Through the glass
by max sullivan
Through the Glass – The 2021 Prudential PE PLETT by Max Sullivan, Event Photographer.
I jumped at the opportunity to work with Shaun and the Red Cherry Events team at what was the first multi-day stage race on the 2021 calendar. As a cycling enthusiast, I was itching to get back on that start line, having participated in 2 PE PLETT’s myself. I was relatively familiar with the terrain and landscape, however the route does change year to year. At the same time, it was all a blur back then, due to the fact that I was racing the event flat-out, trying to get to that finish line as fast as possible.
The opportunity to photograph the event had me excited for weeks on end, it allowed me to get out and about in this beautiful country of ours on a motorbike with camera in hand, many areas of which were not accessible to the general public outside of the event, made it even more special.
My brief was to capture the professional riders from start to finish, as well as assist with video updates for social media. My day would generally consist of capturing the start, hopping on and off the motorbike to take photos of the Elite men’s teams, solo riders, leading ladies & mixed teams, up until a point that it was not possible to leapfrog or catch back up to the front of the race (this was always quite a tricky call), before following the leaders to the line. After getting to the finish line with the leading teams, and capturing their finish line faces. I would backtrack on the route to find the leading ladies’ team and grab as many shots of them as possible in a short space of time, followed by photographing their finish. The same process applied to the rest of the lady’s teams in podium contention, as well as the solo and mixed categories.
Once prize giving had been wrapped up straight after all the categories were in, I would fill up the bike with fuel and head back out on the course, to capture the rest of the field. This includes the water points, smiling faces and the beautiful scenery. Once back out on route I could finally take it all in, dial back the pace a bit and take some time to appreciate where I was and capture it all looking through the glass. I really enjoyed chatting with the backmarkers, seeing the smiles and hearing the cheers. This event has great comradery amongst the riders, I could always get a happy photo when telling the riders that the Prudential Boost bar was just over the hill, signalling that the finish was not too far away. When I was happy with the amount and nature of the content I had captured, I would slowly make my way back to the finish, snapping some special moments along the way, before parking off on the finish line to see those smiles crossing the line.
After a hot shower I would sit down with a generous serving of lunch, and sift through around 1200 images, selecting and editing the best of the day. By around 5pm there would be a Facebook album uploaded and the images would be on a slide show displayed in the village, for all the riders to sit back with a cold one and enjoy whilst waiting for dinner and briefing for the following day. I would continue to capture some images throughout the afternoon and evening, such as the KWV gin tasting, yoga or just chilling by the pool. It was by no means an easy day on the bike for me, covering almost twice the distance of the riders with all of my gear on my back, let alone navigating some rather technical and tight terrain whilst trying to keep up with the likes of Matthew Beers. After giving my gear some TLC (cleaning the dust off) and charging up my batteries, I could sit back and relax a bit in the evening before doing it all over again the next day.
I went to sleep every night excited for what the next day would hold, excited to see how the racing would unfold, what terrain we would have to cover, what challenges I would need to face and most importantly what I would be able to capture.
Perhaps my favourite shot of the whole event has quite a back story to it, towards the end of day 3 rolling into Tsitsikamma there was a bridge crossing in and amongst the trees about 300m from the finish line. I had spent quite some time out on the route that day, longer than usual, so riders were very spread out and not coming through all that frequently. The lighting on the bridge was perfect, with a nice clearing in the trees. I knew that I could get a great drone shot from above, shooting directly downwards. So I parked off in the trees out of sight, took the drone up, set up the shot and waited, adjusting the drone’s position every now and then due to the wind. I waited for about 20 minutes before having to bring the drone back down as the battery was drained; I now had one battery left with about 40% of its charge remaining. I changed batteries, took the drone back up and continued to wait. Once again, my timing just wasn’t working out for me, low battery warning, drone back down, I had missed the shot, I moved back on to the finish.
A couple minutes later a rider came across the line, who clearly still had tons of energy and was looking fresh, so I took him back along the route and used what little battery I had left to nail the shot. I was glad that the wait was well worth it!
Whilst covering the front of the race there is no time for second opportunities, to set up the shot and spend time dialling in the camera settings, once the moment is gone it is gone, however perhaps that is the beauty of it? When scrolling through the PEPLETT images or website, you can tell that everything is in the moment, you can feel the energy and atmosphere that this event gives off, the same applies to all of the Red Cherry events. For the above reason I can’t wait to work with the Red Cherry team again, to see new parts of our amazing country, meet new people that share the same passion and capture the beautiful moments along the way.