A Book for the Ages

By John Wilcockson w/images from Graham Watson

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Graham Watson’s new book “40 Years of Cycling Photography” opens with the first image the Englishman had published in a cycling magazine. It’s from the 1977 Tour de France, where Watson was a roadside fan on the Champs-Élysées: a black-and-white shot taken on Kodak film with an Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II camera he’d been given as a 21st birthday gift. Fittingly, the rider in the picture is Eddy Merckx, the sinews of his arms, calves and thighs adding emphasis to the gritty image. The book’s closing shot is of another single rider, this time Mark Cavendish, wearing his rainbow jersey in the 2012 Milan–San Remo. It was shot with a Nikon D4 that, according to Watson, “has a file size of 16 million megapixels—good enough to wallpaper the moon.”

In the 222 pages between those two images, Watson packs four decades of shooting the very best riders in the very best races—in the most beautiful places in the world. Among the most iconic photos—which by themselves are worth the book’s cover price—the author has selected a smorgasbord of his images, including:

  • The mud-strewn cobblestones of Paddestraat at the 1983 Tour of Flanders: “I cherish this image because soon after the local council drained the fields and re-laid the cobbles on raised foundations—so no more mud!”
  • A classic shot of Sean Kelly, his eyes staring upward and his thick, black hair blowing in the wind as he attacks on the Madonna del Ghisallo at the 1985 Tour of Lombardy.
  • An image from the 2005 world cyclocross championships in St. Wendel, Germany, with riders racing across a snowy landscape, much like a painting by Bruegel.

Watson’s book is not just about photography—although he does detail all the cameras he used and the dozen moto drivers who worked with him. But his anecdotes are just as important. Typical is his memory of the day Wouter Weylandt crashed and died in the 2010 Giro: “I began photographing what seemed like an ordinary fall [and] spontaneously fired off a few frames but…the prone figure was ghostly white, and there was no sign of life. Heading straight to the pressroom, I deleted every one of the crash images, fearful that someone would beg me to release them. Incredibly, one Italian colleague thought differently—his images were splashed across newspapers the next morning…compounding the grief of Weylandt’s family. Wednesday May 13, 2010 is a day when the beautiful sport I loved so much became an altogether uglier affair.” $49.95; grahamwatson.com

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