Photographer Tim De Waele has been part of the professional peloton for over 30 years now. That experience and a bit of luck – he says – led to the weekend photo at Strade Bianche. CyclingTips caught up with the Belgian photographer before the Tirreno Adriatico to hear his story about this photo and his work in general.
“You never know what’s going to happen in a race, but you feel like something could happen,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. You have to know how to read the races, know the teams, the riders and the tactics. You know the tricks and the body language of the riders. You see things happen before they happen.
“It was not the first time that Julian Alaphilippe had gone off the beaten track. He also did this a hundred meters before this exact spot. Normally this would have been a spot in the race where we were driving to photograph landscapes because it t’s 100 kilometers from the finish line, but we decided to stay.
“We” in this case is Tim and his engine driver Serge Seynaeve. They do a lot of shopping together. The pilot is like a second pair of eyes for Tim and also the one who has to get Tim and himself safely from A to B.
“I made a sign to Serge to stay next to the TV motorcycle. Then this accident happened because of the wind. Alaphilippe was not the only one to fall. Tiesj Benoot was there too and also Tadej Pogačar who then won the race. Alaphilippe was the most spectacular of all.
What happens next is a matter of minutes between the actual crash and when the images appear online in the Getty database.
“At the moment, you just click and hope everything is clear,” says De Waele. “You always hope that the photos work well. Sometimes the light is bad or the shutter speed is off. We’re on a motorcycle, so these things can go wrong.
Sitting on the back of the bike, De Waele decides which photos are good. He checks them on the small camera screen and makes a selection. He adds a voice memo and sends it to the editing team in Spain or the London office within a minute of the shot. The two dedicated cycling editors either work on it or crop the photos according to De Waele’s instructions and a few minutes later they are in the Getty database, where CyclingTips editors can upload them and set up a story.
He has the same teamwork with his engine driver. Before the race, they make a plan for the day where they want to be and when.
“The plan is there, but cycling is an unpredictable sport. Soon the plan disappears and we have to improvise and anticipate. The race changes but also the weather can change instantly. Serge and I do it together and we do it with minimal communication on the bike.
“He’s my extra set of eyes because he sees what’s going on in front of us. He’s also a former cyclist and he knows the riders. The photos are a team effort with probably 60% me and 40% him. I’ve seen a lot of riders come and go. There are plenty of riders with great riding skills, but riding in a bike race is something not many people can do. You have to be able to handle a lot of stress. . »
After a successful day at Strade Bianche where De Waele not only got the shot but was also the only one there, he treats his driver to a nice glass of wine.
“Chianti of course,” he smiles. “It’s great to have that shot and I knew it was good, but to be the only one to have it gives you a bit of pleasure. It keeps the work so good.
Being on a motorcycle for sometimes more than six hours is a serious sport in itself. And it’s not just the race itself. It’s hard work with more than 15 hours a day of work for eight to even 21 days in a row. De Waele needs to stay fit to do his job.
“You have to be there one or two hours before the race, then there is the race itself and then the assembly and the cleaning. After Strade Bianche it took me a while because the white sand is not only very fine but also very sticky. These cameras are not designed for the circumstances in which we use them; sand, rain, snow. You should clean the cameras daily.
Physically it is a demanding job but mentally it is also very stressful. You have to stay focused for hours because you work in a fast-paced and dangerous environment.
“I’m never scared because when I focus on work, I don’t have time to be scared. You just don’t need to be scared because if you’re scared and you’re not committed, you shouldn’t be doing this job. It’s an extreme job for bikers but also for photographers,” he explains.
De Waele really needs to relax after a day on the road, even when everything went well and he shot what he wanted. But accidents happen and it’s the bad times that have a lasting impact on the Belgian. De Waele sees riders giving up after a crash but also sees riders crashing and not getting up. He was one of the first on the scene when Wouter Weylandt crashed in the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
“Your first instinct is always to take pictures, to do your job. You can’t let things get too bad because you’re there to do a job. After a few minutes, it sinks into what you see. You see more than others see and I knew more than most people back home. I knew immediately that this was very bad news.
“Wouter has stayed with me ever since and his accident has profoundly changed my outlook on life. I work a lot and I like to work but I also play hard as they say. I travel, go out, surf, meet people. I really try to enjoy life more since I saw Wouter Weylandt die before my eyes.