Bryn Lennon is a sports photographer for Getty Images specialising in covering competitive cycling. He shares his experiences covering the Paris-Roubaix, one of cycling's oldest races, first run in 1896, that starts north of Paris and finishes on the Belgian frontier.
After the first 100m of secteur one, there was dust and grit in between my teeth and in my eyes.
A day later, it’s still in my lungs. All the clichés and tired adjectives about Paris-Roubaix are true. It is unique, it is iconic and it is insane. As much as I love covering the race, I’m glad it’s only once a year.
Yesterday was the 112th edition of “Hell of the North”. It was 257km long and peppered with 28 secteurs of cobbles. Each secteur varies in length between 0.3km and 3.7km and totals 51km of cobbled riding. Dutchman Niki Terpstra crossed the finish line first with an average speed of 41km/h for over 6 hours of riding.
The race starts with relative calm as the first 100km is on asphalt, however, when they reach the first secteur at Troisvilles, all hell breaks loose. At speeds of 45kmph+ the peloton stretches out in a long line down the single width, cobbled farm track. After the first group of riders pass, the dust becomes so thick you struggle to see more than about 50m.
The only way a photographer can really cover the race well is by motorbike. Overtaking the riders is virtually impossible so you need to cut between different sections of the race, to jump ahead of the riders. Trying to photograph race favorites or a particular rider is very difficult as they are often not the first riders in the group. It took me until nearly the last stop to get a decent frame on Sir Bradley Wiggins this year.
The biggest challenge you face is keeping your cameras clean and damage free - all you can really do is hope to minimize the damage to them. I try to keep it simple too with 2 bodies, a 24-70mm lens, a 70-200mm lens and a wide angle. Editing is done at the press centre afterwards – on other races in our new Velo Collection we can send images straight from the camera via the WFT system, but Roubaix is intense, that really all you can do is concentrate on getting to a stop and getting a picture.
The infamous Arrenberg Forest is always a photogenic stop as you look down the arrow straight cobbled road. Traditionally, the Arenberg becomes survival of the fittest and anyone emerging in the front group could be a potential winner. It’s also a secteur of attrition where broken wheels, bikes, riders and even team cars can be left scattered by the road side.
I don’t know why, but with a race so challenging and difficult to cover well, it just makes you want to go back and do it again and, better. Experience and knowledge is key. I guess it’s the same for the riders, although rationally, you should never want to do it again.
About Bryn Lennon
A photography graduate from the London College of Printing, Bryn spent 3 years at a specialist motorsport photography agency before joining the Getty Images Sports Photography team in 2001.
Since then he has covered a vast array of sporting events which include over 100 F1 Grand Prix, World Cup and European Football Championships, Winter and Summer Olympics and Le Mans 24 hours.
With a strong specialism in cycling, he has covered many of the World’s greatest cycling races. Working from the back of a privileged “in race” motorbike he has covered 9 Tour de Frances, numerous one-day classics and many world championships on both road and track.
He has developed a strong relationship with British Cycling, frequently working with many of their riders including Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton. When BSKYB launched a new professional road cycling team in 2010 he was chosen to photograph the riders for the team launch. He now works closely with them shooting behind the scenes at training camps, at races or in the studio.
Alongside his coverage of live sporting events, Bryn is confident with studio and location lighting as well being experienced with digital medium format cameras and film. High profile clients he has worked with include Shell, UEFA, The IOC, The FA.