Through the Eyes of Michal Cerveny

Through the Eyes Michal Cerveny

Czech photographer shoots the world’s biggest races

Photos and captions by Michal Cerveny

The start of the Elite Men’s category at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, Vallnord, Andorra, 2015.

Several years ago we started noticing the work of Michal Cerveny. He was shooting the World Cup circuit, and his photos were often among the very best we’d see from a race. We recently checked out Michal’s Instagram page and were blown away by the variety and quality of his work. We reached out to him and arranged with him to put a selection of his best pictures in our magazine.

Name: Michal Cerveny
Age: 32
Home: Prague, Czech Republic

The MBA Q&A

TALKING WITH MICHAL CERVENY

To the moon and back: A photo from an arranged photo shoot during the 2016 Supermoon night, which was the biggest and brightest in 60 years. Prague, Czech Republic.

MBA: Where did you grow up?

Michal Cerveny: I was born and grew up in Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, and that’s the place where I still live. It’s a beautiful city to live in, with a nice historical city center, and from there you can get to the trails in just 30 minutes. But for my job, there are not any spectacular locations nearby.

Kate Courtney surprised the mountain bike world—and even herself—when she ended her first Elite Women season by winning the World Championships in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, 2018.

Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic, 2014: This event was voted the best by the UCI, riders and journalists every year since its debut in 2011.

When did you get interested in mountain biking?

As a kid, I always loved to ride a bike, and when I was older, we did some cycle trips with my father and his friends in South Bohemia. When they were too slow for me and the stops for a beer too boring, I started to ride alone, more and more, and started to follow the scene, tech and racing.

Samuel Gaze started his 2018 season with a World Cup win in Stellenbosch, South Africa and ended it with this massive crash in a rock garden in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada.

Even the best riders crash occasionally. Kate Courtney. Photo by Michal Cerveny

How did you start racing mountain bikes?

Just for fun. In Czech Republic, even though it’s a small country, we have so many mountain bike races every weekend. Most of them are MTB marathons with distances around 40–70 kilometers, which are easy to pick up and friendly to ride. When I was younger, I was active in those, but now, as I don’t have too much time to train in the season, I pick up every year some legendary long-distance marathons in beautiful parts of our country, like Rallye Sudety, with 113 kilometers and 3290 meters of climbing.

Wildlife along the route of the Absa Cape Epic, Meerendal, South Africa, 2013.

How did you get interested in mountain bike photography?

It’s a simple connection of my two big hobbies. Maybe that’s why I’m doing this already quite a long time and still like it. I love to ride bikes and do photography. And when in 2007 the biggest Czech website about mountain biking—MTBS.cz (which I was checking every day)—was looking for a contributor, I sent them my application and got hired.

Finally! Nino Schurter wins the Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2016.

How did you get your first photos published?

Maybe they were photos from Ore Mountains on the northwest border of Czech. On one misty fall day we rode some trails there with a group of friends. I took a couple of photos on a borrowed camera. The editor of Velo magazine saw them on the internet and asked me if I could provide them to the magazine.

Peter Sagan made a short comeback from road racing to mountain bikes to compete in the Olympic cross-country race in Rio de Janeiro. Even as a reigning UCI road world champion, he didn’t succeed. [Sagan was in third place in lap two when he punctured a tire.] Brazil, 2016.

What did you think when that happened?

I was super happy and even got a little money, but for a long time I didn’t do photos because of money. It was pure hobby, which took me a huge amount of time and a lot of money as well. I spent money I earned somewhere else for better cameras, lenses or flashes. Secondhand for sure. I traveled a lot by my parents’ car to races, slept inside, and the incomes were good enough to pay the costs.

Cyclocross in its purest form: Koksijde, Belgium, UCI World Championships, 2012.

Were you going to school or working back then?

I studied marketing communication at University of Finance and Administration in Prague at that time. I never thought taking photos could be my job. In 2008 I got a chance to travel with one Czech team to the famous Crocodile Trophy race in Australia. I’d never been anywhere overseas in that time, and that sounded like a dream. After I got back to the university, there were hard times, and I found I would like to do more of what I did down there. But even [though] I left school before graduation, I got some basic knowledge of marketing I could use for my work.

La Bresse, France, 2012: The rock gardens are always tricky—interesting for spectators but tough and dangerous for the riders.

It happens to the best ones as well. The rainbow jersey of Nino Schurter after one of his rare crashes, XC Short Track race in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic, 2018.

How many years have you been shooting mountain bikes now?

I am on the start of my 13th season now. I think the Cross-Country World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium, in 2007 was my first World Cup where I shot.

Strong, young Kiwi Samuel Gaze is the man who finally ended Nino Schurter’s 2017 winning streak. Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2018.

World Cup races in Albstadt are always tough and even tougher in bad weather. Switzerland’s Linda Indergand tries to wash the mud off her drivetrain during the Women’s Elite race. Albstadt, Germany, 2018.

What are some of your favorite places when it comes to shooting mountain bike photos?

As I focus mostly on racing stuff, the last several seasons I’ve been traveling with the World Cup circuit, where most of the destinations repeat every year. It’s quite a bit of a challenge to find new spots, angles and get unseen photos from those very well-known locations like Fort William in Scotland or Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada. That’s why I enjoy almost every new place where I can go to shoot. But, to be honest, besides the stunning Cape Epic stage race in South Africa, my favorite venue is Nove Mesto na Morave here in Czech Republic. It’s in the beautiful countryside. The track is very well-designed and challenging, and the crowds make the best atmosphere! For the personal photo projects, I would love to go to spend some time in British Columbia, where I have never been yet.

Switzerland, 2017: Canadian Finn Iles, crashing hard into the rock garden in the Lenzerheide World Cup. Luckily, he walked away without any major injury.

One of the best XCO races ever—the Olympic Games in London, 2012: The open and well-arranged, manmade course—together with the top athletes of the world (including the late Burry Stander [4], Nino Schurter [2] and winner Jaroslav Kulhavy [3])—made for a spectacular race and showed mountain biking in the very best light. Hadleigh Farm, United Kingdom, 2012.

Who are some of your favorite riders?

As a long-term project, I document the career of Jaroslav Kulhavy. We are friends for a long time, since 2007 or so. He is a nice guy, and it’s an honor for me to work with him and see all the ups and downs of a professional athlete from the first row. I enjoy shooting Nino Schurter for his precise riding style; same with young, talented downhiller Finn Iles. I like Loic Bruni, the very nice and fast French guy who is not shy to show his emotions. Last season I started to work with probably the most talented cyclist of our time, Mathieu van der Poel, and that’s what I’m now excited about.

And I have to mention Spaniard José Antonio Hermida, the true character and legend of mountain biking.

It’s always a pleasure to see Jolanda Neff riding a bike, and especially in the rainbow kit! Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, 2018.

What other things do you like to photograph?

In the off-season, I don’t photograph too much when I don’t have to. I usually do some editorial stuff for magazines. Time to time I work for Audi Czech Republic, which is fun to drive and shoot nice cars. And when some nice weather comes in, I take the camera and go to the mountains for a walk, and maybe I would take one or two nice landscape photos.

Julien Absalon (2) versus Nino Schurter (1), 2011: One of many great battles between the king and growing prince of cross-country mountain biking. This one happened on the course in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on one of the first man-made rock-garden sections.

What’s the hardest part about your job?

At this time it’s all the traveling. Waking up early, running all day along the tracks, no matter in what weather, all the stress, editing till the night and the pressure to deliver the photos—that’s the hard part of this job. I respect this and got used to doing it, but I hate that feeling when I’m leaving my home, family, dog, friends and bikes. The sun is shining and everybody plans their upcoming weekend, and I’m heading to the airport to sit XY hours on planes. Then I get back home for a couple of days and again, from April till October.

In 2010 I covered the Absa Cape Epic race in Western Cape, South Africa, for the first time. I fell in love with this awesome stage race, and I try to come back every year. It goes through beautiful landscapes and makes for great stories—and those morning moments right after the sunrise are gold and unique. Ceres, South Africa, 2010.

What’s your current camera?

I am a happy user of Canon cameras, and currently I shoot on an EOS-1D X and 5D Mark IV.

Focused Aaron Gwin in the start gate just before his run down from the top of Mont-Sainte-Anne during the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Canada, 2017.

American downhiller Aaron Gwin crossing the finish line after his unbelievable race run, where he lost his chain just a couple of meters after the start gate. Despite that, without any pedaling, he won that World Cup race! Leogang, Austria, 2015.

What are your favorite lenses?

I try to use all of my lenses equally, especially on the limit angles, just because I want to catch the eyes of the audience with a unique look. Sometimes, when I buy some new lens, I use it a little bit more often, even when I’m trying not to do so. The moneymaker, a lens I use most of the time, is a tele-zoom 70–200mm/ f2.8.

The classic Absa Cape Epic morning, Worcester, South Africa, 2015.

A portrait of mountain biker Zuzana Pirzkallova right after the extremely muddy race of the Czech MTB Cup in Prague, Czech Republic, 2013.

If you could give aspiring photographers a few tips to help them get better photos of mountain biking, what would you tell them?

Be creative. Everybody can take an average picture today, just by a smartphone or cheap camera, and the internet is full of boring and similar pictures. So, to impress, you have to create something good and unique. Be critical of yourself and your photos. Pick photos carefully. Less is more. Show off only those photos you are convinced are good and they can be related to your name. And, be patient.


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