Giro d'Italia

Getting the shot at the 2020 Giro d’Italia: The peloton in Matera

VeloNews journalist and photographer James Startt wasn’t particularly pleased with the harsh morning light but by the time the race started, the sun moved, allowing perfect lighting.

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Okay, so sometimes you have to be patient! As much as I was frustrated yesterday that the peloton did not race through the old city in Matera, today I was literally spoiled with opportunities.

After arriving at my hotel last night, I walked around the old center of a town that is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. And I quickly understood why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The layers of time are simply breathtaking as one gets lost in the maze of footpaths.

But how was I going to get a shot of the peloton at the start of stage seven in this year’s Giro d’Italia? It seemed impossible to find a spot with a proper perspective.

Waking up early, I took another walk before breakfast as I tried to get a better lay of the land. But I still was unsure. It was only after running into a local resident that I had a clue where to go. “Try the Belvedere di Sant’Agostino,” he said. “You get a view from above there, and you can even get the riders in several spots.”

Looking up the Sant’Agostino, I decided to walk back over after breakfast. An old convent, Sant’Agositno sits back from the oldest part of the city. And indeed it provided the perfect perspective. I spent some time trying to understand just which direction the peloton would arrive, and I identified at least five spots for potential pictures.

I could get them coming down the Via Madonna delle Virtu, with the old city on the right and the cliffs on the left. I could get them in the turn underneath the city. I could get them from behind as they came out of the turn, and lastly, I could get them a final time as they climbed past Sant’Agostino. By any photographer’s standards, so many possibilities from one location makes for a one good spot.

I wasn’t particularly pleased with the harsh morning light but I calculated that, by the time the race started the sun would have moved. And I wasn’t wrong.

Returning about 15 minutes before the start, I was relieved that every photographer from the Giro had not eyed this same spot. I checked my locations and prepared my camera’s focal lengths and exposures for the different perspectives.

So I waited.

An old convent, Sant’Agositno sits back from the oldest part of the city. And indeed it provided the perfect perspective. Photo: James Startt

As the clock ticked down, I felt like a downhill skier going through the motions, trying to visualize every turn of a slalom as I rehearsed each of my shots. After all, I would have only seconds between each.

And then came the riders. I clicked them off on the descent with my first camera—my new Nikon Z7. I then quickly switched to my second camera, equipped with a wider lens for the curve shot. Then I ran up the adjacent steps and grabbed my first camera body for the shot of them coming out of the turn. And finally, I ran across the road, climbed a terrace, and changed to my widest lens for the final shot of the pack in front of Sant’Agostino.

It all happened so fast, I wasn’t sure what I got. And it was only in the editing process that I really knew. The shots were consistent, but while you can anticipate certain elements in photography, nothing is ever a given. So when it comes to cycling photography, you cannot always predict just how the image will appear with the peloton.

I quite liked the shot of the pack descending between the city and the cliff, as well as the shot in the turn. And while the shot of Sant’Agostino was solid, I didn’t get a sense of the unique nature of Matera. In the end, I prefer the shot of them coming out of the turn as they roll back through what is a sea of aging architecture. The peloton is bright and powerful, while Matera offers an undeniably unique stage.

Today at least, I got the shot I was chasing! And today, at least, things turned out more like I expected.