We’ve already featured a number of photographs from Susi on VeloVoices and you may also have seen her work on Cyclingnews’ website. We first met a few years back while both working as volunteers at the World Road Race Championships and kept in touch. I then rode shotgun for Susi at Paris-Nice in 2008 and I’ve spent time with her other races, such as the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de France and Tour of the Basque Country, which has given me a bit of an insight into the effort required to get those all-important action shots.
Sheree: So, Susi tell us how you got into photography – and why cycling?
Susi: I’m a former professional cyclist, although I started my career as a speed skater – winning national titles at every level. I later graduated into cycling, again winning national titles on the track and road, before finally taking up Ironman where my best result was a third-place in Roth completed in 9:30. To be honest, I’m interested in all sports, but cycling’s my favourite.
Sheree: I remember my husband asking me if you cycled and I said I didn’t know but, given that you looked as fit as a butcher’s dog, it was entirely possible. Little did I know! Susi’s being typically modest about her sporting background and, like many of today’s German cyclists, she’s a graduate of the Erfurt Sport Institute. So how did the photography start?
Susi: In 2007, after Jan Ullrich retired, a friend asked me if I could do an interview with him. So I did it, and started there too with taking photographs. I was hooked. My first race was the 2007 Tour of Lombardy, in Italy. After that, I enrolled in a press agency and applied for membership as a photographer.
Sheree: What was Jan like? Was he bitter about the way his career ended, just disillusioned or resigned?
Susi: No, he wasn’t at all bitter, he was upset but also relieved to have finished his career and he was looking forward to the next steps in his life. I didn’t ask him about the Puerto Affair, as it wasn’t part of my brief. He indicated that he’d like to remain in cycling in some form. Today we see he’s deeply involved.
Sheree: That got the ball rolling. So how did you progress?
Susi: So the following year, I worked part-time on a semi-professional basis at Trofeo Mallorca, Paris-Nice, Tours of the Basque Country and Murcia, the three Grand Tours and the Dauphine. I was very busy, but it was nice. Nowadays, I do fewer races, mainly those in Spain and Germany and just for Cyclingnews, a few newspapers and other cycling websites.
Sheree: What are you favourite races to shoot and why?
Susi: The one and only race I love is the Tour of the Basque Country, because the stages are always really exciting, the countryside is very spectacular and the people are the best cycling fans in the world.
Sheree: It was Susi raving about the Basque Country that encouraged me to visit and I have to concur: they do have the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans, and don’t even get me started on the gastronomy, culture and countryside.
Which riders do you most like to photograph? Talk us through some of your favourite shots and tell us when and where you took them.
Susi: Here are just a few of my favourites:
Alberto Contador’s individual time trial at the Kronplatz during the 2008 Giro d’Italia with his personal mechanic Faustino shouting encouragement from the back on the motorbike.
Damiano Cunego still smiling despite a terrible crash on the stage into St Etienne at the 2008 Tour de France.
Amets Txurruka on the Col de La Bonnette, 2008 Tour de France. I spent all day near the top of the climb in the boiling sunshine.
Sheree: I could have done with a bit of a helping hand when I rode up it!
Cadel Evans suffering in the rain and in pain during 2008 Tour of the Basque Country.
Sheree: That picture says it all. You just know how he’s feeling. Ah well, the Basque Country’s green for a reason.
Leonardo Duque again during the 2008 Tour of the Basque Country during the individual time trial on a 22% uphill [I hear there’s plenty of those in the Basque country – Ed] where you can see the ocean in the background.
During the 2008 Vuelta a Espana, Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador going toe-to-toe, fighting for every second at the finish at Pla de Beret.
Ryder Hesjedal with problems during the 2009 Vuelta prologue at the Assen motor circuit.
Sheree: Whoa, cycling and speed skating!
David Herrero, the winner in Viana [which hosts the finish of stage two of the Vuelta this Sunday – Ed] during the 2008 Tour of the Basque Country ahead of Luis Leon Sanchez and Paolo Bettini.
Sheree: What are some of your biggest challenges when taking action photographs?
Susi: Every race is a big challenge for me because I’m always on the parcours either on the back of a motorbike or using my car. If it’s the latter, I must first make a plan. I look at which sections might be interesting, find an alternate route to go there very fast to take photos and then get back to the finish. Sometimes, I’ve even ridden in the team car in order to get to the target spot.
Sheree: I rode in the car with Susi for a day at this year’s Tour of the Basque Country. She drives like she’s Sebastian Loeb!
Susi: One of my biggest challenges was with you at Paris-Nice in 2008. Despite press accreditation on your Smart, we were stuck in traffic 15 minutes from the finish line. I jumped out of the car and ran along the cordoned-off road and managed to blag a ride in the race organisation car, the last one on the road before the riders. I got to the line just in time to take the winner’s photo – Sylvain Chavanel.
I had a similar and funny experience once like that in the Tour of Murcia too. I like things to be fun – boring things are not for me. In particular, the issue is always whether the photos are sharp, if all goes well and if it works it’s great joy – if not, it’s a funeral!
Sheree: The majority of fans can’t get race accreditation, so what advice would you give them to try and get good photographs of a race or a rider? Where should they stand? What equipment do they need?
Susi: It is better to stand in a mountainous place, or on a curve, so the riders are going slower and take pictures with a digital SLR. I would buy a small, second-hand one, to start with so you can get used to it. The feed zone is also good, but there are often lots of souvenir hunters who get in the way. Taking shots before and after the race is good too but you need to take care not to bother the riders too much.
Sheree: What’s next on your agenda?
Susi: After the Clasica San Sebastian, it’s the start of the Vuelta in Pamplona, because Alberto Contador is back racing.
Sheree: If you hadn’t already guessed, Susi’s a big fan of Spanish riders and races and she’s established a good rapport and working relationship with the former and their teams. She frequently gives them photographs to put on their personal and team websites.
Susi, many thanks for sharing those fabulous photos with us and we’ll look forward to showcasing more of your work on VeloVoices. I would say that you can also see Susi’s photographs on her website but she tells me that lightning has damaged the server, all the data’s been lost and her provider’s not sure he’ll be able to recover it. I’ll keep you posted on how it progresses. Meanwhile, you’ll be able to see her photos from the Clasica San Sebastian and the Vuelta here on VeloVoices.