Plan for the unplanned (or switching gears)

In May, the Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California cycle race embarked from Stockton. I needed to get multiple pictures that told the whole story of the event, which meant that I had to plan carefully.

(5/14/19) Cyclists ride down Center Street near Weber Avenue during stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race in downtown Stockton.[CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Now, the tour is different from most sporting events. You only get a few opportunities to get your shot before the cyclists are gone. In most sports the athletes are in a relatively confined space and they will likely pass by your lens many times in the course of a game. Not so for the Tour of California. For the most part, the riders compete on a road course through the cities, towns and countryside throughout the state. The cyclists ride past you in just a matter of seconds and that’s it.

A few days prior I checked out the race route from the tour’s website. The riders would start from the Stockton Arena and do 2 parade laps from Fremont Street down Center Street to Weber Avenue, the east on Weber one block to El Dorado Street and back to the Arena. On the second lap they would turn west on Weber and out to the Port of Stockton. After the Port they would head west on Highway 4 over the San Joaquin River and ride on country roads.

(5/14/19) Jeff Allen of Stockton checks out Trek-Segafredo team’s bikes before the start of stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

I had planned to get there early and get some pre-race photos. Then I would set up on Center and Weber. From there I figured I could get a shot of the peloton coming towards me and then riding past with the Hotel Stockton in the background on the first lap. Then on the second lap I could get them making the turn east onto Weber. After that I planned to hop in my car to catch up with them as they rode through San Joaquin County.

(5/14/19) Cycling fans check out the Bora-Hansgrobe team’s bikes before the start of stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

The pre-race photos went fine. I got there about an hour early and the teams with their vans and support vehicles were just showing up at the arena. Curious cycling fans milled about taking pictures, looking at the fancy bikes and waiting for their favorite riders to appear.

(5/14/19) Wilson Neate of San Francisco takes a picture of the Bora-Hansgrobe team’s bikes before the start of stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

When I set up at Center and Weber I saw a flaw in my plans. Even though the Hotel Stockton was only a block away, it was still too far for the wide angle lens I was using and would look too small in the photo. It was several minutes before the race began so I changed my position to El Dorado and Weber.

(5/14/19) Young cycling fans cheer during stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race outside of French Camp..[CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

I could hear the start of the race over the loudspeakers at the starting line. A few minutes passed and I got a shot of the riders passing over the Center Street bridge at Weber Avenue with a telephoto lens. They turned onto Weber then El Dorado and with second camera with a wide angle I was able to get the shot I wanted: the riders prominent in the foreground and the Hotel Stockton clearly visible in the background.

(5/14/19) Cyclists ride by the Hotel Stockton on El Dorado Street and Weber Avenue during stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

The parade laps are mostly for show with the cyclists not putting in their top effort but they still make pretty good time, so I had to run a block from my position near the Hotel Stockton to the corner of Weber and Center. Once there, it was just a few minutes before they passed by again.

(5/14/19) Cyclists turn the corner from Center Street onto Weber Avenue during stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race in downtown Stockton.[CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

I was able to get some telephoto shots as they approached my new position and, again, I switched to a wide angle as they turned the corner. Even though they weren’t going that fast, the pack leaned into the turn and made for a dynamic photo.

It only took seconds for the peloton to pass that point, maybe a total of 5 to 10 minutes from the start of the race. I wanted to get a shot of them doing more than just cruising. I figured that they would start pushing themselves once they left the city limits. I had studied the route and figured that the most likely place that I could catch them was at Roberts Road and Howard Road, east of French Camp.

My car was parked about five or six blocks away which took me 5 to 8 minutes to get to. Driving around the road closures, I got onto I-5 south and exited at Matthews Road which turns to Howard Road in French Camp. When I crossed the tall San Joaquin River bridge I could see the teams’ support vehicles approaching the intersection.

(5/14/19) Cyclists ride Roberts Road at Howard Road during stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race outside of French Camp..[CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Traffic was backed up about 100 yards due to the CHP’s closure of the intersection. I quickly parked on the shoulder of the road and hoofed the rest of the way on foot.

I got there just in time. I had a minute or so to set up before they got to the corner. They were traveling at a pretty good clip. I could feel a wave of wind as the passed me.

(5/14/19) Cyclists ride Roberts Road at Howard Road during stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race outside of French Camp..[CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

I could have tried alternate routes to catch up to them, but that was the last point that I figured that I could realistically get ahead of them, so I decided that I was done for the day and headed back to the office.

It’s always good to have a plan ahead of time but make sure that you’re flexible enough to modify those plans when the situation calls for it.

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