The winning photos from the 2021 Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year Awards

by Michael Better


The Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year Awards have once again delivered some amazing shots from passionate enthusiasts and professional photographers from all over the world.

But this year, there was a twist. In the craziness of the past year, it was clear from the entries just how much freedom the bicycle (and the camera) granted.

The unusual, solitary norm that has now become established helped create some fascinating new perspectives for entries in the competition, with some meaningful moments captured in photos and told through captions.

The awards this year were presided over by judges Jojo Harper, Brazo de Hierro, and James Startt, with Graham Watson returning as an honorary judge and offering his own top 10 in the Amateur category.

Out of hundreds of entries from every continent (except Antarctica), our judges whittled their selections down to a shortlist of 10 images in both the Professional and Amateur categories, avoiding bias by judging without seeing the photographer’s name.

Each of those shortlists and the arguments behind them were brought to a call earlier this week, where the judges debated for over three hours to arrive at a consensus of the top 10 in each category, and ultimately, the winners.

Jojo, Brazo, James: our deepest thanks for your expertise and your time. It was an absolute pleasure.

We are proud now to showcase the winners here, their images, and the story behind those images, as well as the top 10 in both categories.

Thank you to everyone who was part of this year’s awards, whether as a photographer or as a reader. Thank you also to Wahoo for generously providing prizes in the Amateur category.

And finally, and most significantly, thank you to Leeanne Gatien, the driving force behind the awards. Leeanne is Mark Gunter’s wife, and when Mark tragically died of oesophageal cancer, leaving Leeanne and a one-year-old son behind, the awards were established as a fundraiser for cancer charities and to allow Mark’s name to live on. Thank you, Leeanne.

The wait is over. Here are the winners and the top 10 in each category! Congratulations to all.

Professional category

The professional category is open to anyone who makes a living income from their work in the field.

This category is all about prestige – there’s a perpetual trophy that passes down each year for the winner, along with medals for the top three. Some of the finest photographers in the sport have taken out this award over the duration of the competition.

We’ll start off with third place and taking the final spot on the podium…

Third place, professional category: Wout Beel

“After the ‘Ronde van Vlaanderen’, the riders are singing as loud as they can, while ‘pater familias’ Patrick Lefevere is calmly enjoying his steak.” Wout Beel @woutbeel

And in second place is…

Second place, professional category: Matt Grayson

“Abu Sheik Sesay is mobbed by fans after finishing second at the Tour de Lunsar. It is Sierra Leone’s first multi-stage bike race. There is no blueprint for cycling in Sierra Leone @lunsarcycling. The race is creating a platform for young riders to showcase their talents and are seen as local heroes.” Matt Grayson @mattgrayson_photo

And, the 2021 Mark Gunter Professional Photographer of the Year is…

First place, professional category: Sean Hardy

“The photo was taken in the bath and it is meant to represent Lotta just keeping her head above water. I had heard about the mental health stories in her life and how coming back to the world of cycling was a big deal for her. It was taken at the Ceratizit training camp. I had heard Lotta @lottahenttala had joined the team and asked if we can capture some styled portraits.” Sean Hardy @hardyccphotos

Congratulations, Sean! You are the Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year. You’re in esteemed company and custodian of the perpetual trophy for the next year.

The rest of the top 10 in the professional category, in order, are as follows:

“’A Shepherd and his flock’ – taken during the 2021 Pan Celtic Race. Mike Sheldrake replenishes his energy with breakfast after what has been a tough few days on the bike. With a full stomach, Mike begins to offer out the last remaining morsels to the local inhabitants before heading off on the rest of his journey.” Dan King @breakawaydigital
“Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert are fighting in the waves of the North Sea during the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Oostende, Belgium on 31st January 2021.” Michal Cerveny @michalcervenyphoto
“This was taken at the wonderful Rocacorba Cycling. We were getting ready to shoot Ashleigh Moolman Pasio in her new Zwift E-Champ kit, then this gorgeous light hit.”Sean Hardy @hardyccphotos
“After the start of the Zilvermeercross, it started to snow. As a result, the snow only stayed next to the racing line. What caused a beautiful leading line towards the leader of the race, Wout van Aert.” Mats Palinckx @matspalinckx
“This photo of Mark Hirschi was taken after his crash during the first stage of the 2021 Tour de France.” Etienne Garnier @etiennegarnier
“Alex Dowsett working on his aerodynamic position in preparation for his hour record attempt at the wind tunnel in Silverstone.” Alex Duffill @alexduffill
“Shot recently for Rouleur Magazine. Anna had recently retired from racing so we wanted to portray her as a woman moving into her new life after cycling. It was important to make an image that felt classical and showed a sense of movement.” Michael Blann @michaelblann

Amateur category

The Amateur category was open to any photographers that didn’t fit into the professional category. The category was open to non-professional photographers using high-end cameras, and anyone with a smartphone or drone, or action camera. 

Wahoo generously offered up some fantastic prizes for the top three Amateur winners, as they have for many years now.

And in third place is …

Third place, amateur category: Filip Funk

“This was the second and final crit race at Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition. The race was dubbed The Roller Coaster Crit, so I wanted to try and capture that with the park’s rides in the background as the rider came through the corner.” Filip Funk @filipfunk

Filip, you’ve won a Wahoo Elemnt Rival.

Second place, amateur category: Gabe Lloyd

“The final night of Fifth Street Cross in Emmaus, PA had epic rain and a 25-degree temp shift occurred during the race. The race is at night and I thought I could capture the riders as they pass by the scoring tent. I tried a shutter speed (1/160) that would enhance the raindrops but also capture the riders suffering in the moment.” Gabe Lloyd @thegabelloyd

Great shot, Gabe. You’ve scored a Wahoo Elemnt Roam.

And the 2021 Mark Gunter Amateur Photographer of the Year is…

First place, amateur category: An Ha

“Dusty dreamy haze.” An Ha @anquocha

Congrats, An! You’ve won a Wahoo Kickr.

The rest of the top 10 are as follows:

“As a surf photographer with a passion for cycling and cx racing, who often shoots the surfers in Oostende close to the World Championships CX venue I could not hold myself to enter the freezing North Sea waters and try to get some images from an angle no one else could get. The idea came up when seeing the ladies race on Saturday. I knew it was a bit dodgy with all Covid measures yet I never expected this to get the (media) attention it got…” Maarten Van de Velds @mvv_photography
“This was a small adventure to the Jurassic coast, on the Chainlink ferry from Bournemouth. It was bleak and windy, and we have the boat to ourselves. I have a fascination with this ferry. I think it is beautiful and simple, and I love taking my bike on a boat.” Saskia Martin @saskiacmartin
“This is a shot from inside the hut on the start/finish line at Hillingdon, West London. I wanted to highlight the role of the volunteers who work to keep grassroots cycling alive and see the riders from their perspective.” Ian Wrightson @ianwrightsonphotography
“Chris Simpson traverses the infamous boardwalks of Llandegla Moors in North Wales during this year’s GBDuro. The boards are notoriously difficult to ride with ruts pulling wheels left and right making for a twitchy crossing, and paired with treacherous conditions and low lying cloud it was as tough as ever. Currently being replaced by large stone slabs this tricky crossing of the moors would be one of the last for the challenging race” Toby Willis @tobychillis
“While waiting to cross the racecourse during the USA CX Nationals Single Speed race I decided to crouch down and grab a few frames just as this rider came flying up Mt. Abus shaking what appears to be a recently acquired can of beer. Just as he crested the hill a spectator in front of me began to ring a bell that read “ring for beer,” which was just the icing on the party that is CX Single Speed Nationals.” Mitchell Vincent @mitchtigram
“The west bank has always been in the center of political disputes and still is, many of which escalated to violent conflicts. As a result, over the years many infrastructure projects initiated by both sides were left to decay before completion. Many of which are paved roads, most in the middle of nowhere and unconnected to any road system, requiring some unconventional paths to reach. One of the few times I was more than happy to have a puncture with a view like this.” Ronen Chernyak @ronenchernyak
“Color film photo. I like to think of this as the essence of summer as the rider completes a wwallrideon a clown bike over a can of beer. Good times had by all.” Carl Sechrist @csechrist1

Graham’s choice

Graham Watson has been involved with the awards since they first began, deliberating as a judge for the first three years of the awards. And, for the last three years, he’s continued to offer his experience and insight as an honorary judge, selecting his top 10 from the Amateur category.

Graham writes:

“The level of quality in this year’s amateur entry was, to my mind, unprecedented. And it made choosing just 10 images a particularly tough challenge. Worse, I felt like a criminal when it came to setting an order to that top 10 because each and every one of them could have been the winner.

Scenery, action, emotion, and drama are the most common elements contained in cycling images, and I chose the winner because it contained almost all of these elements in one single shot – the peloton breaking apart under threatening skies and with a wondrous Colorado backdrop of mountains illuminated by the rays of a setting sun. I love the way we can see a group of escapers at the very moment they made their move.

In second place came the black & white shot of the UK National Hill-Climb championships, with a female competitor being cheered up Winnats Pass by some brave fans. It is the detail in all their faces that is the most striking feature, and the obvious fact that the weather conditions were absolutely dire. Really this came so close to winning!

In third place came a stunning shot that is good enough to grace the cover of any travel guide relating to cycling in Switzerland. The composition of both the cyclist and the mountain are what set this image apart from many others, not to mention the enticing layers of snow on the mountain. It is not a racing shot, but the feeling of this image is so strong it will make anyone want to take to the hills on their bikes!

On an annual basis, the amateur entry for the Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year Awards is drawing ever closer to the quality of the pros’ and I wonder how many of those entrants will one day become professional photographers themselves.”

-Graham Watson

Here are the 10 photos that most caught the eye of a cycling photography legend this year.

Lucas’ list

For the third time, Leeanne and Mark’s son Lucas is back with his selection of his favorite shots. Below are Lucas’ top three in each category.

Professional

“I know it’s from a commercial shoot, but I chose to enter a shot within this series because it was such a fun and creative thing to do. I love the whole series. It also defines the person in the picture (Remco Evenepoel).” Wout Beel @woutbeel
“In Sweden, the winters are long, dark, and cold. However, road cycling doesn’t stop once the snow comes. Taking inspiration from the Japanese outdoors aesthetic, I used a combination of flash and a very slow shutter. I wanted to encapsulate the feeling of riding on frozen roads in temperatures exceeding -10 at times along with the limited daylight hours we get in Sweden during December.” Chris Lanaway @chrislanaway
“For me as a photographer who likes to photograph emotional faces, the mask requirement is not always easy. But also for the athletes, the mask is not always so pleasant.” Sam Buchli @buchlifotografie

Amateur category

“I took this one in Marquette, Michigan, the largest city on the Upper Peninsula. It was days before my 30th birthday, and I had a lot going through my mind. In spite of all the turmoil, I knew I wanted bikes in my life. I was grappling with lots of changes, but I can always count on two wheels and pedals.” Travis Norman @travis_norman
Adrian Jackson racing the fourth round of the Victorian XCO series. It looks like he’s in Arizona somewhere, but this is Ballarat Victoria, Australia. I love the color of the rock.” Cameron Wells @weltzocam
Canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, Denver Colorado’s Mike Nields Memorial Bannock Street Criterium returned to downtown Denver on July 17, 2021. The series of amateur races take place in the shadow of the titanium-clad Hamilton wing of the Denver Art Museum, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. It was Libeskind’s first completed building in the United States, and provided a dramatic backdrop for speeding cyclists. Reid Neureiter @reidnewphoto

Wrapping up

Although entries have closed for the Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year awards, donations are still being accepted for Tour de Cure, our charity partner. Donate here.

And, stay tuned for the announcement of the Young Cyclist Assistance grant. The grant will support up to two young cyclists with AU$1,000 of financial assistance each to help them in their development in the sport of cycling.

Thank you to all entrants and readers. We hope you’ve enjoyed it – let us know in the comments below what your favorite shots are.

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