Gruelling, epic, relentless, brutal, tortuous – when it comes to describing the five cycling Monuments, adjectives pour out of mouths like Belgian beer from the taps at the top of the Oude Kwaremont.
For a photographer working on these legendary one day races, it’s their job to try and capture all those adjectives in an image. Kristof Ramon is one such photographer and he has contributed to Rouleur’s new series of prints celebrating the Monuments.
Before the first of the 2018 Monuments -Milan-San Remo- takes place next month, we caught up with Ramon to discuss his personal take on these events.
Rouleur: Which one of the Monuments is your favourite?
Kristof Ramon: That’s easy, it’s Roubaix.
Is that your favourite in general or just your favourite to shoot?
I think it’s more that. Obviously I’m from Flanders so Flanders is pretty high up the list as well, but the thing with Roubaix is I love shooting it. I adore shooting it. There are a few races that have one thing in common, they’re not just simple road races.
What are they?
I’ll sum them up so you have an idea of what my favourite races are. They are Roubaix, Strade Bianche, Tro Bro Leon, Dwars Door de Het Hageland and the Schaal Sels, which is a gravel race around Antwerp. They’re extremely unpredictable, chaotic and uncontrollable, a beast sometimes and that is exactly what I like.
Why is that?
Because I thrive visually on the chaos these races bring, and obviously Roubaix is chaos. And it’s the cheers of the fans, the dust, the riders, the accidents. I feel like I go into an automatic mode of visually registering what’s going on. I see this and it’s click, click. I turn around it’s click, click. It’s a feast of images, so rewarding yet a bit dangerous, which is always fun.
So you’re more of a dry and dusty Roubaix fan than wet and muddy?
I love the dust. Riders coming out of a cloud of dust is my favourite image. But I can’t tell if I’m more of a fan because the past eight years I’ve covered it I don’t think I’ve ever seen rain. The only time I’ve seen rain on the cobbles was during the Tour de France and that was chaotic and exciting. The thing is, with the dust it makes it more epic, because it brings a mystical cloud. That’s a bit cliché, but it does bring a grandness to it.
Do you find something happens when you get behind the lens? With spectators, it’s almost like they shut out danger around them when they’re looking through a viewfinder.
For me something happens and the thing is I don’t realise it. Ah man, this is going to sound corny maybe… but it’s very, very true. Everything slows down, so when I’m looking through the lens I can analyse what’s going on. I think, ‘there’s that rider I’m looking for, there is the other one’ and I think ‘ok, ok, I’m going to focus on that one’.
I’ll take picture one, picture two, then I turn around and take picture three. I turn back and I’m like, ‘oh there’s a guy crashing, oh somebody’s holding up a wheel, that’s interesting’. Then I watch the race playback on television and I can’t believe it all happened in only 4 seconds, in my mind I had 15. I never get used to this.
Out of all of the Monuments where do you think are the best crowds?
Britain, but Britain doesn’t have a Monument. That’s not a joke. I love the crowd in Britain, they are like ‘wow’, every single time I’m there. It just blows my mind at how enthusiastic and how fun these guys are. But there’s no Monument in Britain so, in answer to your question, I don’t know. I just whoosh by them.
It’s ok, we’ll take Britain…
Yeah take that. Start doing some Monuments and I would love them.