paris – nice

a photographer's tale from inside a world tour stage race

words and photography by Kåre Dehlie Thorstad

It’s definitely nothing like Le Tour, Il Giro or La Vuelta – but it’s still a big one with a long history. Sometimes when being inside the race, no matter which one, it feels like fighting a three-headed monster.

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The 8 stages, 27 categorized climbs and 1447 kilometers in totalwhich is the longest parcour since 1970 would ultimately see the small, but punchy, Carlos Alberto Betancur take the overall title and make history in the 72nd edition being the first Colombian rider to win Paris-Nice; «The Race to the Sun».

However, working at a stage race from behind the lens often seems like a parallel race to the one fought out by the pro riders. Photographers and journalists fight for that little exclusive minute with Le Maillot Jaune, drive like maniacs to get ahead of the raceand make it to the finish line and once there, fight for a position. Nobody wants to get stuck behind all the other photographers on the line!

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On a flat stage, you only have 3-4 seconds to get that great shot of the winner punching the air to celebrate victory. There is no rewind button.You may have planned the whole thing from A to Z, and you may be organized and civilized – but things will at some point go completely wrong. Local police in a small sleepy village might suddenly feel overly empowered, and deny you access to that last climb you had planned being on top of. Some jackassmight peel off your accreditation sticker on the windscreen and then you will have serious issues with the law enforcement again. And at some point during the race, an obnoxious camper van will park in front of you, block you in, and its owner will disappear for a precious amount of time.

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So, be prepared to improvise. And be happy to come out of it alive! Team cars and motorbikes come hurling towards you at ridiculously high speeds, and pass you with just a few inches of clearance on the finish line. Then comes the peloton, with desperate men hunting that sweet victory, almost ready to sacrifice their lives to claim it.

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Back to those 3-4 seconds. There is no messing-up, but you must save your life in the process and get yourself out of the way before the raging bull runs you down. Then, finally, there is the race to the press office. Which one of us will be the first to get the image of the winner online? The motorbike crews definitely have an advantage, elegantly whizzing through jammed traffic, but a decent long sprint on your feet and good stamina helps alot.

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Stage done and another one to come. New places and new obstacles to overcome. So it goes, you lose track of where you are, which day it is, and which rider who actually lead the race. After a week fatigue really sets in and you’re just happy there is only one stage left. You wonder how you survived three whole weeks during La Vuelta last year, and doing Le Tour is just unthinkable at this point. But the human mind works in mysterious ways, and a few days off being completely shattered, all the accumulated pain, strain, frustration and anger suddenly evaporates. The rush and excitementof being part of this whole machinery is somewhat stronger, and yes, I admit it: I’m a finish line addict!

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Name: Kåre Dehlie Thorstad

Age: 43

Lives in: Brøttum, Norway

Profession: Freelance Photographer

Bikes: LOOK 595 Ultra, Ridley Helium, Argon 18 Gallium

Cameras: ”I work with two Nikon D800. I’m not very interessted in camera accessories and tech but at professional level everything has to be able to take a beating! Finish lines can be a warzone! I’m probably a pretty old-school photographer and I consequently don’t use a flash. Objects vary but I feel comfortable with a 85mm. I process my work on location with my 13” MacBook Pro and Adobe Lightroom.”

Best place cycle: Vaucluse (France) with the Mont Ventoux

Next: ”This year I’m looking forward to the Arctic Race of Norwayand all the sunny days!”

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