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She is easy to overlook in the media scrum at a Superprestige cyclocross race. Yet, despite her petite size, 20-year-old Frenchwoman Sarah Meyssonier is quickly earning a name for herself as one of the discipline’s top photographers. A student at L’École Supérieure de Journalisme and the University of Lille in northern France, Meyssonier found herself close to the hub of the world ’cross scene in neighboring Belgium. Seizing the opportunity, she has plunged into the sport, driving to races whenever she can get away from her studies. And while her time may be limited, in less than two years she has developed a sophisticated eye for composition, detail and emotion in this fast-moving sport.
Sarah, I’m seeing your photo credits more and more in cycling and especially cyclocross. How did you get into photographing so much of the ’cross scene in Europe? Well, I grew up in Avignon in southern France, but then moved up here to Lille to pursue my studies in journalism two years ago. The school in Lille is known as the best journalism school in France, so when I got the chance to study here, I jumped at it. And it just so happens that Lille is a real hotbed for cyclocross. I always was attracted to this discipline, but to be honest, down in Avignon, there is not much cyclocross. It’s pretty inexistent. That said, in 2016 I had my first opportunity to cover a bike race, and it turned out to be a cyclocross race. I loved it from the start. I loved the circuit ambiance, which offers so many opportunities to take pictures. It is easier to shoot than a road race, where you only have one or two opportunities to get the peloton passing. In addition, since there are several events each day, you get the opportunity to photograph so many different levels. You can do a women’s race, perhaps a junior race or a U23 race, as well as the pro event, all in the same day. It’s just so rich and diverse. Already, when I moved to Lille in 2017 I was looking forward to covering more cyclocross events, but it is safe to say that I got really hooked!
And since then you haven’t stopped it seems? Well, it depends on my studies. There are several races that I just don’t have time to do but because there are so many events here, and especially across the border in Belgium, I have been able to cover a fair amount. It is just an incredible environment. Last year, I was able to do almost all of the French Cup races and a couple of World Cup races. And this year I am not sure yet but I will cover as many as I can, that’s for sure!
Is there one event in particular that really stands out or captures your imagination more than the others? Well, I would say the Namur cyclocross is really amazing. It is held at, around and through the historic citadel above the city. The Tour de France has passed through a couple of times in recent years and it is really spectacular. In addition, the crowds there just blow my imagination. I remember it well last year. It was really cold and rainy all day long, but the ambiance was just amazing! What I love so much about cyclocross is that the entire terrain offers so many visual possibilities, so many perspectives. There is also a real family spirit at the events because, well, it’s a small world and you run into the same people each weekend.
I notice that, in addition to seeking out interesting perspectives, you bounce between color and black and white. What motivates you to chose one or the other? Well, cyclo-cross is very colorful in so many ways. The racing may be in the rain and mud, but there is still a lot of color, besides the jerseys. The fans, for example, are often full of color. So when I opt for black and white, I do so usually in an effort to focus on the emotion and the movement. Sometimes, it seems, all of the color can distract from the pure emotion.
What impresses you the most about the cyclocross riders? Well, first off, it is just so physical and so intense. The cyclists don’t just race their bikes, they have to run and carry their bikes and jump over obstacles. It is just so demanding. All of this happens in a relatively short period of time. And all of that makes it just so spectacular.
Are you interested in covering road racing as well? Yes, but I have a lot less opportunity to get to those races. In addition, I enjoy photographing other disciplines to diversify as much as possible. I have photographed equestrian sports a fair amount and in my school I have the chance to cover a lot of very different subjects. My school also allows me to experiment in radio and video. Right now, I would say that I am definitely drawn more to anything visual as opposed to say writing or radio. But school is giving me a great chance to get a taste of all the different kinds of journalism.
How many more years do you have at university? I have this year still, and then I go straight into a two-year masters program. So I still have a few years ahead of me. I am hoping that the next few years will help orient me further and allow me to specialize, perhaps with an agency or perhaps a magazine.
And do you ride yourself? Yeah, for sure. I got my first real bike two years ago and started riding when I have time. But that said, my riding is not very glorious and I prefer focusing on others that are really doing something in the sport!
Image of Sarah by Paul Foulonneau