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.
Since 1975, les Champs-Elysées has been home to the final stage of the Tour de France. It is here where I first discovered the Tour as a student studying in Paris one summer, and it is here where I have come for the past 30 years to witness the final stage of the Tour.
Les Champs is, of course, one of the most magnificent boulevards in all the world, and it offers a splendid backdrop to the finale of the Tour. In many ways, it is hard to take a bad picture here. But the converse is also true — it is hard to take an outstanding image. Every angle, every spot it seems, has been photographed endlessly year in, and year out. From the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.
Every year I walk along the side of les Champs up to l’Arc de Triomphe hours before the race actually arrives in an effort to get my spot on the inner corner where the pack will turn towards les Champs after looping around l’Arc on one of its eight laps.
For most photographers, it is the spot. And it is here where we all seemingly must be to get the classic shot of the yellow jersey in front of l’Arc de Triomphe. But it is a maddening shot as well, as the early evening summertime light offers terrible backlighting.
Once again I posted early on Sunday. And once again, I suffered through the entire publicity caravan that had been unleashed on les Champs making more noise than what seems humanly possible. It was the price I paid to have my choice of position.
And once again I was frustrated by the results: When the riders approached the first time I totally missed the yellow jersey with the sun blasting in my eyes. The second time around I faired better as I stepped back, but Tadej Pogačar was barely visible.
It was only on my third try did I get a decent shot of the yellow jersey, aided by a hearty dose of fill flash.
But before heading back down Les Champs, I walked around to the back side of l’Arc where the Avenue de la Grande Armée intersects the massive round-a-bout known as l’Etoile.
Here the light was perfect, and as the peloton wrapped itself around l’Arc de Triomphe, it offered a perfectly balanced composition. And my 14mm wide-angle lens allowed me to get the entire peloton underneath this iconic monument.
I only needed to photograph the spot once to know that it would be my shot. Afterward, I ventured down to Place de la Concorde and then the finish line.
But at the end of the day, it was this shot that stood out. It is the most resolved image and one that brings perfect closure to this year’s Tour de France, as it celebrates all of the finishers of the race.
And as I looked at the image I thought I would pay a pretty price to be any one of those riders zipping around l’Arc after completing three weeks of racing in the Tour de France. I can only imagine the satisfaction any rider must have to be able to say, “I finished the Tour de France!” Chapeau to all that did!