Behind the lens with Balint Hamvas: “The biggest revelation for me is how awesome women’s road racing is.”
We have had the privilege of using Balint Hamvas’ beautiful photography to help us tell the stories of various women’s races this year. From the Ronde van Drenthe to the Giro Rosa to La Course, his photos tell a story our words never could.
When an injury sidelined him from a mountain race in 2001, Hamvas brought a camera to shoot his mates “for good fun.” He has been making a name for himself ever since, becoming one of the best cyclocross photographers around. His venture into women’s road cycling this year, however, was a new and opportunistic one.
“When I did my first [cyclocross] book in 2009-2010, it was perhaps a naïve attempt at publishing a book but regardless, I was quite adamant to give the men and women equal space in the book, and I received a lot of positive remarks for it. Then last year, I was talking to one of my big clients about how I could do more for them or how we could do more together and the lack of coverage in women’s cycling came up,” Hamvas said. “I did some research and found that there weren’t many photographers shooting it. It felt almost like uncharted territory, and I thought I could do something different or better or make the sport easier for people to follow.”
The transition into women’s road cycling, however, came with new challenges, and Hamvas admits to having been a bit apprehensive at the start.
“To be very honest with you, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew only bits and bobs but I didn’t know much. I had done only the odd men’s road race and I didn’t have massive experience shooting road cycling. So I was kind of like: ‘Let’s hope I can do this.’,” Hamvas said.
Shooting a road race of say 120 kilometres is vastly different from a 40-minute cyclocross race where riders do a short loop multiple times and photographer move around by foot.
“There is a serious learning curve to shooting a race from the motorbike,” Hamvas said. “You take a spot along the course, shoot as the peloton goes by, get back on the bike and then you have to overtake the peloton. And the police. And the outriders. And the team cars. This is always the most stressful part. It’s a fine balance between not wanting to cause any harm and trying to get through and doing your job. It can be really nerve-wrecking.”
“But the motorbike gives you a lot of flexibility, and the thing I love about shooting women’s road is that there are so many opportunities to shoot, so many things to compose. If I go back to any of the races I shot this year, I know I can get a complete new set of photos,” Hamvas continued.
Hamvas, as it turns out, is a quick learner as he –or rather @CyclePhotos –is quickly becoming recognized for his women’s road cycling photography.
Shooting with an agenda
When it comes to road cycling, Hamvas exclusively shoots women’s racing and does so with a bit of an agenda.
“I’m still new to the sport so perhaps I don’t understand quite how it all works, but I don’t like injustice and I think it’s ridiculous the way the women are treated,” Hamvas stated. “They’re not paid an awful lot and they’re there because they really love the sport. They work very, very hard and go through horrible things. I mean the crashes! I see them all and then the bandages and they get back on the bike the next day as though nothing happened. It’s quite admirable.
“It may sound a bit lofty, but I hope I can maybe contribute to the sport [of women’s cycling], which makes it more appealing to me.”
Already a big fan of women’s cyclocross, Hamvas has quickly become a road cycling fan as well.
“The biggest revelation for me is how awesome women’s road racing is,” he said. “They’re so fast and so amazing. I always remember when Wiggins two years ago crashed at the Giro d’Italia and he said ‘Yeah, I was descending like a girl’ and I’m like ‘No you weren’t! Because girls descend really, really well!”
“Lucinda Brand at the Giro Rosa is a great example of that,” Hamvas continued. “On the stage that she won, she took off on a solo attack and we got stuck behind her. She has just started to descend and she just pulled away [from us on the motorbike]. She was just so incredibly fast. And it has to be said, I am not great with speed, and I just marvel at how fast they go. It’s phenomenal. It never stops to amaze me. ”
“Sometimes I feel a bit guilty that I am not actually a woman,” Hamvas added. “At La Course even the police outriders were women, and I felt like I should be a woman but unfortunately I am not. Unfortunately, the sport has to put with me.”
Women’s cycling makes business sense
Thus far his venture into women’s road cycling is proving to have been a good business decision, Hamvas said, and he thinks women’s cycling is indeed growing.
“What I see is that my stuff gets shared. A lot. So there definitely is interest in women’s cycling. La Course helps a lot and the Aviva Women’s Tour of Britain has been brilliant,” Hamvas said. “I did a men’s Tour of Britain a few years ago and in comparison, [the women’s race] was phenomenal in terms of the organisation and just the amount of people that showed up. It was hands-down the best attended race on the calendar apart from La Course.”
“It should be compulsory for race organisers to attend the Women’s Tour of Britain,” Hamvas continued. “If in Britain, where cycling –and women’s cycling at that –is not (yet) a mainstream sport, they can turn out a hundred thousand people on the roadside, then that could be replicated in other countries. And if it makes business or financial sense for the organisers, than events like the Women’s Tour of Britain is a great sign for the sport.”
Cyclocross: his first passion
While his venture into women’s road is proving to be a successful one, Hamvas’ first love is cyclocross. The former amateur mountain bike racer fell in love with [shooting] cyclocross in 2008 and has made it his bread and butter ever since.
“In 2008 I heard about the World Cup race in Tabor, which was just a couple of hours drive [from his native Hungary], so I thought I’d have a look. I immediately fell in love with it. It was just so intense. It’s an entire bike race condensed into one very exciting and spectacular hour of racing,” Hamvas recalled. “As much as I love road and mountain, I think cyclocross is the most fun discipline out there.”
Hamvas has been publishing an annual cyclocross book since 2009, with equal space dedicated to men’s and women’s racing.
“This is kind of my baby. I came up with the idea of creating these books as a way to fund my travel to go to all these races. Now, with all my clients, I don’t necessarily need that but I really enjoy putting them together and lots of people seem to be enjoying the books so I keep doing them. It’s 240 page coffee table book that covers all the big European [cyclocross] races,” said Hamvas.
Writing, however, isn’t Hamvas’ forté so he invites a variety of journalists to do the writing for him. Among the chapters in his latest book, is a heavy-hitting one about the inequalities in prize money earnings for men and women. The chapter includes a chart of what the top 10 men and women earned in prize money.
“Obviously it doesn’t show the full picture as many riders have salaries and sponsorship endorsements and such, but it’s still a good indication that Sanne Cant for example, the top female rider last year, earned about 29,000 Euros in prize money, and only the 10th ranked man earned less than that. And he is obviously on a good salaries anyway,” Hamvas said. “[The chapter] shows that the powers to be are dragging their heels and seem to be getting away with doing as little as possible in terms of giving prominence to women’s cross. It’s ridiculous.”
While the topics at hand can be aggravating and heavy-hitting, Hamvas’ books are also a gorgeous tribute to the sport Hamvas loves.
“At the end of the day, I feel very lucky to have this job and to be able to contribute to the sport in this way,” said Hamvas. “I get to do what I love to do, and I do it with a smile on my face.”
Get Hamvas’ book for free!
And we are excited to offer one of Hamvas’ books in a giveaway! To win, all you have to do is like the Ella Facebook page and write a cyclocross haiku on our wall. Hamvas will pick his favourite haiku to determine the winner.