Tour de France 2020

Getting the shot: Alaphilippe descending to Tour de France victory on the Quatres Chemins

From getting around gendarmes to hitching up a telephone pole, James Startt got the shot – though it wasn't as he planned it.

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Sometimes a lot of thought goes into taking a picture. And sometimes a lot of physical energy.

This shot of Julian Alaphilippe descending the Col des Quatre Chemins on his way to victory on stage 2 of the Tour de France definitely falls into the latter category.

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I knew that I wanted to shoot the descent as I had already gone up it in Paris-Nice a few years ago and remembered its tight hairpin turns. But as we got the summit of the Col d’Eze, where the race turned down the Col des Quatre Chemins on its final lap around Nice, we were suddenly blocked. I jumped out of the car and started making my way down, but was instantly stopped by several Gendarmes who made it clear that, even with my photo bib, I did not have access. The only way to get further down, they said, was via a footpath, although its final destination was little known.

I started running.

Soon enough I saw the race route again, but it was again blocked by gendarmes. I kept running.

Finally, I came to the end of the path and the race route a final time.

Again, gendarmes.

And now, using my last resource, I just began talking, saying how I knew the road and there was a turn just down the road a bit I needed to get to.

For some reason I found sympathy with this duo of the law officers and they let me through. I continued running until I came to the turn, a tight hairpin perched above the Mediterranean. I knew that I had to somehow get above the turn to have perspective, but there was just one rocky ledge.

With the help of a telephone pole, I somehow managed to get up to the ledge and found enough foot room to photograph. But the turn was not as I remembered. The Mediterranean was hidden in trees and fences, and it was severely backlit. But watching the motos ahead of the race negotiate the turn, I understood that there was a moment when the light would hit the riders as they came out of the turn and produce long shadows.

And I waited. Sunday’s shot would finally not be a dramatic seaside shot, but instead an impromptu study of light and shadow. But then photography is like that. So often you have to react to a situation rather than controlling it.