After racing at the top level as a junior, Camille McMillan swapped his bike for the camera to become one of the top cycling photograpers around. Le Métier was published last year, with Camille’s photographs illustrating Michael Barry’s life as a pro, and his work has featured in magazines such as Rouleur and their photography annuals. He is currently embedded with Team Sky for the classics season, shooting and blogging for The Times. The photographs below are from this year’s season openers Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Give us a brief account of your cycling background. As a little boy my life was peppered with watching Six Days and the classics. After watching the Worlds at Goodwood I started racing cyclo cross as a school boy. I left school at 16 and signed on, trained, raced my bike and slept. I raced all year round, up and down the country with excursions to Europe.

What made you quit racing and take up the camera instead? I’d been racing and training since I was a kid – my Dad had me out riding behind a motorbike after school. At 20 I was burnt out, living in London and out raving. I won my last race, got home, chucked my bike in the shed and didn’t touch it again for years. I’d been in a race, saw a break form up the road and thought ‘I might as well get in it’ and bridged across – but I was just going through the motions. Then the sprint came and I won. But I didn’t care, all I was interested in was who was coming to the pub afterwards. After I quit I eventually managed to get myself to St Martins College of Art, had some more fun for five years and left with a camera in my hand. The camera is still there… and now so is the bike.

What’s been your greatest achievement on a bike? As a kid I raced at a place called Eastway… we used to race there a lot. I heard it was going to be bulldozed for the Olympics… So I managed to give up the smokes, got myself fit again and raced at Eastway. Funny after nearly two decades… the same old hut… same old faces. The trees were bigger, the bunch smaller and the pace slower… but did it hurt! Came nowhere but I managed it.

After observing the working life of a pro cyclist do you wish you rode a bike for a living, or are you glad to be behind the lens? I love being behind the lens, I love the creative process. There is a part of me that would like to hurt other people for a living and I love riding my bike… but I’m not so keen on uniforms. I am glad I took the road I did.

What was the most rewarding part of the experience of making Le Métier? The creative process – to take an idea and to have this lump of paper in your hand at the end of it. It’s making real things out of abstract ideas that make my wheels go round.

How big a part was the editing process of the book, and were there other aspects of the story you wanted to tell that didn’t make it into Le Métier? I had to chop loads and I had to avoid roads that I knew would be interesting but would be too far away from the original intention, which was to describe the year of a pro… I could easily be distracted by details.

Did you have any preconceptions, both in what the life of a pro cyclist entailed and also in how you expected the story to unfold, that were disproved during the project? I tried to go in with an open mind and I photographed the life as it is. I’d raced at a pretty high amateur level – Cat 1 and racing in Belgium – so I had a fair idea of what the life of a full time cyclist was like. People sometimes forget that pros are just normal people too. They go out drinking in the off season, but because their metabolisms are so fast they get drunk after one pint. But then sober up quickly afterwards. So there’s me just getting drunker and drunker during the evening, while they’re on this rollercoaster of drunkness and sobriety.

Do the pros talk about drugs in the peloton? I think most of the guys are bored of being asked about it, they’ve had to deal with the same questions all their lives. Of course they had their own suspicions of who was on the gear.

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, March 2011 by Camille McMillan

During the races did you find you were at odds with the other photographers who were perhaps intrigued by you shooting the seemingly mundane, trivial or even ugly? I would not say at odds with other photographers, most knew what I was about. Some are lame like in any job… they did not get it… still don’t. Other photographers were intrigued! To the point that they would take a picture over my shoulder in case they were missing something. Race photography can be a closed world. It’s like the peloton with its patrons and seniors who say what goes and who goes where. The established photographers will get the best access, be allowed near the riders and for their motorbikes to ride through the peloton. I’ve learnt not to wear my photographers vest when I stop to shoot, because if another photographer spots me he’ll stop by me too figuring that I’ve found a good vantage point. They’ll then even stand in front of me just to ensure they get the shot rather than me. It’s pretty competitive.

What has been your favourite race that you’ve shot? The opening stage of the Vuelta last year. It was a night time TTT and I was shooting Team Sky for The Times. I managed blag a ride on the back of a neutral service bike and shot the race from there. Sky had all these young guys in the team who’d come up from the track – the speed was crazy. The motorbike was just screaming, struggling to stay ahead. I don’t know how quick they were going. The boys were just flicking through and off the front, so smooth. In fact they were too quick – they had to reign it back when they started to drop the rest of the team, including the GC guys.

Can you tell us about any new projects you’re currently working on or that you’ve got planned? I still want to be a little boy, so I’m heading back to the Classics. I’m currently set up in Belgium shooting for The Times – I covered Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, and on Sunday it’s Ghent-Wevelgem.