This time last year marked the first time I photographed a mountain bike race. It was called the Vision Quest / Counting Coup mountain bike race in the Santa Ana Mountains, put on by the Warriors Society. The Vision Quest race is 56 miles long, with 11,000 feet of elevation, with the Counting Coup being 44 miles and 8,000 feet. I had a great time last year shooting all the racers and seeing them on their own personal battle. It’s always inspiring to watch someone push themselves beyond what they think they can do.

For this year I made it a goal to cover the Vision Quest again, and I’m glad that I did. The day started off early waking up at 4am to make it to the 5:30am start time for the race. Like all races I wanted to shoot in more then one spot so I planned on shooting about 18 miles into the course at a place called Motorway. It is a single track down the mountain leading to the first aid station, and the same area I shot last year. I like this section because it gives you a lot of different angles in a short amount of distance.

I got there when it was still dark out, and started to make the hike up the trail to setup where I’d be shooting first. I was expecting the leaders to come by about 7:30am so I had plenty of time to roam the trail and find where I wanted to shoot first. The spot I chose was about a mile from the aid station with some nice brush on either side of the trail. I also liked it because it gave me about 5 different shots in the same place.

I could shoot them head on right in front of me.

Here is last years winner Manny Prado, who would unfortunately succumb to mechanical failure and not finish this year.
Manny Prado

Or I could take a photo a little earlier to use the brush in the shot more.

As the racers made their way down the trail I could turn to my right and see them coming down once again. This is one of my favorite shots from the race. Because it was early in the morning there was some great light.

As they traveled further down I could catch them once again.

My goal for the second spot I planned on shooting at was to try and catch the race leaders a couple miles before the finish near Holy Jim, so I started making the trek back to the aid station. Along the way I would stop and photograph racers as they passed me by.

Here is another favorite from the race, I’d shot the same exact spot last year and liked the story it tells with the rider versus the trail. In all my photos I tried to show the battle between man versus nature.

2010 Version

2009 Version

One thing that I enjoyed about the day was seeing people I recognized in photos from last year racing again this year. I wonder if anyone remembers me from last year!

Up next was the finish line. Last year I rode in about 3 miles with all my photo gear in my backpack, and while I didn’t mind riding in, the body part above my seat wasn’t too happy about it after the race. The road is pretty bumpy and having 40 pounds of photo gear on your back doesn’t help. This year I decided to use a bike trailer to tow all my gear in. Here is a crappy cell phone photo.

I chose not to drive in even though the road stays open as to not be “that guy” riding against race traffic. It amazed me how fast people were driving the opposite direction knowing that a bike race is going on. I tried to warn everyone who drove past me but some people were oblivious, and saw a few close calls. Hopefully next year they can get the road shut down.

For my final spot I wanted to use off camera flash to shoot the photographs. Last year I used only my Canon 550ex flash with an off camera cord, and while some shots came out decent I wasn’t that happy with them. The problem was that with only one flash it was hard to light up the racers enough. For this year I rented a Quantum QFlash T5d-R strobe to give me more power and another light source. I wanted to have that strobe to light up the rider, and use my Canon 550ex flash as more of a rim light behind the rider. I also used Pocketwizards to fire both lights so I didn’t have to worry about setting up a corded booby trap for everyone.

Here is a shot of how the lights were setup. Quantum on the right, and the 550ex on the left.

And here is how the shots came out.

As compared to last year with only one light.

Again I had a great time shooting this race. I’m pretty lucky that as a job I get to photograph two things that I enjoy, offroading and mountain bike riding. That along with my wonderful family I don’t have much to complain about these days. Well maybe that the race starts too early and interrupts my sleep :).

Congrats to all those who participated, whether you finished or not you still did something most will never do! An extra congrats goes out to Erik Brown, Leigh Heyer, Elaine Gold and Chris Hanson. Erik, Leigh and Elaine were all awarded the Annual Haislett Trophy after the event. Extra congrats goes to Chris because he landed on a rock going down Motorway and put a hole in his nice new $6000 carbon fiber bike frame. That’s like taking a 94 Honda Civic that you bought for $6K and shooting a hole in the engine :). Sorry bud, you can borrow my $500 bike anytime you need it!

All my photos from the event are up on my site, and I am giving 15% of all sales back to the Warriors Society as a thanks for putting on the event and for all that they do for the mountain bike community. You can visit their writeup about the event by clicking HERE.

To view all my photos from the race you can see them HERE.

John Early was also at the race taking photos at the finish line, and you can check them out on his website.

Until next time!