middle of the race season.
Brendan Fairclough - Les Gets, France
Another highlight of Les Gets was seeing Brendan Fairclough back up there finishing 6th and what we Scots would call a bawhair off the podium. I can't decide if he was happier with his result or the fact his result meant he'd won a bet against Sven Martin which would see Sven lose his eyebrows in Mont-Sainte-Anne. There's plenty of life in Brendog yet.
Scotty Laughland - Infiernillo, Ecuador
Infiernillo or "little hell" was our introduction to riding in Ecuador and what an intro it was, cutting through the lush green jungle on a slither of volcanic soil singletrack made for fun riding and easy picking behind the camera. This was an example when a good relationship between the rider and photographer works well. I'd stopped at this corner to check it out and when Scotty arrived on the scene, he then suggested that he could carve a little bit higher up the banking which ended up lifting him a little higher out of the vegetation and creating a more aggressive position on the bike.
Loic Bruni & Amaury Pierron - Snowshoe, USA
I don't think I've sworn so much in such a short period of time in my life. You could not make it up. Both Amaury and Loic were in position to win the 2019 overall within the 3 short minutes of Danny Hart's race run. Amaury's time looked like it was going to hold strong for the win and that Danny would bump Loic down a place, meaning the stars were aligning for back-to-back Pierron overall wins. Of course, it wasn't to be and Danny would go green in the final splits to snatch the win, putting the overall in the hands of Loic in the most dramatic of circumstances. Absolute bedlam. I'll never forget that roar from the crowd as the splits turned from red to green, it genuinely gives me goosebumps thinking about it. I feel like this image captures the chaotic and somewhat confused final moments of realisation for both Amaury and Loic. You couldn't get a bigger contrast of emotions if you tried.
Night-time skies in the desert - Damaraland, Namibia
Whilst not strictly a bike photo, this was taken at the end of a long day shooting 2 wheels in the Namibian desert
and was the first night going off the grid and camping in the wilds of Namibia. It's essential to have a good balance of riding, landscape, culture, and lifestyle images to do each travel story justice. I'd thought I'd seen clear night-time skies at home in Scotland but they certainly faded into insignificance when compared to watching the Milkyway rise into the sky each evening in Namibia. Having scrambled onto a rocky outcrop I was given the perspective overlooking the camp, the tiny glow from the campfire in the bottom corner and the massive expanse of the Milkyway filling the image is both mesmerising and intimidating in equal measure.