(Updated for 2018)
Its not often the world comes to your doorstep, even less often that the world comes to celebrate. For the 9th year the UCI cycling tour passed through Canada for two circuit races, a Friday race in Quebec and a Sunday race in Montreal. For the the 9th year in a row a cross section of cycling's elite came and they have yet to disappoint. There are lessons both for cyclists and photographers in these. Nine years in and there are definitely patterns to both the Quebec and Montreal races. 2018 is the third or fourth year I have been on site but I have also watched a few of the other years in some form. 
Lessons: 1. There will be a break on the first lap. 2. The break will be mostly development team riders. 3. The Peleton will let them go, toy with them mercilessly and then crush their souls on the penultimate lap. 4. A few riders will take solo dives of the front over the last 20k, it will not go well. 5. There will be a small group sprint in the 300 to 100 meters. 6. There will be broken hearts.
I know the Quebec course REALLY well at this point, and really want to get to Montreal. I would still rather be working this, and getting paid for it, but even as a highly engaged spectator, it is a great project, it is a great learning laboratory for planning out event coverage and an even better way to push both the camera and my connection to it in order to set goals and meet them.
For 2018 I have re-ordered the presentation a little bit, the final sprint for 2018 is directly below and then the final sprint from 2017.
This year, Peter Sagan chose not to defend his 2017 title, instead riding the Vuelta. Michael Mathews, having skipped this years Tour de France, was in great form and looking for his first one day race win of 2018. I am not going to lie, I would have bet on Greg Van Avermaet in a heartbeat, he was so strong last year and has had a great 2018 but I think the difference between having ridden the TDF and not was just enough to push Mathews to the win. 
Technically, I am shooting a very different set up for 2018. I have upgraded my day to day camera to a 42mg px Sony 27rii with a pretty recent metabones adaptor for my Canon EF lenses. In practical terms, that means two things: Usable autofocus, even when shooting fast action multiple shots, and enough pixels to be able to crop and still have good resolution. The A7rii is a great camera, I am reasonably certain that its autofocus, even with a canon lens, is faster and more accurate than the 5d. My only complaint is the small and SLOW buffer, it is still crucial to plan ahead and shoot deliberately. There are worse things in life.
(From 2017)
For me the whole day clicked at just the right time. We had staked out a cement retaining block about 75 meters from the finish with 5 laps to go. The block let me stand up above the ground and get a pretty clear view a little further up and down the street. If I had been credentialed for the day, I would have followed the rest of the press down to the middle of the street after the finish line where, honestly, Sagan doesn't disappoint when he pulls of the win. But I do think I learned a lesson here and was rewarded with a series that really speaks to the power of the finale and the amazing speed of the sprint. I think the last image stands up to anything I have seen from the day but I like to see all of them together to see the progression of the finish. 
Technically I also was lucky as well, I had been working all day to really get control of a panning shot that would isolate the moving action against the slightly blurred background. I had been arguing hard with my Canon 5D hoping the autofocus would track the athletes with the 70-200mm, there are a few examples above and some are OK. For the final sprint though I chose my lower pixel Sony A7 and went against my instinct to choose a wider angle 35mm manual focus lens, zone focused on the middle of the far lane of the street and stopped WAY down to f22. I also set the camera to single shot but then fired quickly...I think that kept the camera memory buffer from filling with too many frames and kept me a lot closer to the moments I wanted.
Sure I wish I had more pixels and I DO think I need to work on the post editing...but I think the final money shot is pretty special and THAT is a good pay off for a day's hard work.
These two images are from the first up hill section of the course, as the riders ride from the lower city up into the old city before winding back down and THEN up again for the final, long uphill finishing stretch. This is one of my favorite places to watch and photograph the race. Even with some ill-timed major construction, there is a huge variety of vantage points, above the course on top of the gate, off to the side, up at the top of the hill where there is a hard left turn and, my favorite, in the gutter on the outside of the turn. There are not a lot of professional sporting events when you can get as close to the athletes, look them in the eye and listen in on the private jokes they are trading and even more private mumbled sufferings. 
I also love the image of the riders seeming to rise out of the road, like the one above, the lead riders isolated in the late summer light. The image above is darn close to what I wanted, but NOT quite. I am still looking at it hard, but I think the lead rider is just a little tiny bit ahead of the focal plane. I am using a new ( to me) lens to peer into that space, a Canon 500mm extremely manual focus FD mount which, as an added bonus quirk, has a fixed f8 aperture. The strategy, learned a LONG time ago, is to prefocus on a point and try to hit the shutter when the riders hit that point. I think this is really, really close....but I am not sure I got it. Part of the issue for me may well be that I don't, yet, have an accurate sense for the actual size of the depth of field for this lens.  In any case, for now, I will let this image stand and annoy me for a year.
The rider above has the best name in all of cycling maybe all of pro sports: Winner Anacona, he is from Columbia and he rides for Movistar with Nairo Quintana. I am always impressed with how much the Columbian riders and fans just seem to LOVE each other and Winner is no exception he took a long time, before the race, to meet the crowd with the Columbian flag, sign autographs and have pictures taken.
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