A discipline born in France but spawning a religion in its spiritual heartland, the Flemish Ardennes, cyclo-cross has lost none of its earthy connection to community, and, as a cycling based spectator sport, it's hard to beat: you get a start, middle and an end for around 10 Euros. No hours waiting by a roadside for 20 seconds of tumult. Cyclo-cross is a carnival of Jupiler beer and fanatical, devoted fans: rowdy, muddy and welcoming. It's standing in a rain-swept field and wading through mud as the Gods fly past. It's where the peak of bike hi-tech and winter sludge meet, like Formula 1 crossed with bonfire night. The party builds throughout the day and then finally cuts free of any shackles once the wheels stop turning and the pressure washers go to work. I'm yet to be convinced the racing is in any way the main event- but don't ever doubt the depth of knowledge you'll be surrounded by.
This year's World Championship took place in Zolder, Belgium. The weather was on world-beating 'Biblical Cyclo-Cross' form for the occasion, and a defining era was brought to a close with the World Championships swansong of the legendary Sven Nys amidst a backdrop of drama that reached seismic proportions. The drama and results have already been well documented ad infinitum elsewhere, the podium girls kissed and the jerseys all handed out. Here at Always Riding we'd like to share with you the day through the lens, thoughts and motivations of Flemish snapper par excellence, Pieter Van Hoorebeke.
My first encounter with a cyclo-cross Worlds race was in Germany in Sankt Wendel 2011. The temp was -5 degrees when we left home in Belgium at 5 o’ clock in the morning for a 400km drive. It was a madhouse. All those Belgian fans.. every lap we screamed our lungs out to cheer the riders. For us Belgians, an ‘intruder’ walked away with the rainbow stripes: Zdenek Stybar! But, really, we didn't mind who won, we had a great day! I get goosebumps even now thinking back.
I love to photograph and love bikes, I don't ride them but the stories & history, the crowd along the tracks… just amazing. I live in the mecca of the Classic races and cyclo-cross races. Put those two elements together and you have me!
In the beginning, when starting out taking shots at a cyclo-cross races I was satisfied just to get the riders sharp at the back of my screen. By going to lots of cyclo-cross races I met new people and photographers; by looking at other images from the races I tried to do other things, working with off camera flash, using prime lenses to get low depth of field. You develop a way of shooting which you are good at and happy with. Look for details, things others don't see - or if they do, look at it from your own perspective, don't copy it: If I see an image by another photographer who I am inspired by, I always try build on it or make it like I see it or add something to it.
When I shoot a cyclo-cross race I love to show what happens next to the race, the people, the crowd, the suffering of the riders- not only the race itself- that’s a whole different type of shooting. The result sheet is not of an essence for me, what comes out of my camera is way more important, and over the years I am learning – always an element of trial and error. It’s important to try and see the moment, step back and take some time to look; concentrate on details or on capturing the action, try every time to make something different, triggered from within yourself. Look at it your way. Try to make it your own.
If your client gives you the freedom to come home with your point of view, then they send you a message that they have gone over the images a thousand times, then I am a happy man.
Pieter Van Hoorebeke