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Dirt 100 – Behind the scenery

Shooting the mountainbike jewels of 2016

With the probability of precipitation, cloud or wind greater than ninety percent, it was obviously the last place to capture mountainbike treasure in shimmering light. The DIRT 100 photo shoot More likely to be blinded by horizontal rain and lost in the mist, it was a risk. And you know what, we were pumped at the prospect, thinking that whatever it was, it was real and that it was what riders have to deal with. Galvanised by the task we were about to take on we headed to Blannau Ffestiniog.

Storm Abigail and the remains of ex-hurricane Kate doubled the average rainfall numbers as we finished off the last of the product shots. Then, on the 5 December Storm Desmond broke the UK’s 24 hour rainfall record in the middle of us shooting the video element. Literally the 2016 Dirt 100 was shot in the eye of the storm.

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By coincidence Subaru were shooting a new car with the ‘Stig’ nearby. With over thirty people and seven vehicles they were part of a huge production team, and they kindly invited us to lunch at their mountainside canteen. Us being two blokes, a flash, tripod made of half a ladder and 79p car boot surveyors tripod. In a slate quarry established in 1760 by Methusalem Jones and eight men, we began shooting, backlit by a warm winter glow over Cnicht and the Moelwyn’s. Subaru were taking it expedition style whilst we were going the alpinism route.

It all seems so obvious now – a mountainbike shoot in a bike park – yet only weeks before travelling north we were still undecided on the location or direction to travel with over a hundred thousand pounds worth of grade A bikes and products in the the back of a beaten up lorry. Little did we know they were to be laid out amongst the debris of a disused slate mine on a damp, daggered metamorphic landscape.

After a month of scoping various locations and with a choice of venues narrowed down to a Mediterranean village, a Spanish archipelago, some remote rockery of northern France and …errr… Cinderford, the heat was very much on to make a decision on the best location for our shoot. It was by chance whilst watching one of the final world cup rugby games that I spotted a particular image by north wales photographer David Roberts in a mine building on the top of a mountain that somehow caught fire with my mind. By 10pm that night, after a four hour drive, I was shacked up in Capel Curig and on the next day I was tramping around Snowdonia.

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That our location was close to Antur Stiniog was a happy coincidence and one that certainly tipped the balance. Clear blue skies, 30 degree heat and dust or 5 degree wet and windy – the choice was easy, after all I’d been stitched up by Blaunau Ffestiniog fog on too many occasions to be taking a risk on one of our biggest projects of the year. It might well be clear skies in Dolgellau, but by the time you hang a right off the 470 at Trawsfynydd all hell usually breaks loose.

Adrian Bradley of DH Stiniog swung it. He actually swings a lot of things, but that’s another story. We had to make sure there was no dynamite on site, that we had serious security for our cargo, that five star accommodation was in place and that the entertainment that goes with such trips was all in hand. In reality the black powder was kept dry, the lorry had a lock fitted and we kept the Kings Head open all hours.

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Back in Monmouth the office was filling up nicely with merch’ and at this point I had photog/videog’ Laurence Crossman-Emms (who was expecting some Italian sun and fully unaware of my trip north) primed for action. I can only remember a brief silence down the line when I broke the news the expedition was off but that the alpinist route was on. We both knew we had to smash it out of the park with this one having set the standard with the previous year’s 100.

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On Monday 2nd November 2015 the sun on Manod Mawr was unreal. There was no wind and we hammered through the bikes as the storm clouds gathered. Of course this had all been in the contingency. With Blaunau’s reputation it would have been crazy not to have shelter as part of the plan.

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The previously mentioned storm Abigail and the remains of Kate had doubled the average rainfall numbers for November. By Wednesday me and Laurence looked forward to our daily lunchtime trip down to the slate mine for Welsh cawl and coffee to warm up.

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By Friday we were looking to get home and dry out.  But now amongst the slate beds shot on background material which was once ocean floor, XTR, DMR, X0 and XFusion amongst the quartz and mica. Carbon, aluminium and titanium amongst the biotite, chlorite and pyrite. And now and again the machinery and furniture of the former slate mine, its engine house, food block and cutting rooms.

With part one of the shoot done we dried and and re-grouped for the video element of Dirt 100. With a bigger team, more equipment and a heavy shoot list the downhill runs of the bike park were our new home. Some of the highest wind speeds were recorded in the Antur Stiniog Bike Park as we gathered the troops. The mountain gods smiled and gave us a window, Madison providing some incredible kit to let us move, keep us warm and protected from the rain and wind. This was real. Then, on the 5 December, storm Desmond broke!

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