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.
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“There aren’t any barriers separating cyclists from spectators on most mountain passes. This is unusual for a big sporting event and can leave spectators vulnerable to falling into a riders’ path as they ride up the road. It’s important that you ensure you stay clear of the cyclist’s they will be subjected to fines if you push them, both monetary and time penalties.
“Cyclists ride incredibly fast and use every inch of road available, make sure you stand well clear.
“Do not run alongside the riders, there are fast-moving motorcycles too, and spectators are often struck by the TV motorcycles.
“Just watch the race and enjoy it.
“With so many vehicles on the road, including bikes, caravans and cars, trucks and a great many motorcycles, pedestrians should take extra care when crossing. If you’re watching the race with your family, please make sure you keep a close eye on children at all times. The event is all about children and families – let them arrive back home safely.”