CNN Photos

Betting on bike races

In bicycle racing, there are road races, such as the world-renowned Tour de France. And then there are track races, which take place on large oval tracks with curved banks.

One form of track racing, called keirin, is a sprint event involving multiple cyclists at the same time. It became an Olympic sport in 2000, and people also compete professionally.

In Japan, where the sport originated, it’s a major draw for gamblers. Bets are placed much like they would be in a horse or dog race.

Unlike the fixed-gear bikes used in keirin, which have no brakes, the men betting on these races all appeared to be stopped, or “frozen in time,” as photographer Tim Bowditch explained about his recent visit to some of Japan’s keirin circuits.

In between races, Bowditch would wander around the arena and feel like the only moving person, completely unnoticed by those around him, he said. It was a “zoo-like” observatory experience, he explained, with each gambler inhabiting their own particular section of the velodrome. It allowed Bowditch to move around and isolate them for further analysis.

“It was a great contrast to the speed displayed on the track,” he said. “These men, strategically positioning themselves within the concrete architecture, are removed from time, allowing themselves to study the form of the riders.”

Originally drawn to the velodrome as a cycling enthusiast, Bowditch swiftly switched the focus of his camera from the races themselves to the fringes, concentrating on the people who have seemed to lose themselves to a habit.

The “quick fix” of betting overrides these men’s passion for the actual cycling, he said. That is why each photo depicts a man alone in their thoughts. It illustrates the meditative process involved in keirin, he said: “Study, bet, result, repeat.”

Bowditch’s pictures partially visualize success and failure by observing gamblers as they interact with “non-places.”

“I was intent on capturing the almost trance-like states of the men completely transfixed by the odds,” he said, interested in how they could “remove themselves from the populated human environment and almost camouflage and cocoon themselves with the sterile features on the peripheries of the complexes.”

The isolation and intense longing of these bettors perhaps reflect something everyone shares, he said.

“They are all looking to change their lives, either with a quick fix or a big win,” he said. “This desire is inherent in all of us.”

- Michelle Cohan, CNN