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Giro d'Italia

Getting the shot: Caleb crashes on stage 1 of the Giro d’Italia!

A strange sense of déjà vu, from stage 3 the 2021 Tour de France, which also saw the Lotto-Soudal sprinter on the ground.

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Veteran photographer James Startt has been covering the sport of cycling for over 30 years.

The winner of the World Sports Photography Awards in 2021, Startt is at the Giro d’Italia in Hungary for VeloNews, capturing the ambiance and the action of the Grande Partenza. And on stage 1, he breaks down this image of Caleb Ewan lying on the ground below him after crashing in the final meters of the kick-off stage.

Suddenly there was a strange sense of déjà vu. And it was not of the welcoming sort. Last year, in the Tour de France, I positioned myself at the last turn of stage three, in hopes of getting a shot of Mathieu van der Poel sprinting to victory with the yellow jersey on his shoulders. Instead, I got a shot of Caleb Ewan lying on the ground, his Tour de France over after an agonizing crash.

On Friday, for the opening stage of the 2022 Giro d’Italia, I positioned myself above the road, about 50 meters from the line. The vantage point gave me an attractive, plunging perspective down the final straightway near the hilltop finish in Visegrad.

Once again I had hopes of getting a shot of Mathieu van der Poel charging to victory. But instead, I got a repeat of Caleb Ewan on the ground after another harrowing crash.

And while the medical reports appear more positive than from July 2021 — and he will start on stage two — it was no less heartbreaking seeing the Australian lying on the ground after falling heavily, only meters from the line.

To be honest, photographically speaking, my favorite shot of the day came far from the finish line, as the riders were rolling out of Budapest just after the start. After arriving earlier in the week, and walking around the city, I was impressed by the historic Liberty Bridge. And when I saw that the race rolled out across the bridge I thought I had my shot of the day. But the final 50 meters proved me wrong.

The finale of stage 1 of the 2022 Giro d'Italia.
The finale of stage 1 of the 2022 Giro d’Italia. (Photo: James Startt)

It is hard to say what goes wrong when there is a crash in a sprint. Everything happens so fast, and millimeters often decide one’s fate. Today’s sprint, a long uphill dragstrip of sorts, was different in some ways, as the speeds were not as high. But the fatigue, not to mention lactic acid build-up in the final meters, provided challenges all their own. And today they produced tragedy.

My first shot showed the leaders powering up the final straight line as they approached the final sweeping turn and the finish. Ewan was already in position on the left, while Biniam Girmay and Mathieu van der Poel launched from the right. But as the two approached the turn, the straightest line towards the finish took them towards the barriers — and towards Ewan. Suddenly, the Lotto-Soudal rider appeared boxed in, and reviewing my shots, frame after frame, I see that Ewan was at one point to the right of Girmay, and then suddenly next to the barrier on the left, and finally touching Biniam’s rear wheel.

From that point, I saw little. But I heard the familiar sounds of crashing. Following Van der Poel momentarily, I saw him cross the line. But perhaps confused by what happened behind him, or due to fatigue, he offered little celebration.

And then I saw Ewan, just below me on the ground. Moving towards the side of the road, it was clear that, at least at the time, he avoided the serious injuries he sustained at the previous year’s Tour.

But he was clearly devastated to once again be on the ground only meters from the line in another one of the world’s biggest bike races. I could only imagine the images flashing through his head at the moment. Nobody deserves to crash, of course, and certainly not Ewan, who I have known since his U-23 when he raced in the Tour de l’Avenir. Always amiable, he is anything but a risk-taker in sprints.

And as I edited my shots, it was this image of Ewan as he lay on the ground that captured the moment best, as he grimaced in pain but also disappointment. I could not imagine what was going through his head at that very moment.

Ewan crashed out of the 2021 Tour de France on stage 3 when he collided with Peter Sagan.
Ewan crashed out of the 2021 Tour de France on stage 3 when he collided with Peter Sagan. (Photo: James Startt)

Fortunately, he did not lay there long and was quickly up, getting on his bike and pushing it towards the finish. I can only hope that he can erase the visions of the crash — not to mention the many bruises — quickly.

This year’s Giro d’Italia has only just begun, and there is still plenty of time for him to end on a high note.