Tour de force

He works 14 - hour days and drives 5,000 miles while hiding from rival photographers, but Tour de France veteran Pete Goding wouldnt have it any other way...

Many say "shoot what you love". Are you a keen cyclist? No actually, Im not. But when youre photographing the Tour de France you cant help but fall in love with cycling. You travel the length and breadth of France, you open yourself up to new cultures and experiences, and you see parts of the country that you never even knew existed.

I must have covered at least seven Tours now, and the last four or five Ive done the full three weeks. Agencies want you to be there all the time, so you get up at 8am and you dont finish until 10pm, and you travel thousands of miles. I ended up covering about four or five thousand miles with the 2011 Tour. I usually travel with a journalist, just to help break up the driving.

What camera outfit do you take for three weeks on the road?

Tour de force

I use a Nikon D3 as my main body and carry a D2x on my other shoulder with a different lens attached to it, just in case. Ive been toying with the idea of getting the high - resolution D3x for my landscape work, but Im waiting to see what the D4 will be like as Im loathe to buy into old technology really.

I carry a range of AF - S Nikkor lenses plus a 2x converter that I sometimes fit on my 300mm lens for the finish line. I cant say it gives the best quality pictures, but Id rather have the option of 600mm reach than not at all. I use a couple of old SB800 Spcedlights and wireless triggers for portraiture work, and Photoshop on a MacBook Pro for processing. I went for a solid - state drive because my previous notebook got knocked around a lot. After shooting every day for three weeks, you end up needing a few hundred gigabytes of storage, so I carry a couple of terabyte hard drives, too.

Is being a part of the media pack following the Tour as chaotic as it looks on TV?

Its actually amazingly well organised. There arc such huge numbers of photographers and journalists, as well as the riders, the entourage, the caravans... You have to be quite regimented because it waits for nobody. You know the time that everybody will be at the start to sign on and then about an hour after that they ride off, at which point you have to be in front of them.

Sometimes, if youre on a motorbike, you can weave in and out. I used to do that when I was the official photographer of the Tour of Britain, and I had a team car looking after my gear, and somebody handing me lenses. However, the Tour de France is such a beast the likes of me has to wait a few more years until I can reach that stage. The cost of hiring someone to bike you everywhere, drive your back - up car etc is quite extreme.

Whaf s your routine for covering an epic sporting event like this?

You study the route so you know which towns the riders are going to go through and if there are features such as castles and suchlike that would be photographically nice to capture. Ideally Id plan to take some scenics with the riders going past, shoot some action shots of them climbing a mountain or similar and then get to the finish line. Alternatively, you drive along the course —photographers can get a permit that provides access to the closed roads —and you find a spot en route. Thats the technique Id use if I were shooting a magazine article. A featured rider would get on their bike, Id drive ahead of them, find a good spot, take their picture and then overtake them again. You dont have that luxury with the Tour de France because you cant stay on the road. Once youre behind the pack, you have to go off the course to overtake them, which can be troublesome. You have to know where you can dive onto the motorway to get past them, otherwise youll be left behind and miss the finish.

Close to the finish line theres usually a large press room, which has a very high speed internet connection. The moment youve got that podium picture, which is the last thing you take, you run back and wire it to the agency as quickly as possible. If the signals strong enough I use my Wi - Fi dongle, but nine times out of ten, because of the size of the files, you have to grab a connection in the press room. Its amazing, you can be on top of a mountain and a 100Mb file goes through in seconds.

How do you keep things fresh and avoid supplying just stock action shots?

When shooting for Reuters, I had a daily quota to liit for the newspapers. It was only a few standard pictures a day, which included a finish line picture and a podium shot. Certain images get very samey, though. You find yourself following the race alongside AFP, PA, AP, Getty - all the big agencies - and they have around 20 guys out on bikes. Photographers get lazy, especially when theyre on the road all the time, and the moment you pull over you find that a few of them will start pulling over, too. It really does get to the point where you hide behind a bush, just so that they all pass you!

I think you can always make a good shot out of something, even if the scenery or conditions are uninspiring. The Tour of Britain is notorious for its bad weather. You just have to work around it by finding unusual angles, focusing on spectators, and perhaps positioning yourself to frame the peloton under a flag instead of a grey sky.

Your new book Mountain High reveals Europes top cycle climbs. Did you have to shoot them all from scratch?

Most cycling magazines want a photograph of a guy on a bicycle; more specifically, they want to show the pain that guy goes through when going up a mountain. With Mountain High, we decided to go for more of a travel feel, showing these locations from the perspective of the cyclist as opposed to seeing the cyclist themselves. I didnt have many images related to that theme, because most of the time Im led by the brief of the client Im working for. So yes, I ended up running around Europe taking pictures for a couple of months this year.

It was a really tight schedule. Logistically, it was like a lnilitary operation, working out which airport I needed to go to, where to get a car, that kind of thing. I had to wait for the snow to melt as well, which meant that I ended up having to revisit some locations as a result. There was one stint where I was on the road for two weeks, during which time I drove about 10,000 miles to photograph 18 mountains —and thats not even counting the mountains I had to get over to reach the big ones! It was pretty intense...

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