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Off the track

18 Jan

Dianne Manson is one of our favorite photographers from the NZPA. You see, photography as a hobby is fairly easy and fun. Photography as a career is hard and unfortunately unforgiving but quite rewarding. We’ve learned a lot from sports photographers covering track events and while their claim to fame is the superb and splendid shots of fast moving objects such as cyclists, motorcycles in the MotoGP, cars in an F1 race, a lot of them are also known for producing superb portrait and so called ‘candid’ shots of the athletes. Moving objects are spectacularly hard to shoot and photographers go through lots of bad shots and rigorous editing before submitting to their employers. Simpler photos such as podium shots, and off the track scenes are easier to shoot but are less dramatic hence usually fail to go in print.

These set of photographs by Dianne Manson shows elite track cyclists from New Zealand during the Cycling Carnival in Invercargill, off the track. You may find familiar faces including Jesse Sergent, Sam Bewley, Sam Webster, Marc Ryan Myron Simpson, etc. It shows the life of a track cyclist inside the velodrome but off the track. Very few exciting things happen in between races of most track cycling events with the very notable exception of the 6 Days which features booze, boobs, music, and food. So you can just see cyclists chatting with each other, their team mates, photographers, and fans. Others would get a good massage, sleep, exercise in the rollers, analyze their videos, tinker with their bikes, etc. It all is a simple life before mounting in their bikes and heading into battle. Dianne Manson has beautifully captured that in this photo album.

Tales from Beyond the Track: Volume 9

27 Aug

The podium moment is a coveted prize for track cyclists. It is in this moment where everyone will acknowledge the track cyclist’s victory. Any track cycling fan will know, wearing the rainbow jersey is something every track cyclist dreams of. Despite all that, the cycling podium is a rather very humble event, a far cry from other sports such as football, basketball, baseball, or even boxing where the victory is a frenetically euphoric affair. That’s not to say that the track cycling podium is a drab affair, rather, the track cyclist upon winning is given time to both celebrate and contemplate on his victory. Deep really is the sport of cycling. It’s not about trash talking or boasting, the victory here feels genuine and heartfelt. In our experience in international track cycling events, the podium moment is an emotional and solemn part of the event and it belies the true euphoria track cyclists experience.

The podium moment begins with waiting. After the final results are verified in any event (and verification is a really standardized and rigid process overseen by the organizing body and the officials involved) the track cyclist and the team is informed of the victory confirmation. At this point, some track cyclists are too exhausted to show their euphoria. Some track cyclists then make themselves presentable to the podium through simple things such as adjusting their hair (especially the women cyclists), while some male cyclists also make a quick fix to their hair by applying hair gel. Other ‘rituals’ done by some track cyclists include applying body cologne, making a quick trip to the bathroom, replacing their cycling shoes (which can be very awkward to walk with) or removing their shoe covers, fixing their skinsuits by removing any visible creases and adjusting the crotch part to avoid any visible awkward bulges, thoroughly rubbing themselves with a dry towel to avoid awkward sweaty hugging moments with the officials wearing business suits. Oh yes, these sometimes funny practices do exist among track cyclists and vary from one athlete to the next while others don’t have any of these ‘rituals’ and just go to the podium drenched in sweat and in their cycling shoes still with shoe covers! (in one incident, a track cyclist slipped while wearing his shoes still with covers).

When we first knew of some of these rituals it was quite funny but still felt totally rational given the fact that a track cyclist must look presentable in his very tight often revealing skinsuit in the podium in front of everyone and the media. Despite that, a lot of track cyclists I know have a problem with avoiding an awkward bulge when the podium moment arrives (Not that the bulge doesn’t look presentable but rather it feels awkward and embarassing to some). You see, this is a physiologic and neurologic response of the body to the intense excitement and euphoria a track cyclist feels after winning. In the end due to this euphoria, the track cyclist wouldn’t actually mind and simply forget it and would just laugh at the ensuing photographs which would showcase a prominent bulge. Yes, my dear readers, cyclists are very well aware of this bulge, but not in a vulgar kind of way. They would then proceed to joke about it. I’m then reminded to this time when we were working with this track cycling team, and one of our friends told this track cyclist who just won ‘pssst, hey your junk is sticking out’ to which this track cyclist promptly replied ‘oh hell yeah its sticking out, let it be, its happy y’know’ and we just all laughed.

So after the waiting, the track cyclists are called and line in a single file behind an entourage which includes the organizing officials (UCI and other sport officials), some podium ladies, or other people depending on the country hosting the event. After the podium is ready, the entourage is then called and the winners parade toward the podium area as the crowd cheers. One by one the winners are then called from the bronze, silver and gold medalist and take their place in the podium.

When the winners are now in the podium, the officials then proceed to the awarding of the rainbow jersey to the gold medalist (In some events the awarding of the rainbow jersey precedes the presentation in the podium). Anna personally believes this is an awkward moment since the rainbow jersey isn’t handed out to the track cyclist but is, how should you say this, forcibly worn into the track cyclist by the awarding official. So imagine this awkward moment if the rainbow jersey (a long sleeved non-zippered cloth jersey) is too small for the track cyclist, it would look like a mini-wrestle match. But Kean personally believes its a very personal and emotional moment since the rainbow jersey is only worn by a gold medalist.

After that, the medals are then awarded to the winners starting from the bronze medalist or gold medalist depending on the organizers. At the same time, gifts are awarded to the medalists and another official is tasked to give them and if it happens to be a lady, then the track cyclist will offer a kiss. Now, this for us can be awkward as shown in the photo above where Tim Veldt is clearly taller than the lady and he has to bend down for her to reach his cheeks. This is where some preparation before the podium moment pays off, it is but only proper etiquette for the athlete to be dry, and not drenched in sweat, and to at least smell good when standing in the podium (sarcasm alert). But of course, this isn’t a rule, and a lot of track cyclists hug and kiss podium ladies and even track organizers and officials while being drenched in sweat, with body odor emanating from the sweaty parts of the body directly through the skinsuit which may show visibly awkward bulges and worse, inappropriate boners (again which by the way isn’t exactly inappropriate as the phenomena is a natural and appropriate response of the body to excitement and euphoria). The gifts vary from country to country: flowers, mascots, stuff toys and other paraphernalia are given out to the winners. Probably the best one we’ve seen was during the World Track Championships in Australia, where they gave adorable stuffed koalas.

After the gift giving and the presentation of winners comes a very emotional part for both the winning track cyclist, his team mates and his country. The flag raising part where the flags of the winner’s motherland is slowly lifted up towards the roof of the velodrome while the national anthem of the gold medalist’s country is being sung. A truly patriotic and emotional moment indeed. We’ve seen some cyclists and team members shed a tear or two during this part.

After that the winners are again presented and the audience cheers for them, photographers get their best shot of the winners, and the winners themselves try their very best to look like the happiest people in the world.

Then comes the spontaneous parts, the winners themselves play out their bromances and mancrushes on each other, punching each other’s shoulders and shaking their hands, fist pumping, punching the chests, etc. Oh yeah, bromance is alive and kicking in the track cycling world. But of course, this really ain’t about that, podium moments are truly awe inspiring displays of sportsmanship and camaraderie. No one really boasts, and the other cyclists genuinely congratulate their fellow track cyclists.

Thereafter, the winners crowd the podium and wave to the crowd, raising their hands as a display of thanks, appreciation, and sportsmanship. Meanwhile, the photographers crowd the podium area as they try to get the best shots of the winners. Hundreds of flashes happen in mere seconds that some track cyclists actually remarked that the instantaneous flashes can be blinding and quite shocking to the senses.

In the podium of team events such as in the photo above, the track cyclists crowd themselves toward the center embracing and grabbing their fellow track cyclists in a spectacular show of bromance it’s almost borderline homoeroticism as the cyclists grab whatever part they can of their fellow cyclists: asses, shoulders, forearms, legs, etc. But then again of course, this is also a spectacular show of teamwork, sportsmanship and camaraderie all while the track cyclists are wearing very revealing skinsuits! As one of my friends once commented, this is like a throwback to the days of ancient Greece when athletes, practically naked during playing, commend their fellow athletes by hugging, and other sorts of homoeroticism. Truly, track cycling is a wonderful sport! But to see a podium ceremony in action check out this video.

Then again, what we’ve shared here ain’t a generality but rather what we’ve observed. Podium moments are themselves a very interesting part in the sport of track cycling or any other sport for that matter.

Tales from Beyond the Track: Volume 8

26 Aug

Track cyclists engage in other cycling activities not necessarily related to the track. In the above photo, American track cyclist Andy Lakatosh participates in the roller races. I’m not familiar with the mechanics of this race since I myself have not been into one but basically the participants compete by racing in the rollers. I don’t know how the winner is decided though.

Here, British track cyclist legend, Jason Queally, graces the opening of a neighborhood bike shop. It’s not uncommon for track cyclists to open their own bike shops and in fact a lot of track cyclists have their own bike shops even before they were into track racing.

In the photo above, British track cycling legends, Chris Hoy and Jason Queally distribute free bikes in London all while wearing their skinsuits outside in frigid weather.

Tales from Beyond the Track: Volume 7

25 Aug

In telecasts of track cycling events, one is showed the actual race, the post-race, and the podium. Right after we were introduced to the sport of track cycling, we wondered what happens pre-race? Thus our excitement during our very first encounter of track cycling in a competition setting. Suffice to say, a whole lot happens pre-race. The atmosphere can be unbearably intense, and there’s a great deal of anxiety just before the cyclists mount their bikes.

A lot of track cyclists talk with their fellow teammates to ease their tension. The iPod becomes an extremely useful gadget, and the time in the rollers is enough to allay the track cyclist’s fears and tension.  Warming up is already enough to prepare the track cyclist mentally.

A little pep talk with the coach is enough to provide motivation and inspiration. Even sharing simple words of good luck help ease the back breaking intensity of pre-race waiting.

Pre-race stretching and warm-up is a most not only for its physical benefits but also for its psychological and emotional benefits as it allows the track cyclist to prepare himself for the race both physically and mentally. A lot of other things happen pre-race, but we’ll return to that in another feature.

Tales from Beyond the Track: Volume 6

23 Aug

Track cyclists are very well associated with skinsuits more than any other type of cyclist. These revealing of all cycling outfits can scare even the most daring of people, however track cyclists know how to carry these tight fitting apparel so well, it’s almost like a second skin. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have fun with it.

Here’s Myron Simpson, a Kiwi junior track cyclist playing with his lycra. Jokes such as this are common among the younger cyclists as they are very well aware of the implications of wearing very tight clothing such as spandex, and carry out these jokes very well.

Half way around the world, Christ Pritchard, a British track cyclist, also seems to understand the peculiarities of wearing lycra especially skinsuits.

Tales from Beyond the Track: Volume 5

21 Aug

Now let’s return to this segment. Let’s explore these photos which feature cyclists in a variety of weird cycling positions. Of course, such positions aren’t allowed during a race, but track cyclists do know when to have fun. That photo above is NOT Graeme Obree’s superman position.

Now here’s a friend of mine. Aaron, a track and MTB cyclist from Colorado. In the first photo, he’s attempting that superman position although he IS too big for bike. Aaron is big guy by the way, so big in fact we used to call him the ogre. He’s attempting a fancy position in the second photo. Biking while NOT sitting in the saddle. Not very comfortable to the crotch BTW.

They seem to have switched places or these guys are just playing pacer. Either way they seem to be having fun, and no one seems to be scolding them.

Tales from Beyond the Track: Volume 4

19 Aug

So we now continue to this segment and return to its roots of track cyclists having fun, or doing something unexpected. So in the pic above, that’s Quentin Lafargue doing his best impersonation of.. godzilla?

These track cyclists if you can identify them in their Japanese Keirin kits (look for Matthew Crampton, Jason Niblett, Dan Ellis) are trying to impersonate the Power Rangers.

Here’s Teun Mulder trying out and having fun in his new skinsuit! The 2nd pic below shows him fitting his skinsuit to the crotch area, a very important part in wearing a skinsuit so the crotch area will be tight and won’t get caught up in the saddle.

Now here’s another bonus. These cyclists are practicing indoors half naked, and taking a picture of themselves. This must be fun than being outside.