UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2012 - Fort William

I thought I'd share a few shots from the weekend's racing at Fort William, as well as a short review of some kit. So, here goes.
The weekend of June 9th & 10th 2012 was a mixed bag, as far as weather was concerned, at Fort William. Sun splitting the trees on Saturday - along with the usual onslaught from the local midgie population (if you've never experienced being eaten-alive by these vicious wee beasties, you've never lived... honest) and we witnessed former 5-times Women's World Downhill Champion, Tracy Moseley doing a run down Aonach Mor with the Olympic flame.

Still in a bit of a honeymoon period with my new Think Tank Photo (http://www.thinktankphoto.com/) Streetwalker Hard Drive camera backpack, I decided to give it a good trial over the weekend and packed it with the following kit:
Bodies: Canon EOS 1Ds, 7D (un-gripped) and 40D (gripped)
Lenses: EF 70-200 L f4, EF 50 f1.8, Sigma 20-40 EX HSM f2.8 and 17-70 f2.8 HSM (one of Sigma's best kept secrets - this wee lens is sharp as hell and very fast), Rokinon 8mm fisheye.
Speedlites: Canon 580EX II, 430 EX
Along with a couple of polarisers, wireless triggers, emergency poncho and Op-tech emergency camera raincovers, 12 CF cards, rocket blower and cleaning cloths as well as notepad and pens.

Taking a wee breather with some other shooters at the top during a quiet spell.

 Looking at the list, you'll realise that this lot would ensure I was carrying quite a substantial weight up and down one of the UK's highest mountains, so the big question was: 'How comfortable would it be?'. The short answer is 'Very!'. I have been seriously impressed with the build quality of the Think Tank kit I've come across, but that alone doesn't guarantee it'll be comfy for trekking up and down a hill (my 13 year-old Billingham 550 is one of the finest pieces of engineering I've ever come across, but there's no way it'd be any use for this kind of shoot). I never once felt that the bag was too big or unwieldy - despite the surprising amount of kit I fitted into it - and the long, thin design meant that it sat nicely down the middle of my back. It was also nice when I realised that I wasn't bumping into people (or the other way around) when things got a bit busy. Once the two bodies were removed with a lens each and attached to my Cotton Carrier (without a doubt THE best way to one or two cameras without straps digging into your neck, letting you have both hands free and your cameras don't swing around like a pole-dancer at happy-hour! http://www.cottoncarrier.com/ ) I practically forgot the Streetwalker HD was there.
In common with most backpack designs, opening the Streetwalker means laying it down with the side which is in contact with your back touching the ground - no big issue when it's a nice day, but a right pain in the butt when Sunday dawned - with some good, old Scottish summer: POURING with rain! So, it's a case of crouching down and using my knee to support the bag while I change lenses/ batteries etc. - far from ideal, so after a few discussions with other pro's using them, I'm waiting on the arrival of a Think Tank Skin Set of waist-belt pouches. I'll see how they work out next week as I shoot an international fishing tournament then a pre-wedding shoot.
As long as you're ready for the usual down-sides to a back-pack style camera bag, I'd have to say that, for me, the Streetwalker HD did a damned good job and look forward to giving it even more abuse on a 5-week trip to Europe for a wedding and some location shoots (it may be worth pointing out the versatility side of things too: the three days preceding the mountain bike racing, I packed various assortments of kit into it to shoot a music gig, press event at the Scottish Parliament building then Edinburgh Castle and 13-hour wedding, and the bag coped admirably at all events)
Right, onto the actual part which we, as photographers, really enjoy: The photos!
Saturday was spent scoping out some potential viewpoints as we worked out way down the hill, and I was quite happy with some of the results - not always getting the top riders in the shots, but still - I'm happy with the quality of the shots. Once we got to the bottom, there was just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before the 4X started (basically, it's like downhill racing except there are 4 riders at a time - so it can get a bit 'hairy' sometimes) and, again, some good shots were had.

As I mentioned earlier, Sunday was a completely different kettle of fish and all the planning from Saturday went out the window. So, plans were changed and I decided to avoid the crowds at the bottom of the hill, where the rain seemed heaviest, and head for the top - thinking that mist would be easier to deal with than heavy rain. Rather than go for straight shots, I decided to go for shots which would capture the essence of being a mountain biker in the UK, before heading back down on the gondola to grab some shots of the podiums. Again, not wanting to get the same shots as everyone else, I stepped back a bit to, hopefully, capture the winners on the big screen, as they looked out at the crowd of cheering fans. Overall, I'm quite happy with the shots - given the Scottish summer weather - and each piece of kit performed flawlessly: From the Streetwalker which made lugging all that stuff around, to the Cotton Carrier, which allowed both hands to be free while ensuring my cameras were always ready to capture the shots and a special mention for my EOS 7D which took a full-height drop (I stand 6' 1") with the Sigma 17-70 and 580 EX II attached on Saturday morning - due entirely to my own clumsiness: My heart stopped, but after a quick dusting off and only bearing a few scratches, it was business as usual - if ever there was a recommendation as to why I've used Canon cameras for 21 years - this is it!


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