This is a book about madness. Photographer Timm Kölln spent five years travelling the world photographing the professional peloton just moments after riders crossed the finish line. And madness is what he has preserved.
The hollow eyes, the crazed facial expressions, the camouflage patterns that dirt and helmets make on faces and hair – the madness that makes these guys go all out during a race and the madness that sticks to them until the skin stops bristling with nerves, the heart rate falls, the blood stops pushing out all sound other than the beating of their heart.
All the riders are shot in black and white against a white background lending a starkness that amplifies the rider’s own persona and style. One of the most telling photographs in the book is the calm, serene look of Thor Hushovd after a Tour stage. Does that man ever get flustered? I doubt it. His form of madness might just be a stare that’s just that bit more intense, that much deeper. Then there is the equally unflustered but strangely vacant look of Alberto Contador – if I were collecting evidence to try to make the case that Bertie is in fact a cyborg, these photographs would be Exhibit A.
There are so many brilliant photographs in this book: the strangely petulant Andy Schleck after Amstel Gold in 2007; Philippe Gilbert with the look of a caged animal devising his escape route; Cadel Evans wearing the expression of a slightly bewildered prize-fighter after a stage in the 2009 Tour. Kölln even got a photograph of Fabian Cancellara that makes him look like he’d just been dragged through a dirt hedge and whipped with an ugly stick (obviously taken after a spring classic). But my favourite photograph in the whole book is the wild-eyed strut of Robbie McEwen – “You lookin’ at me? You lookin’ at me???” That portrait says everything you need to know about Robbie’s swagger and style as a cyclist.
The book itself is available again through Rouleur for £50 and the production values alone are certainly worth the money. Hardback, thick matte paper, a simple design and typography – nothing distracts from the power of the photograph. Each photograph is accompanied by a telling interview with the rider or just the name and race date of the photograph. Everyone is included: dopers, legends, unknowns, also-rans. You don’t have to love cycling to know this is a work of art.