Top cycling photographer Graham Watson takes us on a whistlestop tour of his favourite images from the 2012 season.
Welcome to the velodrome
This was a moment when you could just as easily have cheered than stop to take a photograph – Boonen’s arrival into Roubaix’s velodrome was a very moving experience for me.
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Tom Boonen was the man of the 2012 Classics, winning four of them – E3, Wevelgem, Flanders and Roubaix. He saved his best performance till last, attacking alone with 55 kilometres of the ‘Hell of the North’ still to go. Such an impressive ride!
Mark Cavendish finishes stage six of the Tour after a crash on the run-in took him out; you can sense the disappointment in this shot, he looks very forlorn…and his expression just about summed up his year at Sky.
Cav hits the deck
Mark Cavendish crashed badly on stage three of the Giro – my long 640mm lens has caught the moment as he hit the deck, but I missed the dramatic moment when an Italian successfully bunnyhopped the world champion at 70kph!
Cancellara’s Classic collision
Fabian Cancellara has just collided with his own Trek technician in a congested and unofficial feed zone in the E3 Classic – I missed the actual collision, but Cancellara’s concern and shock still makes this image a little bit special, not least because he also crashed out in an official feed zone at the Tour of Flanders one week later.
This image of the Tour of Beijing is strongly misleading. It looks as if some pretty Chinese lanterns have been hung out in honour of the race; in fact they’re a standard decoration at Chinese restaurants all over the world, I just managed to cut out the name of the restaurant this time.
China was a pleasant experience for me in October, not least because of the stunning autumnal colours in the forests and mountains that circle the region of Beijing – quite a surprise, having expected the worst with smog and clouds.
I caught Mark Cavendish imitating Tom Simpson at the start of Ghent-Wevelgem – his impersonation had me and many others in stitches – look at that peaked racing cap!
Howd’ya like them Maples?
Ryder Hesjedal was a modest yet very proud winner of the Giro d’Italia – and someone thoughtfully found a Maple Leaf flag and ice-hockey stick for him to pose with on the final podium.
An awkward moment
Did he just say what I think he said? That seems to be what Mark Cavendish is thinking at the Tour de France presentation in Liège after fluent French-speaker Bradley Wiggins took the mickey out of the Tour’s official presenter, Daniel Mangeas, on live TV, in front of a French-speaking public – but in English!
I like the symmetry of the GB men’s sprint team as they started in the London Olympics – with their arms, legs, bikes and bodies in perfect harmony!
Gilbert’s on top of the Worlds
I’ve caught the exact moment when Philippe Gilbert made his race-winning attack at the World Championships, a happy moment at the end of a long season. But more pleasing was seeing this nice guy actually win after such a mediocre season – although I suspect his sudden rise to form had been planned all along.
Park and ride
Richmond Park took my breath away as the Olympic men’s peloton eased its way through to more open roads in Surrey. The size of the crowds that lined the route was incredible, something I’ll never forget – and they only got bigger and bigger all day. I felt proud to be British in July and August!
Cheers for Meares
Not many cyclists beat Team GB in the Olympic Velodrome, but Anna Meares was one of those few. Who can deny this talented woman her moment of glory after beating Victoria Pendleton in the sprint? I work a little with the Australian media and was probably one of the few Brits who actually enjoyed Meares’s victory over the British star.
The women’s team pursuit races to gold in front of a totally partisan crowd in London. With so many highlights in that Olympic week, the overwhelming delight was the noise of the crowds as they cheered the competitors along – it’s something I’ll never forget. The great thing about it was that the crowds were cheering their hearts out for a gold-medal success, so their bias was more than justified!
Marianne Vos won the women’s Olympic road race at the end of a tough and wet day in the Surrey Hills. She didn’t just start the winning escape, she dominated it for over one hour, and still had enough strength to outsprint Lizzie Armitstead in London. I then watched as she went on to win the World Championships two months later – Marianne Vos is such a superb competitor.
Once the Tour reached the Alps, almost everyone forgot about the massive crash that took out half the peloton on a big wide road on stage six. Several top riders lost any chances of a decent overall placing, most especially Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal. I fear the worst when the 2013 Tour opens on the narrow, twisty, coastal roads of Corsica.
The women’s Olympic peloton climbs Box Hill in front of huge crowds. It was so pleasing to see as many people watch the women’s race as had watched the previous day’s men’s race. And don’t forget the weather – anyone watching the women’s race would have got extremely wet that day.
The Bola del Mundo attracted the biggest crowds of the Vuelta, thanks to its proximity to Madrid and its natural attraction to cyclists and mountain bikers who know the local roads and trails so well. The views from the top are simply stunning – that’s if you can make it to the top on so steep a climb.
The peloton corners in the centre of Valkenburg during the Worlds road race before another ascent of the Cauberg. At the end of a long season, it’s refreshing to see and photograph cyclists in their national jerseys instead of trade colours – and to enjoy the mass of public support that’s such a feature of the Worlds.
Sagan gets silly
Peter Sagan’s stage-winning poses in the Tour de France angered a few purists who felt that he was being disrespectful to his fellow competitors. But in a sport so relentlessly robot-like, his gestures were a breath of fresh air to photographers looking for something that little bit special.
Bradley Wiggins races through Bushy Park, less than a kilometre from finishing his Olympic TT win. This park is where I walk on a quiet afternoon, where I drink coffee, where I sometimes ride my bike – and to think it’s now famous for having Wiggins race to gold in the Olympics! Heartpounding stuff indeed…
Lizzie leads the break
Lizzie Armitstead heads the winning escape in the Olympic road race. This was such a tough day on wet and slippery roads, but the women still produced a tremendous performance for the thousands of roadside spectators.
Cav at the front
Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins benefit from Mark Cavendish’s work in the Tour of Romandy. Wiggins himself insisted that I got this and many other shots of Cavendish ploughing into the wind, I sensed it was something of an initiation test for the world champion.
I love this shot of Wiggins chatting with his son, Ben, as they ride around the Champs-Elysées circuit – imagine the memories that young man will have!
Going for gold
OK, so the Olympic rings are upside down. But I still like this shot of the GB men’s pursuit team as they hurtle to another world record and the gold medal in London. I try to do as much photography as I can in the opening rounds and semi-finals, so that I can relax and enjoy the final.