Passing the Torch

Passing the torch

The story behind my favorite picture (And the 3/27/2006 VeloNews Photo of the Week)
There aren't that many times when the average person manages to be at just the right place to witness something really extraordinary.  This was one of them.  The setting is about 30 minutes after the finish of the '03 Tour de France, and Paris had arranged something very special, since this was the 100th year of the event.

Those clich├ęs about how only Paris could put on a show so grand?  They're true.  For just over an hour spectators were treated to a grand parade of past TDF winners, re-creations of the earliest races, the procession of all of the teams, all manner of acrobatic acts and more.  But it all started with the two above, an old guy on a bike from the 30s with a very young kid of maybe 8 or so.  They were out there for the longest time as things got organized behind them, and it was just up the street a bit from me.  When things got underway, they would be in the lead, riding down the Champ Elyssees ahead of the parade. 

To the young kid, it must have seemed like forever, waiting for things to get underway, and I remember wishing there was a way to get him something to drink.  You could imagine it was your own kid out there, both oblivious to and at the same time aware of the many thousands of eyes focused on him.  At first they were stoically astride their bikes, nearly motionless, waiting for the signal that meant they were to lead the grand parade down the Champ Elyssees.  You can see this in the photo on the left; the old man is like a statue, while the young boy is just beginning to get a bit antsy.

After 15 or 20 minutes, the old man put his hand on the boy's shoulder and engaged him in conversation.  I don't know if he was telling the young boy about his own past bicycle racing exploits, or how special a moment this was, or just simply reassuring him that there was nothing to worry about, he'd take care of him.  But I do know that it was a real moment between two people, a private exchange in the most public of places.
     
  Unfortunately, I wasn't close enough to capture the shot very well.  There were a variety of obstacles in the way, including people and signposts, making it difficult for the camera to set the exposure and focus correctly.

My camera, an Olympus 5050Z, has a maximum zoom of 21.3mm, which corresponds to roughly 100mm on a 35mm camera.  Not nearly enough zoom to "get the shot", but I went for it anyway, lifting the camera up high and tilting it 90 degrees so that the two poles would have minimal effect on focus & exposure.

As you can see, the subject of the photo occupies a very small amount of the picture, so it had to be very severely cropped.  With cropping you lose a lot of resolution, since you're throwing out the majority of pixels the camera produced.  Essentially, a 5-megapixel camera ended up shooting a 1-megapixel photo!

For those interested in the technical aspects of photography, this was shot at F4.0, 1/320th second, ISO- equivalent of 64, 2560x1920 pixels.  It probably would have been better at 1/200th or so, but it's difficult to manage exposure when the camera's above your head.
         

On the left you see the actual cropped section of the photo (770,000 raw pixels).  I took two liberties with the original photo to create the final product (shown on the right), both intended to draw attention to the old man & the young boy.  First, because the background contained so many distractions, I desaturated the color.  Next I blurred the background which, besides making the background less obtrusive, also makes the two cyclists look much clearer than they actually are (because, in a relative sense, they're much more clear than the background).  The software used for this work was Corel PhotoPaint V11, which is functionally similar to the more well-known Photoshop, but with an easier learning curve (or at least it was back in V2 or 3 when I first started with it!).All of this is actually a very long answer to a few simple questions someone asked in an email- Where was the picture taken (at the '03 Tour de France), who took it (me), and are there any high-resolution versions available (no, because there was nothing hi-resolution to start with, due to the extreme cropping).  --Mike--

Addendum: The photo was taken in 2003; the article above in 2006. It would be 2009 that I first brought my son to ride with me in France during the 'Tour, and another 3 years before he was passing me on the climbs. I remember very well the day he rode past me, near the to of Kings, and there was nothing I could do; I'd given it all I had, and it was now his turn to shine.