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Tour de France

Getting the Shot: Maillot Jaune on the Mur de Bretagne

James Startt explains why photographing the Tour de France is occasionally a crapshoot.

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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.

Some days, photographing the Tour de France is just a crapshoot.

And Sunday’s stage 2 up the Mur de Bretagne was one of those days. This much-anticipated stage always produces fireworks. But while it is spectacular on TV, it is never easy to photograph. The climb is found in a remote corner of Brittany where access is difficult. And the summit itself is far from the actual wall where so much of the drama happens.

I went up the climb early, firstly to make sure that I could get there on the small access road that is notorious for getting blocked. But I also wanted to find the best spot possible. I remember from previous stages here that the photographer’s line is far behind the finish, so I was hoping to find a spot of my own. I found small area just 10 meters before the line caught my eye. I have been at this spot before on certain finishes. I know that it could produce great pictures, but also mediocre ones.

I knew that I needed a bit of luck on my side.

With the riders passing the finish line twice, I searched what I considered the best angle, essentially a profile of the riders in the final meters. But I knew that if the actual placement of the riders would be crucial.

The first passage proved frustrating, as certain riders were simply too close or too far. Frustrated, I considered moving for the finish, but to where? Two kilometers of barriers left me with little option in reality.

I held my ground.

As the riders approached the finish I pointed my camera straight across the road and focused on the middle of the road. No auto focus would work in such a situation, as the riders were simply coming too fast and too close. On this day opted to use my trusty Nikon D5 with a vintage 20mm lens, mostly because the D5 simply fires off more frames per second than my Z7.

Holding my position, I started firing as Mathieu van der Poel stormed towards the line. Because of my position, it was nearly impossible to see just who was coming. I kept firing, hoping. Sometimes it’s just a crap shoot, as you remember.

Looking over my images after returning to the press room, this image of Julian Alaphilippe and Bauke Mollema caught my attention. In many ways it could easily have been overlooked. After all we don’t really even see Alaphilippe. But a certain emotion is evident in the two riders as Alaphilippe forces his last pedal strokes and Mollema grimaces behind. And the emotion of the two riders is mirrored by that of the screaming fans on the opposite side.

No it is not a perfect picture but it is by far my favorite of the day.