There's been a theme this week. Big mountains, dramatic scenery, iconic locations, exciting action. Except, I haven't really seen a great deal of it... A week spent in the Pyrenees would on paper promise lots. However such is the fickle life of a sports photographer in pursuit of Lycra the job is beset with tussles with nature.
The brief saw me head to Valle d'Aure to capture the action over two days of the second round of the Bluegrass Enduro Series. Whilst Scotland, hosts of the first round, offered majestic mountains accessed by chairlifts and snow, the Pyrenees upped the ante in terms of steroid fueled snow peaked altitudes, except it also delivered a huge dose of weather, which meant glimpses of the majesty of the Pyrenees was caught in snippets as a blanket of mist played a heady burlesque game with us.
The forecast leading up to the event, was pretty grim. Thunder storms, torrential rain, zero visibility, all a photographers dream... As it was we got off pretty lightly. With 3 stages on day one the riders had a layer of slippery mud to contend with as they picked their lines down the ever changing trails. Occasional light rain showers just added to the fun but certainly didn't dampen rider spirits.
After a torrential rain filled night, day two looked more promising. In the valley, blue skies looked to be trying to break through. The event headed to the hills. The first of the day's 2 stages started at the Col de Portet, 2300m looming above the valley floor, except you couldn't tell. The blanket of mist had settled down and snuggled the top of this most epic of starts, adding even more drama to the 'blind' riders as they picked their way down the trail.
For the top riders this 13km epic took a mere 31 minutes, which in enduro terms is almost a lifetime! Luckily the final stage was a blast around the event village of Ancizan, a 5 min sprint ending in relief, huge smiles, cheers of congratulations and beer!
For the Brits, Hannah Barnes and Liam Moynihan did us proud, with Hannah on the top step and Liam grabbing a hard earned 2nd.
If you'd like to get a taste for this great event check out the video: https://vimeo.com/130956348
Monday saw us head back to the Hourquette d'Ancizan to shoot some more images of Liam and Hannah for MET & Bluegrass. The mist was still there, along with even more mud. No chance to sit it out as the riders had to head back to the UK. Ah the joys of shooting in unpredictable weather with very little time on your side. It was a blast, a real muddy blast at that! What we'd lost with the snow in Scotland, we quickly gained with slick mud in the Pyrenees!!
With the mountain bike shots in the bag it was time to move on. Liam and Hannah were dropped off at the airport whilst we headed to another part of the Pyrenees to meet up with our next set of models, triathletes Andrea Hewitt & Dorian Coninx.
A long drive to our destination at Les Angles, meant a late start, meant the weather played nasty. As we made our greetings and put bikes and riders together and discussed shooting plans, it started to rain, then rain some more, then rain harder. The show still had to go on and with Andrea & Dorian complete pro's they did everything we asked despite the persistent rain.
Shots done it was then time to turn around and head to Campan. Another long day followed by an even longer night, arriving at our final destination Gite Belle Vie around midnight. having driven the entire way through more torrential rain.
My hopes were high that in the morning that we would finally be blessed with proper sights of the Pyrenees, especially as the plan was to head to the top of the iconic Tourmalet. On waking my spirits soared, blue skies, mountain tops, at last!! After a hearty breakfast and a quick chat through plans with today's models Jelli.eu owners Greg & Vicky Craig, we headed to our first stop of the day.
It started well, first shots bagged, it was time to head further up to check out the top of the Col du Tourmalet. In some variations of French the name of the mountain can literally be translated as bad trip, it was an omen.. As ever in the mountains the higher we climbed the weather closed in, the mist seemingly chasing us up the road. At times I felt I was an extra in The Returned!!
The Tourmalet refused to reveal its majestic beauty so we retreated and head to the other side of the Hourquette d'Ancizan were we actually saw the mythical sun highlight the crest of that mountain, even if it was ever so briefly, it was just enough to capture some images.
After 5 long weather dominated days it was time to head home. A bag full of wet, muddy clothes and a pocket full of images captured despite my head in the clouds for most of the time. It just brings to home the reason you use a profession photographer. It not just about the images you create, of course they are important, but so is the experience of creating something out of the most dire of situations, of being able to work calmly, consistently and quickly. The expertise of thinking outside the box, when the locations and images you'd planned in your head are not going to work. That is the skill of a professional. It's not all about pushing a button and crossing your fingers, sometimes you have to get your head out of the clouds!!
Many thanks to Theatre des Operations for assembling all the talented people to make this shoot possible and of course for driving us everywhere!!