As much as I enjoy music gigs or festivals, it's a nice change when I get to cover something a little different. In this case, I was shooting the cycling event taking place around the north coast of Northern Ireland; The Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive. The event is open to all cyclists; from a first timer to seasoned veteran. Which is one of the things I love about these events, which I'm more familiar with as a cyclist than someone covering the event!
There were several routes available; 35, 85 and 115 miles. The 85 and 115 mile routes took in Torr Head, which is famous to locals for being an unrelenting and frankly, brutal climb. The location is incredible and has stunning views, but you won't be able to appreciate them when you're trying to tackle the climbs. Thankfully I was there to shoot images for people to remember why they did it in the first place.
My task for the day was to cover the registration, feed zones on the course, the Torr Head climb, various junctions throughout the course and the finishing cyclists of all three routes. This meant that I had around 7 different locations on the day and had to give myself a very specific window of time to cover all of the areas. Time was a crucial factor also because the bulk of traffic for each route might only come in a 15-20 minute window and either side of that would be a missed opportunity.
The weather for the day was a story of two halves; with miserable rain and wind in the morning, only to brighten up and turn into a great day later on. The first food stop was absolutely washed out, with my 2nd camera playing up something shocking, to rhe point where I couldn't use the on-screen menu. Thankfully for the riders there was shelter to hide fro the elements in an old church hall, but this meant any attempt to take photos indoors left me with a misty lens and foggy looking photos which didn't make the grade.
All weather aside, I was amazed at the high spirits of all riders and volunteers involved. Maybe they were just happy to get off the bike and have some food and drink, but it allowed me to get some great shots of people smiling and enjoying the day.
So by the time midday had arrived, all the cyclists looked a little knackered, but I was still greeted with smiles and my shouts of encouragement were always well received.
I was amazed when I travelled the course towards the coast and saw the views that riders would be taking in. The Fourth feed stop on the course was one of my stops of the day, which was situated on the coast, just outside a village called Cashendun; which I would definitely recommend a visit to. Another well stocked food stop as riders prepared for the infamous Toor Head. With many pockets getting filled to the brim with bars, gels, bananas and whatever else they could squeeze in.
Coming out of Cushendun, having taken advantage of the food stop, riders had the choice of tackling Torr Head or by taking a slightly easier route which has been dubbed 'easy street'. Now let me tell you, there was nothing easy about either choice, with both routes requiring the riders to climb out of the small village at sea level.
I drove up Torr Head to reach the summit with some pretty sketchy roads whilst attempting to safely pass a lot of cyclists struggling with the climb. At one point I met the Mechanic's van and had to reverse about 100 yards down a very steep hill, with cyclists coming up it! When I did have a clear path I still struggle due to the gradient of the climb in many places.
By the time I had reached Torr Head, I was knackered even from just watching the cyclists take on the routes; so I can only imagine how they felt. Well, I had a good idea, by the grimacing going on up Torr Head! But once those who took on the brutal climb had reached the top, there was a relatively easy decent into Balycastle where they would be greeted with medals, goody bags,a healthy serving of pasta and other refreshments. A hell of a lot more than a certain well known N.I. cycling event that shall go un-named..
Once I made it to the finish, the sun was out, the music was blaring and many family and friends were waiting at the finish to greet the riders home. Some sprinting for the finish line, others just happy to roll across knowing the job was done.
Throughout the day it was easy to get photos of peoples reactions and emotions due to the nature of the sport. Before the day I was stressing out about being able to get about , but it was such a well organised day that allowed me to smoothly travel around and know exactly where I needed to be.
I'd strongly recommend anyone new or old to the sport, to give the event a go next year. It takes in so many picturesque locations you'd think it was an ad for the tourist board. But not only that, the people who run it have got everything spot on, from food to the organisation of registration of the event and other smaller details some people might overlook.
I'll be back at this event next year for sure. Whether that is on a bike or with a camera is yet to be decided. But based on the faces of people going up Torr Head, it could be the latter.