Friday Feature: Photographer extraordinaire Danielle Haex

Big Tom kisses the E3 podium girl

One of the things I really love about being a VeloVoice is making contact with all the great cycling fans who are out there. I first got in touch with Danielle Haex at the end of March this year, when she graciously let me use her picture of Tom Boonen and the E3 podium girl that she had posted on the OPQS Facebook site. From then on, she’s been sharing her photographs with us on our Facebook site. So I thought I’d find out a bit more about her.

So, Danielle, thanks for talking to us. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I live in the southern part of Holland – I’ve just read that I live on the training route of Johan VansummerenKevin Hulsmans and Tom Boonen! I’ve never actually seen them training in my town yet but I’m going to keep an eye out from now on. I work in the head office of a bank – cycling and photography are my hobbies.

Who are your favourite riders?

Spartacus on the podium in 2010

My favourite rider – I have to say – my absolute, utmost favourite is Fabian Cancellara! This shot is from the podium at E3 in Harelbeke in 2010 – I made sure I was right in front of the podium for this one!

Excellent taste, Danielle, I knew you were someone I had a lot in common with!

Well, yes! The first time I saw him was when he became World Junior TT Champion in Valkenburg and Treviso (1998 and 1999). First you start following a rider because he rides well and you notice he has a lot of potential. Later, when Fabian started winning more often, I read more interviews with him and noticed he has a lot of respect for the people around him, his sport, his teammates, press and fans. Last year, after the finish of the Tour of Flanders, he went to the studio of the Belgian TV station at the finish line to do an interview. He admitted right away that he made a mistake by not eating and drinking enough during the race. He didn’t look for any excuses for why he lost – and he never does. That really impressed me. Even this year, after the E3 in Harelbeke, he did an interview right outside the team bus, even though he was very disappointed about the race. He still took time to do an interview. To me that shows a lot of respect from his side. And yes, I’ll admit, he doesn’t look all that bad, either!

Hmmm, funny, I never noticed. What other riders do you like?

Stefano Garzelli, Giro d’Italia 2005

I really like Stefano Garzelli, Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Manuel Quinziato, Gregory Rast and Thomas Voeckler. If those guys win I’m extra happy, but there are hardly any riders I really don’t want to see win a race. If it’s been a fair, honest race, then the winner deserved it.

What got you interested in cycling in the first place, Danielle?

My mom and her family follow cycling – not the way I do now, but that’s how I got the bug. I remember having to write down the time differences between the riders in the yellow jersey in the Tour de France and the ones in the breakaway when my Mom had to go out during the race. I remember as a kid I didn’t like having to spend three weeks of my summer holidays doing that!

How did you get interested in photography?

I have always been taking pictures, even from a very young age so when I went to my first race – the Tour de France in 1992 – I took my camera. I waited all day near the finish line and then Gilles Delion and Stephen Roche went by so fast I missed them! That really surprised me! You can’t judge how fast they ride until you visit a cycling race in person!

Well, you soon got the hang of it! You seem to get so close to the riders and there’s a wonderful intimacy to your photographs. How do you capture those moments, how do you get so close?

At most of the races, you can get pretty close to the riders, although not always at the Tour de France. It’s different each time. In Monaco, we could get close, in Liege, it was totally different – you really needed an accreditation there. For diehard cycling fans, I don’t consider the Tour to be the best race to visit, unless you just want to see them pass by. If you want to get close to them, you should really chose another race to visit. The more races you visit, the more you get a feeling of where the best places to stand are and hopefully you’ll be able to photograph the favourites. Cyclists are very approachable. Most of them don’t have a problem with people taking pictures or asking for autographs.

I really love that about cycling as well. One of my favourite pictures you shared on our Facebook page is of Andy Schleck – it’s just a wonderful portrait. 

Andy Schleck, 2012, Amstel Gold

I actually didn’t plan to take a picture of Andy at the start of Amstel Gold. I took another picture first and he must have heard the camera and looked my way so I took another one. I shared it on RadioShack’s Facebook page for the Andy fans.

Jens, Andy and Maxime, 2010, Liege-Bastogne-Liege

This picture of Jens Voigt, Andy Schleck and Maxime Montfort, I took at last year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I always try to find something to stand on so nobody gets in the way of my shot – for this one, I was balancing on a large rock while my Dad made sure I didn’t slip and hurt myself!

Have there been any riders who’ve been particularly friendly or kind to you, who’ve taken time to pose for you?

Ivan Gutierrez strikes a pose!

The most memorable moment I’ve ever had at a race was at the team time trial in Eindhoven in 2006. The month before, my friend and I had been in the same hotel as Illes Balears, during the start of the Giro in Belgium and each morning we had breakfast at a table right next to the riders. Among them were Fran Perez and Jose Ivan Gutierrez, one of my favourites. When we arrived at the team bus of Illes Balears in Eindhoven, Fran noticed us and Ivan took the time to strike a pose! That really surprised me and at the moment I took the picture, I didn’t even know if it would be okay and thought: “ah well, it was a nice moment anyhow.” Later on we saw that the picture turned out just fine! Later that year he signed it for me and laughed pretty loud looking at it. That was a lot of fun, I must admit.

Thomas Voeckler, World Championships, 2011

For some reason, Thomas Voeckler is either the first rider to sign in or the last one – when everyone else has already started the race! I took this at the World Championships in Copenhagen and I said to my friend, “Voeckler is probably the first one we’re going to see today.” And who turned up right then? Thomas Voeckler!

Another moment I’ll never forget happened in San Remo, while we were there for the race. We went to cross the street and a big car stopped for us. We looked at the driver and crossed the street – then we just stood on the sidewalk looking at each other and wondered if we really saw who we saw. We had! It was George Clooney! He was in San Remo for a TV gala later that night.

If only you’d gotten a picture of him! I think I’d have thrown myself on the bonnet of the car. But I digress. Your photographs are so good – have you ever thought of going professional or selling them?

I really consider photography as a hobby. I had thought of studying it when I was younger but it only crossed my mind. When I’ve been to a race, I share some pics on Facebook – like the one you found of Tom Boonen, which was actually the first time I shared a picture on the Facebook page of OPQS. Usually I share some of my photos on Radioshack’s Facebook page – and VeloVoices’ page of course!

Well, we all think it was a lucky find to see that Boonen picture that made me get in touch with you! We really appreciate it when you share your photographs with us. They make our page really special, I think! Do you have any particular favourites of the pictures you’ve taken?

Difficult to say – I always consider the ‘lucky shots’ as my best. At the Worlds in Copenhagen, I tried to take pictures of Fabian during the time trial. We all know he rides fast, but boy, to take pictures of him at a time trial doesn’t make it any easier! Luckily we were at a spot where he passed us a couple of times and I really think this picture is pretty nice.

Cancellara at the Worlds, 2011

I also like this one I took at the start of Scheldeprijs in 2011. I don’t know what Bernie Eisel and Manuel Quinziato were talking about, but it must have been funny. I like this picture because they were so relaxed, chatting and laughing at the start of the race. You don’t get to see cyclists like this too often. But then, we hardly ever make it to the actual start as we’re waiting near the team buses!

Ladies favourite Bernie Eisel and Manuel Quinziato, 2011

Another picture I really like is the one I took of Tom Boonen in San Remo  – I think it must have been 2005. Tom is with Renaat Schotte, a Belgian TV commentator.

He looks spent, actually. There’s some real pain on that face!

Tom Boonen, Milan-San Remo, 2005

Thank you so much, Danielle, for taking the time to talk to us and sharing such great pictures! You have a wonderful eye and I’m really looking forward to seeing the pictures you get from Luxembourg, Tour de Suisse and the Grand Depart for the Tour this year!

I have so many pictures, it was difficult to choose favourites but I hope you like the ones I picked. I have to thank my Facebook friends for helping me out!

No, thank you!

Danielle shared other pictures with us, which I’ll be putting up on Facebook during the day so make sure you stop by and have a look.

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