So, by now some of you will that i’ve decided to skip the rest of the world cup season. I’m sitting here after one of the best World Cups in years and wondering how I got to the decision to change the career path that has defined me for 11 years. Well its complex … as all these things are. I attended my first World Cup in 1997 in Stellenbosch and was hooked. But thats a long story for another time and place.
For the past 6 years I have been pretty much the only photographer to travel to all the MTB World Cups and World Championships – Marathons included. And while it does sound like the dream job (it is) – it takes it’s toll. Home life becomes a series of transitional stops with a semi-packed bag at the foot of the bed for about a week at a time before the next month-long trip. Family time becomes a seemingly endless series of re-acquaintances and goodbyes from March through to September every year. Friendships on and off the circuit follow a similar cyclical flow. Time is fleeting, measured in the blink of an eye – like the difference between 1st and 2nd this weekend in Pietermaritzburg. And I feel it is passing all too quickly for my relationship with my wife and daughter.
What’s really put that in perspective is the fact that just one day after 4 days flat out work at the Pietermaritzburg World Cup – Molly turned 5 today. And of those 1826 days of her life I have been away for at least 900 of them. and that, my friends, is just not fair on any of us.
World Cup photography has given me everything – highs, lows, friendships, creative expression, a career, a reputation – you name it I am defined by the sights, sounds and people of the MTB World Cup. I have made friendships that I hope will endure forever. Take this weekend, for instance, I walked through the pits for 3 days straight saying hello to friends catching up on off-season gossip, tall tales and experiences. It’s my other family, it’s a dual-existence. One on this side of the world, home, and the other living out of a bag in far flung corners of the world. And sometimes it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Or which one superior and which inferior.
I also miss the simple act of riding my bike … I got into riding bikes late – I was 8 I think – but in the instant when my dad let go the seat and I pedalled/wobbled off I knew my life had changed forever. Freedom was now just a few pedal strokes away. And i still get that feeling whenever I climb on a bike. And to be brutally honest – I need to do it fairly often otherwise I go mad.
I know most think just how hard is it to consistently ride a bike while on the road in some of the most beautiful, riding oriented parts of the world that we go to on the circuit? Well its not all VIP parties in luxury chalets in the Alps as some would believe. The work days are never ending with shooting from the early hours till late, daily selections to be made, captions to be written, equipment to be cleaned and prepped, now and then food to be found and sometimes showers to be taken etc etc. For the past few years my work day ends when I am fast asleep on a stairwell trying to poach internets with the laptop on my, well, lap. Many can attest to this … having woken me up on returning from the post race parties. Finding time to ride a bike during a World Cup week – which includes travel to or from an event to the next – is just not possible. And do you know hard it is to watch people ride all day and not be able to ride yourself?
Karen and my life together was pretty much cemented when we rode mountain bikes together a few weeks into our new relationship in ’94 and this has also suffered with our conflicting lifestyles – how can you ride with your partner when they are on the other side of the world? Or you are shattered from jet lag and workload and she has to go teach at 7am? And now with Molly riding bikes the complexity is tripled.
After all that doom and gloom – the plus side, I’m not leaving MTB or photography. How could I? In fact after watching the racing this weekend I was seriously doubting my decision – much as I have for the last 7 or 8 months – thats how long I have been mulling this over – or in the World Cup timeline – since Val di Sole last year . One day this way, one day that. But I know I have made the right decision to work for the good people at Santa Cruz Bicycles.
I have so many people to thank for the friendships, belief & support over the years – without all of you this would have never been possible. There are too many to mention, and if I forget someone or something please don’t take umbrage – I am having a tough time as it is wrestling with all this and a hangover! But I’m going to try – in some semblance of order from the early days to now:
Greg Minnaar for a friendship that started 25 years ago here in Pietermaritzburg – it seems fitting that your amazing win here was the best way to bow out – One Life;
Martin Whiteley for my first proper press pass and so much more;
Mark Dawson and Malcolm Fearon for teaching me everything I know about World Cup photography which comes nowhere near how much they know;
Bobby Behan & the Specialized crew for years of support, laughs & adventures;
Shawn Spomer for the creative freedom of first littermag and then VitalMTB – other than the actual World Cup races I think i will miss doing the slideshows the most;
Mark Maurissen, Carla and the Genk massive for welcoming me to sunny Belgium like a long lost family member year in, year out;
Sven Martin for being the raging yang to my sober ying – the consummate competitor, hustler, friend, rival, colleague, alter ego;
all my clients over the years: Santa Cruz, Specialized, SRAM, UCI, Fox Racing Shox, Fox, Giant, Trek, GT, Morewood, Scott, Mondraker, Oakley, Iron Horse, Lizard Skins, Michelin, Royal, THE, Sunn and the list goes on;
all the magazine editors who have made my life hell with deadlines minutes after the last rider has crossed the line at what seems to be every World Cup and turning all those errant pixels into a beautiful tangible product;
Victor Lucas – for not only being the most gifted Irishman to take up a camera but also for the tremendous insight that places me in a tradeshow booth in 10 years handing out flyers for event photography or oval 36 inch wheels or the like;
my fellow photographers on the circuit – and there’s a lot you – seeing the quality of work produced each week makes me happy in the knowledge that the sport is in good hands – seeing the shots I missed or would have loved to have taken drives me to try harder each week;
the videographers – those of you driving the amazing new chapter in the coverage of the sport – RED cameras FTW;
all the racers, the mechanics and support staff – how you folks do your job dictates how my images turn out – without your style, passion & belief in this sport none of this would be possible;
the internets, the fans of the sport, fans of photography, the haters, the competitors;
Andres Jaramillo for stepping up to the plate to shoot for flipper this year;
Rob Roskopp & Mick Ferrentino & all at Santa Cruz Bicycles for the next chapter;
and last but definitely not least Karen & Molly for having the love to allow me to follow the sport the I love.
1000 plus words and not one picture … hmmm. Well you’re only as good as your last photo.
Sven & I leaving the press room last night after World Cup #1
To paraphrase Lou Gehrig:
… ” today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been at *World Cups for 11* years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?”