Wednesday, May 22, 2024

John Pierce – Part Three, Favourites, Tips, and UCI Changes

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HomeInterviewsJohn Pierce - Part Three, Favourites, Tips, and UCI Changes

John Pierce is one of the world’s great sports photographers, he’s a friend of VeloVeritas and in our site’s best tradition, the man can RANT about the sport he’s been a part of for 50 years.

In Part Two of our interview with John, we looked at the changes the sport and photography equipment have seen through the decades, we bemoaned monotonous mountain stages in grand tours and the allocation of time bonuses for climbers, and agreed that Eddy Merckx was indeed The Boss.

In Part Three, our final chat with John, he looks at what changes he would bring if he were elected President of the UCI (we’d vote for him!), tells us about his favourite and most photogenic riders, ponders what really was in Lance’s bottom bracket, and gives us amateur photographers some tips of the trade.

John Pierce
Jan Janssen, World Champion 1964. 1st Paris-Roubaix 1967. 3 x Points TdF + 7 Stages.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia
John Pierce
Bernard Hinault flies over the cobbles to the win in the 1981 Paris-Roubaix wearing the World Champion’s Rainbow Jersey he won the year before at Sallanches.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

You mentioned Paris-Roubaix would be at the top of a list of favourite races – why?

“If I was no longer involved with cycling, I would still go but it’s spoiled in recent years because of road closures on the day. People who want to watch it have to go a day or more before, in a motorhome.

“Then having to stay there, they party, they get drunk and that produces a disrespectful crowd whom the riders have to struggle over the pave and race through the deep, often drunk crowds.

“Big football matches in the area enhance the problem the day before Paris-Roubaix, so you can see how the crowd, allowed onto the street can now be a problem. When there was no restriction, and easy access for spectators on the same day as the race, there was never a problem.

“This race Paris-Roubaix has rarely been won by an outsider.

“It is also a magnet for past heroes and a bit of a festival atmosphere. In the 70’s it always used to be cold and wet, even snowing.

“Nowadays it is sunny and dusty; for Roubaix, I prefer wet and cold.”

John Pierce
Alberto Contador thanks John for his great images.
Photo©Peter Goding

Least Favourite?

“Milan-San Remo, it takes too long for what is achieved. They should make a finishing circuit of 12kms, crossing over the Poggio twice, meaning they would also go through the finish twice.

“You could shoot the race, then go to the Poggio climb, then follow the lead group down to the Via Roma for the finish and podium.

“Simples – then it would be worth covering.”

John Pierce
Sean Kelly and Linda on their wedding day in Carrick on Suir, Ireland – John was the wedding photographer.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia
John Pierce
Sean Kelly shows his descending skills during a training ride in Ireland in 1987.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Your Favourite Riders, and why?

“Merckx, Gimondi, Roger De Vlaeminck, Moser, Kelly and Kupfernagle. All because fame never changed them, they raced because they were ‘hungry’; they were always competitive, always on the attack. Never any excuses and always graceful to those who managed to occasionally beat them. You never ever saw any of those riders sitting on.

“However the greatest rider of all time is Sean Kelly.

“He rode everything, not just selective events. He won lots of classics, some tours and stage races, on UCI points he would be the third or fourth greatest rider ever, yet he never won the Tour or the Worlds.

“He is today the same character and personality as the man he was in 1984, a man of few words – he even nodded a ‘yes’ on the radio.

“It’s not what he won or how he lost, it’s how he conducted himself that makes him a legend. He is highly revered by his fellow professionals and continues to put back into cycling far more than he took out. He is an outstanding example of hard work bearing its fruits.

“He has never had contractual problems, nor have you ever heard of injuries, excuses or bad words about fellow competitors. He is the Pro’s pro.”

John Pierce
John’s portrait taken last year of Eddy Merckx in his 70th year.
Photo©PhotoSport International UK USA Asia
John Pierce
Sean Kelly during his record ride – still the fastest TT without triathlon bars in the 1985 Nissan Classic.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

And Most Photogenic Rider?

“That’s not a fair question; first if riders do not race hard, then the great racing picture is almost impossible.

“You would also need to depict the rider doing what that rider does best, be it climbing, sprinting, or riding a time trial.

“Merckx was good at all of those things, so that is why the question is unfair.

“Hinault was easily very photogenic on and off the bike, but the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, if you are a Hinault fan or not?

“Or a Moser fan – he was always striking on a bike.

“Didrich Thurau was another, Raymond Poulidor was majestic, he had an aura – so popular he could have run for President.

“On the track there was Matt Gilmore, Bruno Risi, and Danny Clarke.

“The girls; Deborah Shumway (USA) and Hanka Kupfernagel (Ger), their style and position on the bike was perfect, better than most men, easily the most photogenic.”

John Pierce
Danny Clark, absolute class on the track.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia
John Pierce
Deborah Shumway in the 1984 Tour de France Feminine.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport Intnerational UK USA Asia
John Pierce
John Pierce receives an award from Jean-Marie Leblanc at the 2001 Tour de France.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

What’s the biggest mistake amateur photographers make when taking race pictures?

“The obvious mistake is standing too close to the subject and forgetting to pan the camera, then taking the shot too early.

“Try to stand a bit further back but still in a position so you can see the rider approaching. Start to pan the camera, (as if it were a rifle and you were shooting a deer) and wait, wait, and then take as the rider is opposite you.

“Set a high, or fast, shutter speed if the camera is adjustable, link this with the lowest compatible ISO (film speed).

“Then try to squeeze the shutter button rather than punching it with your finger. Punching it will ‘shake’ the camera and all your efforts will be wasted, as the camera will move up and down, when you want it to move at the same speed and direction as the rider.

“And if there is any, keep the sun over your shoulder, but make sure your shadow is not in the photo.”

John Pierce
Bernard Hinault in the leader’s jersey at the 1986 Coors Classic. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia
John Pierce
John in close in Youghal, Ireland as Chris Boardman realises he’s crashed out of the 1998 Tour de France whilst in Yellow.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia
John Pierce
John captures the moment at the Tour of Taiwan stage finish at Mount Wuling (Hehuanshan), which is a 3,416-metre-high (11,207 ft) mountain 50 miles from sea level.
Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

How about a tip for us amateurs?

“Avoid taking pictures at the Tour de France.

“The view from your camera can be misleading and you may not realise the actual speed or the large number of riders that are hurtling towards you.

“Never, ever, turn your back towards oncoming riders, and do not ever leave bags or backpacks in the road.

“When you stand too close, it’s like an express train passing as if you were on a station platform.

“The problem with taking pictures is you hardly ever see the racing, and if a judge asks a photographer who he thinks won a tight finish, then the photographer never actually got the picture because when they crossed the line the mirror in the camera should have been up, so if he is good at his job he never really sees the finish.”

John Pierce
John seldoms ‘sees’ the sprint finish because he’s capturing the moment thr