I’ve long felt that perhaps one of human kind’s best inventions is photography. To be able to record life and replay it at will forever more is inherently special. Magical even.
It was a generation ago but I seem to remember watching the stage of the Tour that tragically claimed Fabio Casartelli in the Pyrenees, at home on television having just come in from a ride in my native southern England. Saddened I felt moved remotely by that familiar tragedy of cycling being reported beamed into my front room mid race. It never occurred to me I would meet that bike and a relative of his by chance at a famous shrine to bicyclists years in the future. Or that I would live in the shadow of that mountain range itself one day. Or indeed that I would myself so nearly become another unfortunate statistic in the too common a tragedy of pedals and cars on a remote col.
Twenty years later I was in Italy photographing racing and I stood in the shrine to the fallen cyclist – the chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo above Lake Como in Lombardia in quiet awe of such remembrance. An old lady standing next to me, knelt to pray for a lost soul, looked at me as she stood and said that it was her nephew’s bicycle up on the wall ahead of us before she paid her last respects of the visit and turned to walk out. I looked more closely and it was Fabio Casartelli’s bike and epitaph she was in conversation with.
Later that year I was driving to Andorra and saw the signs for the Portet d’Aspet and the closeness of that broadcast memory to my new life somewhere far away rang true. I remember it had stuck in my mind that Lance Armstrong had pointed to the heavens mid climb for his former teammate and now I lived near here and considered these hills a part of my cycling map of the human heart.
And then three years later after revisiting Andorra and much of the Pyrenees often as a local but still not the Portet d’Aspet itself, I became a victim of my own personal tragedy in pedals on a col descent just ten kilometres from home at the end of a day that saw that mountain range’s peaks on the horizons of various viewpoints.
I haven’t ridden a bicycle since and likely won’t again. And today I found the photographs I made that visit to Lombardia with a ride and a race with the Tinkoff Saxo team and a subsequent visit to the shrine and the feelings I remember of aspects of this little story came washing back, now interwoven with my own personal memories as photographs, just like aromas or music can make happen in an instant.
It is a joy to ride through vistas like these, even more on climbs with legendary names, yet further still in the presence of heroes like Basso and Kreuziger. To photograph it is a close second.
These memories are just a handful of the pieces of my life’s jigsaw puzzle but in so often finding photographs of them while looking for something completely different makes that puzzle an ongoing theme in the background to be revisited whenever a hard drive or negative folder is opened. And that’s a kind of magic to me, even if it does touch a nerve here or there.