As the younger sister of the Tour and the Giro, It’s definitely a different vibe at the Vuelta. The Giro is obviously the first of the three grand tours each year so the excitement is high and add in everything that comes with bike racing in Italy, the coloris, the passionate fans, the “Italian” way it is organised and you get a very good race to shoot but there is also a reasonable level of stress when it comes to getting my job done.
Behind The Lens At the Vuelta
The Vuelta is unique among the Grand Tours. The last three week race on the calendar, it’s the final hurdle for domestiques and the last chance for riders looking to save their season. Ahead of the race, we sat down with Team Ineos’ photographer Russ Ellis to find out what it’s like covering the race for the Red Maillot.
Then the Tour is just the Tour and the stress levels are turned up to 10. The eyes of the whole world are on the Tour, the team buses each day are 10 deep with spectators and the roads are lined with fans so getting to where you need to be and getting the shots is not easy.
Then there is the Vuelta, and the feel is completely different. I really like the laid back Spanish lifestyle that envelopes the race; you can move around the team buses and the press areas without any problems. Don’t get me wrong - it’s still busy and the fans are still around but it’s just no where near as busy as the Tour so I can just relax and focus on getting good images. Plus the weather in Spain at this time of year is great, nice and hot without much rain. The Vuelta really is perfect for photographers.
You get to see a lot of emerging talent at the Vuelta, but I've never really gone out of my way to just focus on specific riders as such.
For example I will look out for whoever is wearing a leaders maillot on any particular day and get an image of them during the race and I will obviously look out for riders who ride for the teams or brands that I am working for. That said I try to focus on getting images that tell a story from a race rather than just getting images of riders just because of who they are.
If there is a lesser well known rider doing something interesting or stood in nice light I’d rather get an image of them over lets say Peter Sagan who was just sitting nearby.
The Vuelta often throws up a few monster climbs. I think this year the guys are taking on a 30% slope called Los Machucos, and that’s a challenge for photographers too. It’s not always that easy to represent a truly steep hill in a still image, especially when the road is lined with spectators.
Usually you would try and get a low down shot from the side to show the gradient but with people stood at the roadside that’s not always possible, so maybe it’s best to go for a shot that shows the riders face and the suffering in it.
It being near the end of the season, you often get a lot of riders who have done all three Tours, but it's hard to say if they have a knock on effect.
The riders and especially Chris are so professional that you can’t really get a sense of that. You can for sure tell at each Grand Tour that just completing and winning one alone takes a monumental amount of effort but I didn’t really get a feeling that the Vuelta was much harder because of the other two - I think it was just hard full stop.
On Grand Tours, I shoot throughout the day, starting at sign on all the way through the race out on the road and then the finish and post stage podium etc. I will then head to the press room usually for around 5pm local time and edit the best images from the day, this can take anywhere from 2 hours to 4 hours depending on the stage and how many shots I’ve taken that day (usually between 2,000 and 5,000).
So it’s usually around 8-9pm that the images are ready and placed into various Dropbox folders for my clients, they will usually begin posting them on social media and websites that same night. I will then head to my hotel for the night for dinner and some sleep before repeating the next day. For 21 days …
I do find some time to get out on my bike though. I get up in the morning and just go and find somewhere to ride. Most of the time I only get an hour in the morning before having to set off to the race so it’s more that I just go anywhere to get some miles in the legs before work! Most of the time the hotel is not near the best climbs from the stage which is a shame.
The relaxed atmosphere around the Vuelta makes it for me, the Giro and Tour are great and I like them for different reasons, but it’s great that the last one of the year has a more relaxed feel to it, I can take my time and be more creative at the Vuelta, I like all the uphill finishes at the Vuelta as well, mountain stages always offer more photographic opportunities.