This is my favorite image from this year's USA Pro Cycling Challenge. I will never forget the smile on Tejay's face as he climbed the steepest part of Independence Pass.
All cyclists should have wheels at the ready, just in case of flat!
No climbing on the final day of the race, but the pros must race full speed, with everything they've got, the entire nine miles while negotiating wild curves and summer heat pavement buckles.
It didn't stay this deserted for long.
Stage 7 Time Trial ramp.
I had the most awesome view of the time trial in Denver. Until it got crowded. My view went from above to below...
The pros are much faster than the amateurs, and I couldn't see around the hands and cowbells to pan my camera. I had to switch to the monster lens and shoot distant cyclists approaching.
Dave Zabriskie again, with the telephoto lens instead of the portrait lens. He's across the intersection from me, but my long lens makes him seem much closer, and no hands or cowbells are interfering with my shooting.
Here's Dave again, coming from the opposite direction. I could still see the pros zoom by lightning fast less than five feet from me, and I had views of them in two other directions as well. A press photographer's dream! But the press didn't get there early enough to nab my spot. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
22-year-old phenom Taylor Phinney receives a warm welcome as he sets a stage pace with a time no one else could beat. His mom Connie Carpenter (who nervously bit her nails the entire race, waiting in suspense to see if Taylor's time stood) is an Olympic gold medalist, and Taylor's dad Davis is an Olympic bronze medalist who rode for the first American team to compete in European cycling races, Team 7-Eleven. That's akin to having a royal pedigree.
Tejay van Garderen's dad Marcel serves as a neutral wheel man, favoring no rider, no team, replacing damaged wheels when cyclists crash (which two of them did right in front of us) and pushing them off so they can get going again, even if their legs are shaky. That is, until Tejay gets to the start line. Then Marcel disappears to a decidedly better view than what I had, watching from VIP seating with other excited and proud rider parents. (Mavic supplied a replacement wheel man so the final racers could continue if, heaven forbid, they crashed.)
Tejay's fans' street message.
Jensie. A powerhouse. King of the Mountains. (Refresh the linked paged multiple times to see hilarious fan-submitted slogans.) "There is no such thing as global warming. Jens Voigt got cold and turned up the sun."
After Levi took off on his time trial ride, fans broke through the gates separating us from the street and the metal barrier lining the finishing curve of the race. Because that part of the route was finished, and they wanted to be closer to loudly bang on the barricades (like stomping on the stands in a stadium) in support of the three riders still on the road: Tejay van Garteren, Christian Vandevelde and Levi Leipheimer. We excitedly pushed forward so I could continue to shoot the riders MUCH CLOSER as they arrived back at the grand stand, but the four volunteers manning the location urged us to go back. We did because they asked us to. The four volunteers were sadly outnumbered. About 300 people had already flooded the street, and there was no containing them. As we stepped back toward the curb, another 300 or more people were pushing into the already tightly packed street. We'd lost our ace view. And the crowds continued to pour into the street from out of nowhere.
We walked away from the crowd to a section of fence where no one was left watching (because they scored a much better view piling into the street). I snapped one last shot of Levi as he returned across the four-lane street from me to finish the rest of his nine-mile loop, and then The Lizard and I made our way back to our car.
We escaped the concrete jungle of downtown before the crowds, and we escaped the city before the traffic (which included a Bronco game starting at virtually the same time) mutated into gridlock. We checked race results as we abandoned the metro and discovered Taylor Phinney indeed held onto first place in the Stage 7 time trial. Christian Vandevelde snagged the overall crown. Tejay took second, and Levi took third.
Here's how fast Christian pedaled around that first big curve in what must have been the ride of his life:
USA Pro Cycling Challenge overall winner Christian Vandevelde.