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Tour de France

Getting the shot: Charging towards the finish with MVDP

When photographing a bike race from a motorcycle there may be multiple options, but when shooting the Tour from a car, options are significantly limited.

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VeloNews and Peloton contributor James Startt, the winner of the 2021 World Sports Photography Awards, is covering his 32nd Tour de France. For this year’s Tour de France he will provide a regular feature explaining how he gets his favorite shots of the day and also what equipment he uses.

Greg LeMond once said that bicycle racing is 90 percent reacting to the moves of others and 10 percent imposing your own. And photography is often just like that.

Today was a 90 percent day. When you are photographing a bike race from a motorcycle you have multiple options. But when you are shooting the Tour from a car, the options are significantly limited.

The stage from Vierzon to Le Creusot was the longest stage of the race, and the transfer to the finish was even longer, so I focused on getting a shot early to have plenty of time to get to the finish.

Shortly after leaving the start, I came across a group of fans with their vintage Citröen 2CV cars, the French equivalent to the Volkswagon bug. I had seen them already in the Tour and was attracted to their festive spirit, not to mention the cool collection of cars.

In addition, they were parked next to a wheat field which added a nice dimension. Standing in the field, I saw a second shot of the approaching Tour route framed between two wheat fields. Perhaps I would get lucky and come away with two shots?

In the end, I came away with two average shots. Sure, I was happy to get Mathieu van der Poel cruising at the front in his yellow jersey, but the shot itself was relatively classic.

And as he passed the vintage cars, I was underwhelmed by my frame as the background of cars was visually busy and didn’t really add much to the image. I wished I had worked with a slow shutter speed and focused on just one of the cars, letting the cyclist blur by. It is something which, in the end, would have told the story better.

Frustrated I headed off, not knowing if I would come up with much today. As I walked towards the finish line I thought that perhaps I would simply focus on the finish line today.

But once on the line, I saw a gentle hillside on the opposite side of the road,I something which provided a unique angle. And once up above, I indeed liked the perspective. Walking down to about the 50-meter-to-go mark, I found a nice opening in the trees and studied the best position.

News that Mathieu van der Poel was in the breakaway was music to my ears as I would have a better chance of catching him at the finish. And this time I was going to use a slow shutter speed!

Mathieu van der Poel in the break on stage 7 of the 2021 Tour de France.
Mathieu van der Poel in the break on stage 7 of the 2021 Tour de France. Photo: James Startt

With my shutter speed at 1/100th of a second, I waited for Matej Mohorič, who was on his way to an impressive solo victory. Panning as he went by, I was happy with the movement and the light, but he was already slowing down to celebrate.

Minutes later, however, van de Poel stormed by in full sprint mode with Kasper Asgreen on his wheel. Once again, I shot several frames as I panned by him sprinting to the line. And the result was even more satisfying: The image captured the power of his sprint, and his yellow jersey was sharp over the blur of yellow caps of the spectators in the foreground, providing a nice juxtaposition.

The day was far from an easy one, but finally, it produced one of my favorite images so far of the Tour.