At the Bathurst Cycling Classic, Cycling NSW published live updates of the B2B Elite Wave, together with photos and videos, on its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
This is par for the course at any major cycling event, but what you may not realise is the amount of running, jumping, skilful driving and teamwork it took to bring a grassroots race like that to the Internet. For me, live-tweeting the bicycle race became an unexpected adrenaline rush. Here’s a glimpse into how the thrilling race unfolded on my side of the smartphone screen.
To properly cover a bike race, you’d need a team of photographers, video camera operators, technical staff and reporters positioned throughout the race caravan and at the start and finish lines. You’d also need a fleet of drivers to ferry these people all around the peloton.
I’m just one person, so to adequately cover the B2B, I had to be a jack of all trades. Armed with a smartphone, shotgun mic, DSLR camera and telephoto lens, I had just enough tools to become a photographer, journalist, video journalist and live-tweeter all in one.
I thought about my movements for the day. First, I needed to be in Blayney to interview riders before the race. Then, I needed to follow the 110-kilometre road race as it progressed towards the finish in Bathurst. Finally, I needed to reach Mount Panorama early enough to capture the all-important photograph of the winner crossing the line.
After speaking with chief commissaire Fiona Fahy, we agreed that I could sit in her car for most of the race, then swap to the GPM-Stultz team car, which would take me to the finish ahead of time.
Hitching a ride
In a race like the B2B, the chief commissaire (COM1) drives behind the main peloton. When a breakaway forms, another commissaire (COM2) slots in behind the break. Meanwhile, yet another official drives some 20 kilometres ahead to make sure the course is clear and safe. (At one point, they radioed in and told us there were cows on the road. Thankfully, the cows must have wandered back into their paddock before we arrived).
The view from COM1’s car was ideal for live-tweeting the bike race. I could keep an eye on the back of the peloton just ahead. Sure, it was hard to see what was happening at the front of the bunch, but whenever the landscape opened up at the top of a rise or the foot of an incline, I could see small groups attacking and coalescing hundreds of metres ahead.
At that distance, I couldn’t make out the identity of the attackers. So, when the race-long breakaway was established, COM2 told us the breakaway riders’ numbers over the radio, allowing me to match them up to the start list and post them over Twitter.
RACE UPDATE:— Cycling NSW (@CyclingNSW) March 16, 2019
🏁60km to go
🚴♂️ Break: S. Hill, B. Marshall, O. Murray, W. Hodges, G. Richards, C. Aitken
⏱ 50 seconds to pelo. All still there, nobody dropped #BathurstCyclingClassic #b2b #Blayney2Bathurst
The middle phase of the race passed uneventfully. I kept note of which teams were doing the chasing, and relayed any time gaps given by the commissaires. Time gaps were calculated manually: when the breakaway reached a distinctive road sign or intersection, COM2 started a stopwatch. He’d ask us to tell him when the peloton reached that same point. When we did so, he’d stop the clock and tell us the elapsed time.
The proverbial hit the fan as we approached the decisive climb: Rockley Mount, a five-kilometre hill that tops out about 20 kilometres from the finish.
First, I made the pre-planned transfer to the GPM-Stultz car. GPM had been providing neutral service, and now they stopped to the side of the road so I could jump across. I had to be quick – the race would keep moving without us. Fahy pulled to a halt alongside. I quickly leapt out, slid into the GPM-Stultz vehicle, shut the door, and off we went. The cars wouldn’t have been stationary for more than ten seconds. A smooth change.
Only after I’d buckled my seatbelt did I realise GPM-Stultz weren’t actually going to the finish. Instead, I was informed, they’d ferry me to a lead vehicle at the front of the race. I’d swap into the lead vehicle, which would then take me to the finish line.
So, with GPM-Stultz’s Pat Corcoran at the wheel, we floored it to pass the peloton. Boy, did it feel hairy! The roads at the B2B are fully closed, so the peloton takes up both lanes. Corcoran was basically leaning on the horn as we went, warning riders to move out of the way.
When we arrived at the front of the race, just behind the breakaway, we realised there was no lead vehicle. I was stranded. What now?
Thinking on his feet, Corocoran quickly came up with Plan B. I’d transfer to a van driven by the Crafts – announcer Paul ‘Crafty’ Craft and his brother, Brad. They’re veterans of the B2B, and their annual routine is to drive between the peloton and the breakaway, then leapfrog ahead to Mount Panorama so that Crafty can commentate the finish over the loudspeaker. With the Crafts, I could get to the finish in time to get my photograph.
Before we could make a move, however, chaos descended. First, the breakaway riders took a wrong turn: half of them turned left while the others went straight. Just as I was trying to live-tweet this important development, we heard a report over the radio that a big crash had brought down riders in the peloton.
We stopped to see what assistance we could render, and sure enough, the peloton was in pieces, with dozens of stragglers popping off the back. The GPM-Stultz mechanic leapt out to change a front wheel before we set off again, trying to link up with the Crafts.
We got in contact with the quick-thinking Paul Craft on the radio, who without hesitation identified a safe place at which I could make this second transfer. Once again, we flew past the peloton, horn honking unceasingly. Once again, I jumped out of one vehicle and leapt into another.
And I mean literally “leapt”. Such was the urgency, so short was the time we could stop beside the road, Crafty told me to dive headfirst into the back of his van and orientate myself later. So, I grabbed my gear, dove in, and off we went.
Mad dash to the line
Once I recovered my bearings, I saw that I was in the back of a white van, sitting next to a set of microphones and speakers. In the driver’s seat was Brad Craft, piloting us rapidly away from the peloton. Next to him was Paul, with a megaphone in his lap. I didn’t know what that was for.
Brad took us up to the breakaway, which by now had splintered apart on the early slopes of Rockley Mount. Sam Hill had attacked, going away solo.
Behind us, the peloton were out of sight.
Brad was behind the wheel, but he was just a chauffeur. Paul called the shots. When he told Brad to stop, we stopped. When he told Brad to go, we went.
“Go, now,” he ordered.
There were two chasers coming up behind us, and Paul was adamant that our van give them no shelter whatsoever. The media mustn’t influence the race.
On command, Brad floored it, and we chased back up to Sam Hill. Now, as Paul leaned out the window, I realised what his megaphone was for.
“Sam, you have two chasers behind you and the peloton are out of sight,” he announced through the loudhailer. “There is a 50-50 chance that you can win this race alone.”
We overtook Hill, got out of sight and stopped beside the road. I hopped out to take photos as Hill passed while Paul continued to deliver encouragement via megaphone. Then, we waited for the chasers to appear around the corner before jumping back into the van.
We reached Hill near the top of Rockley Mount, where Paul relayed information about the chasers behind.
“Angus Calder has attacked out of the peloton and is coming to you. There was a crash in the peloton, taking down around eight riders and disrupting the chase, which is why you have a good chance of staying away. We will leave you now and see you at the finish line, either alone or with Angus. Good luck, Sam.”
With that, we overtook Hill and plummeted down the descent of Rockley Mount.
I kept an eye on Hill through the rear windscreen. Paul feared that our lumbering van would be too slow through the corners, posing an obstacle to the rapidly-descending Hill. Brad floored it, using both sides of the road to keep Hill at bay. Once he was out of sight, we raced across the valley to reach Mount Panorama with enough time for Paul to set up for the finish.
I’d been live-tweeting the race all the way to the top of Rockley Mount, but since commencing our descent, we’d had no further contact with the events unfolding on the road behind us.
Now it was a waiting game. I picked my spot for the photo, set up my phone for the post-race interview, and got into position.
Would Hill stay away and finish alone, victorious? Or would he be swept up by the chasers? It was a few agonising minutes of suspense and tension.
Finally, when Sam Hill appeared alone on the end of the finishing straight, I concentrated on capturing my photo. Crafty called him exuberantly across the line. Then, my focus then turned to capturing the bunch sprint for the minor places.
I’d spoken to Hill throughout the week, and after the bunch sprint, he came straight to me for a post-race comment. It’s a privilege, being the first to speak to someone who’s so excited about winning a race.
An emotional post raceinterview. “I’ve been doing this race since I was 14 and I’ve always wanted to win it. Always.” Congratulations @sammyboy0986, your 2019 #Blayney2Bathurst champion! #BathurstCyclingClassic #b2b pic.twitter.com/ONMB4wqEi8— Cycling NSW (@CyclingNSW) March 17, 2019
After Hill rode away to celebrate with his Nero Bianchi teammates, I finally had a moment to step aside, browse through my photos, open up Twitter and tell the world what exciting scenes had just unfolded at Mount Panorama.