London Nocturne 2018

[Scroll down for more photos – and even more over on Flickr]

I like to get along to the London Nocturne when I can – the Mr Porter London Nocturne to give it its proper title. There are a series of races across the afternoon and into the evening. Earlier in the day, before I arrived, there had been a Santander Cycles race (and prior to that, an open session around the closed roads), a penny farthing race and a folding bike race. I also saw a number of very smartly dressed people with their bikes who’d no doubt participated in the “Concours d’Elegance.”

I arrived during the Masters Criterium, and also saw both of the fixed gear races. Despite a decent bit of searching, and it being a couple of days since the race, I’ve struggled to find the results of the fixed gear crits. Based on the event’s Facebook video, I think it was Rafaela Lemieux who won.

The one person I did recognise was Keira McVitty who finished 7th. She was on her own in the last few laps neither being able to reach the group in front, nor slowing enough to be caught by the larger group behind. I mention her because she’s does a lot on YouTube (her video from the evening is here), and she also features heavily in the latest episode of The Espoir Diaries for Friends of the Cycling Podcast which is a great series for subscribers following a household of young British riders finding their way in Belgium.

In the men’s fixed gear crit Alec Briggs of Team Specialized Rocket Esspresso took the win thanks to some good teamwork.

In the women’s Elite race Louise Heywood-Mah of Les Filles Racing Team rode away from the race early on, and then managed to keep the entire chasing peleton at bay for the rest of the race. She had nearly 40 seconds on them by the end, which isn’t bad for a course that they were getting around in 90-120 seconds a lap.

In the men’s race, Rob Scott of Team Wiggins tried to do something very similar. He went away early, and held off the peleton for most of the rest of the race. However team JLT Condor were very strong, and they packed the chasing group. Rising British superstar Tom Pidcock stayed close to JLT Condor’s train, and when it came down to finishing sprint it was Ed Clancy who just managed to hold of Pidcock to take the win.

Taking photos of very fast cyclists at night is always a challenge and I’m always learning. I was using an A77 Mk II and an A77. I started with my Sigma 70-200 lens, and even tried a 2x lens converter, but I lost way too much light. This event starts in the daytime, but the Elite women’s and men’s races begin as the sun is setting and finish after it has gone down. While the organisers put up some additional lighting, you are mostly wrestling with streetlights. On Saturday, there wasn’t even that much good light during the daytime as it was overcast and there was even the occasional drizzle.

I used shot mostly with my 16-50mm lens once I’d packed away the bigger one. I tend to need two flashes as my better F58 flash will overheat after too much use. So I switch to an older less powerful flash for a while, and then switch back when it’s had a chance to cool down. One way or another, this is a type of photography that requires as much low-light capability as your camera will give you.

The blurry photos are shot using a rear curtain flash – in other words, the exposure may be as long as 1/15 second, but the flash comes at the end of the exposure. That’s still very fast, and as I’m also panning a little, you get lots of motion blur and hopefully a relatively sharp image at the end of the exposure. Lots of trial and error. I took nearly 1700 photos on Saturday!

I shot many of these images as JPGs and to be honest I should have stuck with RAW. I would normally shoot everything in RAW, but when you’re taking bursts of photos, the time between the camera emptying its buffer and writing to the SD card really matters. My cards are pretty fast, so I’m at the mercy of a camera that is a few years old now. However, thinking about it, the limitations of many flash exposures I can manage in a short period means I should have stuck with RAW. The photos mightn’t be quite as noisy if I managed that.

Rapha Nocturne 2017

This weekend saw the return of the Rapha Nocturne, with Rapha resuming sponsorship. These days, the event has moved from Smithfield Market to an area around St Pauls near the Guildhall. While I have no problem with the route, it’s a shame that it no longer covers an area with bars and pubs like Smithfields did. Most places in the City are closed at weekends, and I would suggest that Tesco Express was probably the biggest winner.

Still the racing and fast and frenetic, and it comes into its own as the sun sets later in the evening. I only arrived in time to see the end of the fixie race and the final two races of the evening.

I took photos…

Plenty more photos are over on Flickr.

London Nocturne 2016

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For 2016, the organisers of the London Nocturne (aka the Smithfield Nocturne), moved it from its previous course around Smithfield market, and closer into the City of London on a new circuit set between St Paul’s Cathedral, Bank tube station and the Guildhall. As a result, the course was flatter without the slight drag that the previous one had, but arguably the roads are better, and there was certainly a good crowd – especially near the start/finish.

However what was not better was the atmosphere. The great thing about the old Smithfield course was that there were a large number of bars and pubs around the market itself. All of these were open, often serving food and drink especially for the Nocturne crowd. That was not the case in the city. The problem is that most venues in the City are closed at weekends, and for the most part, they didn’t open specially for the visit of the Nocturne.

A cynic would note that the VIP and hospitality areas were significantly larger, and well catered for. But the businesses that seemed to do best from these criterium circuit races were Tesco and Co-Op, both doing good business in alcohol sales.

The atmosphere notwithstanding, the circuit was fast, and it had improved television coverage with Eurosport broadcasting live on the night, and significantly more fixed camera positions as well as a the motorbike.

We arrived in time for the Penny Farthing race, which was followed by the folding bike race – which came down to head to head on the line. I couldn’t help notice that these races appeared a bit shorter than preivously.

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The main events were the men’s and women’s criterium races. The women’s race kicked off, and quickly broke apart with a group of leading riders gaining a significant advantage early on. From the breakaway, Alice Barnes managed to get clear and she soloed the last few laps to an excellent and very comfortable win.

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The men’s race also broke apart early on, not helped by a crash within the first couple of laps. Most of the big hitters were at the front of the race, but I noticed Ed Clancy had to chase hard to get back into the main group of contenders. Over the course of the race, the group thinned out a bit, and eventually a pair of riders – Owain Douall and Chris Lawless – got away. Their gap extended to about 30 seconds and held there. For a while it looked like the race could come back together, but they held on with Lawless winning a sprint on the line.

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There are yet more photos on Flickr!