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One of the most satisfying aspects of photographing bicycle racing is the ability to capture athletes at the height of their powers under stunning backdrops. It is one of the great advantages of a sport that is not confined to a stadium. And when I studied the opening stages of this year’s Giro d’Italia, I understood immediately that there would be ample opportunities for utterly unique images.
This year’s Giro was initially slated to start in Budapest, but with the season reshuffling due to the coronavirus crisis, the Grande Partenza was ultimately held in Sicily—a move I immediately embraced as I am a huge fan of this island in the Mediterranean.
And already the opening stage did not disappoint as the time trial started at the foot of the Duomo di Monreale overlooking Palermo, before descending into the city center. The day before the race started, I drove up to Monreale to check out this historic Normanesque cathedral that is designated a UNESCO Heritage site, in an effort to eye up the different vantage points. But all of the advanced work in the world can quickly be erased come race day, as we must constantly find the best frame that includes the cyclists themselves.
Originally I was attracted to the main entryway on the piazza in the center of Monreale, but on race day, I found this perspective behind the cathedral more interesting. Here, the riders passed close by as they crested the climb and made their way into the narrow tunnel that led to the main square. And the intricate stonework found here provided a stunning stage.
Settling here, I was actually able to get two shots. First I got the riders on the climb, and then, switching to my second camera with its wide-angle lens, I shoot up just as they rode by. I practiced many times on the riders with earlier start times as I wanted to have the optimal position when the favorites raced by. And while I did not know who would finally win on this day, I knew that Italy’s Filippo Ganna, who had just won the world championship time trial title, was a prime candidate.
I readied as Ganna approached and shot off as many frames as possible. And for this second shot, I was virtually lying on my back on the roadside. But I could instantly tell, these would be my best shots of the day. Ganna’s statuesque build and aerodynamic position are the embodiment of power and grace, while the classic lines of the rainbow-striped jersey played off perfectly against the gold stonework of the cathedral.