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.
One of the first climbs I ever witnessed when I first came to the Tour de France was the Col de la Colombière, just outside of Le Grand-Bornand. It’s a magnificent climb with muscular rock formations near the summit.
When the Tour de France announced it would return here this year, I knew just where I wanted to be, as the first turn descending into Le Grand-Bornand is framed in rocks that literally tower over it.
Photographing from a motorcycle today, I told my driver that we would drive ahead in the final kilometers of the climb to get to my spot in good time. There was no need to shoot the finish.
Rain was on tap today, making for a long day. Shooting from a moto in the mountains in the rain is always one of the hardest days imaginable when it comes to photographing cycling. But it always produces results. And I knew today would be no different.
Racing on stage eight was all-our from the gun as the riders raced at nearly 45 kilometers per hour for the first two hours. As a result we were given little opportunity to shoot, and if you got behind the peloton you were sure to spend several kilometers stuck behind before receiving permission to pass.
But when the break finally got away, it was full of plenty of heavy hitters, with the likes of Nairo Quintana, Sepp Kuss, Simon Yates, Michael Woods, Dylan Teuns, and a host of others.
Finally getting back to the head of the race, we saw that Woods had launched an impressive attack off the front. And as he climbed brutally steep Col de Romme, a heavy fog set in, offering a rich atmosphere. I shot away as he powered free in the fog.
Gathering nearly a minute’s lead he looked set for a stellar solo victory. But soon Teuns started closing the gap.
But just as suddenly, race radio announced the attack of Tadej Pogačar!
For much of the day, Pogačar appeared to be content to sit in the pack several minutes behind the leaders. But then charged over the Col de Romme, down the technical descent, and then up the Col de la Colombière.
I knew I need to get him solo. After all, he is the defending Tour champion! We calculated that if we shot him early on the Colombière climb we should be able to still get ahead of the race to the turn on the descent.
Shooting the Slovenian as he powered up the climb through the rain, I was immediately happy with my series. But I was hoping for more.
Driving ahead, my pilot parked on the inside of the turn and I ran over to my spot. But suddenly voices called out. Two of my photographer friends were already in place on the other side. And while bike racing has many unspoken rules, so does photography. One of them is never jumping into the frame of another photographer.
Coming to the opposite side, I realized once again that I would not get the shot I had imagined. But in all fairness, with the incoming fog, the rock formation I planned to have in my frame was not even visible. But another one was.
I also realized that my 70-200mm lens was too big to capture the scene. I had no choice but to switch to my 20mm wide-angle. Personally, I think a classic 50mm lens would have been ideal. B you can only pack so much glass on a moto.
Dylan Teuns was the first to around the corner and I shot several frames as he passed. I liked the frame immediately as the fog sat just over the rock formation with the rider in the foreground.
Pogačar followed shortly, and I shot another round of images. I liked the way his white jersey worked with the fog. Perhaps it would have been yellow and would have stood out even more. But for this we will have to wait for another day.