There are a number of truly talented photographers who devote their considerable abilities to cycling. Some full-time, some less-so. Mike Powell cut his teeth as a shooter for what is now Getty Images. When he got started, the agency, founded by one of his brothers, was known as Allsport and it was the premiere sports photography agency. They employed only the best of the best. To see a raw take from one of their shooters was to see 36 images, 34 of which would be tack sharp, the industry’s term for images so perfectly in focus you could blow them up into posters.
Mike is best known for his work in track and field. You’ve seen his work in Sports Illustrated, in Kodak ads and anywhere an evocative image of an American track and field athlete was required. But he’s got a serious soft spot for cycling in general and the Tour de France in specific. He is the author of “A Game to Love” (PQ Blackwell), a celebration of the sport of tennis.
“The Greatest Race” is Mike’s take on the Tour de France. With text written by friend and collaborator Lewis Blackwell (no relation to the publisher), Mike describes the gift book as “an indulgence.”
“We both love bike racing. I wanted to go back to the Tour, but with a different (mission). (It was) the opportunity to get to the Tour and work on it less as a sports event and more as an art book and look at what the Tour means to us all, and less who won and lost.”
“When you have pressures on you to produce a daily accounting of what happened on the road, you tend to fall back on what you’re best at. It’s also dictated by what happened and who your business is.
“I’ve been put in a position … working with Sports Illustrated and this book. They don’t need me to do what the agencies do. Technically I could put my mom on the side of the road and she could get a usable shot (with the cameras that are out there). I’m more interested in, ‘How does this picture tell the story of the Tour de France?’”
Mike says he’s been given the freedom to explore and let go.
“The more I let go of my expectations, the more I surprise myself and take picture that please me. I’m not trying to tell the story of that day, I’m telling the story of the Tour de France.
“The question I keep asking myself is, ‘Is this bigger than that day?’”
What I find remarkable in this brief sampling of his work is the way he reinvents the cycling photograph with each new shot. It’s no small feat. But Mike is a man hungry still to do his best work.
“It’s the pinnacle of their career, why shouldn’t it be the pinnacle of my photography?”
Expect to see “The Greatest Race” from PQ Blackwell in bookstores near you late this winter or early next spring. You might suggest gift cards to your favorite bookstore at Christmas. In the meantime, you can check out the Facebook page featuring Mike’s updates.
We saw this coming. Anyone who didn’t see a suspension looming for Alberto Contador probably didn’t think the worldwide real estate bubble would burst, that the summer of love would end or that drugs would continue to be a problem for cycling. The Spanish Cycling Federation really didn’t have many choices. Even though some media quotes suggest that certain members of the federation would have acted to protect Contador, it would have been suicidal for the federation to absolve him of any infraction.
Even if it was conclusively proven that a team of rogue ninjas mugged Contador, strapped him down and then placed a cookie jar over his hand, his hand was not allowed in the cookie jar under any circumstances. Strict liability. The rules really didn’t allow for another outcome.
American cyclist Scott Moninger mounted mounted the most rigorous defense ever presented to show that the presence of a banned substance in his body got there unintentionally. Moninger tested positive for 19-norandrosterone due to a tainted supplement. He bought up other containers of the dietary supplement and had them tested to demonstrate how the substance entered his body. He still got a one-year suspension.
By comparison, Contador has floated theories that have mostly involved tossing the whole of the Spanish beef-producing industry under the bus. It may be that he genuinely doesn’t know where the Clenbuterol came from, how it entered his body. He has, however, a problem that Moninger didn’t have. His test sample showed evidence of plasticizers that are used to keep equipment used in blood transfusions soft and pliable. Think of plasticizers as lotion for plastics.
While there is no rule specifically against plasticizers, the UCI’s ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ view of the world suggests they are unlikely to be satisfied with a single year’s suspension for el Pistolero.
The issue here is not whether Contador deserves a more significant suspension, it’s that by not handing him a more significant suspension, the Spanish Federation may have actually prolonged Contador’s agony. Should the UCI appeal his suspension, the fighting could go on longer than the current length of his suspension.
It’s hard to think that a cycling story could eclipse the current Sports Illustrated piece concerning the investigation into Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service cycling team by Jeff Novitzky, but here we are. Current Tour de France champion stripped of title and suspended for doping beats story of 10-year-old allegations into Lance Armstrong’s alleged doping.
Should the UCI accept the one-year suspension and not appeal for something longer, we are still within our right to ask about the suspension as determined. How useful is a one-year suspension?
Contador is 28. Suspended for one year, he’ll come back to compete in the Tour de France at the ripe old age of … 29. And after all, 29 is generally considered to be roughly the peak of a cyclist’s powers.
Had Contador tested positive for, say, heroin, I would have been suspicious that something odd had happened. I would be hesitant to believe that he took that drug. However, the Clenbuterol and plasticizer fit precisely within the logic of what a Grand Tour rider would take. To the degree that there’s been a rush to judgement on Contador, it’s been because the substances found in his sample fit within what we know of doping practices by those attempting to win stage races.
I’ve tried, from time to time, to suspend not disbelief, but belief. If I’m honest, I was suspicious of Contador’s success during the 2009 Tour. Certainly his performance in the final time trial at Lake Annecy strained my credulity. It couldn’t have been less believable to me even if director Michael Bay had added machine guns, car crashes and explosions.
It is because I have trouble believing that he’s only accidentally guilty that I wonder if a single year suspension is enough. Perhaps his suspension as recommended by the Spanish Federation won’t matter, even if the UCI doesn’t appeal it. It seems possible that the Amaury Sport Organization will just refuse to invite any team he’s on—in perpetuity.
And if they do that, could we blame them?
It’s easy to wonder just what’s on the mind of Pat McQuaid. I honestly don’t know how his mind works. However, I do wholly believe that Christian Prudhomme wants the Tour de France competed in and won by clean athletes. And I think part of the ASO’s issue with the UCI is that they don’t see the Aigle Cabal as doing enough to protect their interests.
Twelve months from now we may be saying, “Woe be unto thee who hires Alberto Contador.”
It may be that hiring him doesn’t ensure victory; instead it may only ensure what races you’re not doing.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International