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Tour de France

Getting the shot: Pogačar in the fog

Ever since I learned that the Tour de France would return to the Col de Portet this year I knew where I wanted to be to get this shot.

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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.

We came here back in 2018, for the first time, this climb instantly became one of my favorite climbs in the Pyrénées. One of the most rustic ascents I know, the long, narrow, and sinuous road just sort of runs out once it reaches the summit. And the edge of this road laces its way over a stunning valley providing a dramatic stage. Several of my best shots in recent Tours came on this day and one landscape, in particular, I have exhibited on several occasions.

But I also understood that this year would be quite different than three years ago as a heavy fog set in and was clearly going to stay for most of the day.

Little matter I thought: Fog, too, provided a distinctive backdrop.

Also read: Getting the shot — Postcard from the Pyrénées

After taking a cable car up to the summit, I then walked down more than two kilometers until I came across what I estimated was the location of at least one of my shots in the past.

I like this spot in particular because it is a stretch of road that attracts no fans and allows me to simply focus on the cyclists and the nature surrounding them.

As the race approached I did my best to estimate just where the cyclists would pass me as they negotiated a couple of subtle bends in the road.

Coming around the corner I fired my first shots with my 200mm lens from a distance, then grabbed my trusty Nikon Z7 with its 14mm lens and laid on my back as they rode past — the wide-angle captured the sense of space here better than a standard lens.

A television moto rolled along my side, just next to them, and I could only pray that it wouldn’t block my shot. After all, it was my only real chance today as I was not on a moto.

The remains of the peloton on stage 17 of the 2021 Tour de France.
The front of the race on stage 17 of the 2021 Tour de France. Photo: James Startt

I fired off three images before the moto passed, and it was the final shot that I felt was strongest, perhaps because the yellow jersey is in the center, or perhaps I simply prefer the composition.

I am not sure that it is as strong as my series here a couple of years back, but it definitely the shot of the day. It will definitely be a keeper when the dust has settled from this year’s Tour.