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Tour de France

Getting the shot: Pogačar the cat

This image said, clearly, that we were at the Tour de France.

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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.


I am writing today’s “Getting the Shot” from the traffic jam that is Luz Ardiden, a remote ski resort in the Pyrénées.

I did not start today, the final stage in the Pyrénées, with any particular game plan other than to go up Luz Ardiden, the final climb of the day, and the final climb of this year’s Tour de France.

I have been here many times and have watched a number of memorable stages, to say the least. But it is far from my favorite climb here in the Pyrénees. It just did not boast the natural beauty of a climb like the Col de Portet on stage 17 or others, like the Col de l’Aubisque, which is nothing short of breathtaking.

Also read: Getting the shot — Pogačar in the fog

So I drove up with an open mind. As I edged out of the tree line, I first considered focusing on a crowd shot as fans were dense and I have yet to focus on them much this year. But parking spaces, I quickly found, were scarce.

At the three-kilometer mark, I hesitated just long enough to miss one spot. And that proved to be a fatal move as there was not so much as a free centimeter of space in the final kilometers.

Soon, I was in the barriers and my only way was up to the finish and the Tour parking — which I remember from experience — was well above the finish line area. I planned to be here for a while.

Walking to the finish I understood that the race had already hit the bottom of the climb and I would not have time to walk down to the two-kilometer mark where the barriers began.

But, already, just after the 300-meter-to-go mark I saw a series of switchbacks. From here I planned to shoot the race coming up the sinuous road in the valley below and then have time to climb up above the sweeping turn at this position.

The mood was festive here as fans were enjoying their prime seating on the hillside. And it was much earned as most walked or cycled to the top. Some were viewing the race on their telephones and I had a sense of the approaching race. And soon enough I could see the lead pack about four kilometers below. Fifteen riders still made up the lead group but as they approached three kilometers the group splintering. I shot away as they came out of a dramatic hairpin.

At two kilometers I could see the yellow jersey at the front, and then at one kilometer saw the Movistar rider alone. But suddenly, Tadej Pogačar sprinted free.

I stood above my turn, shooting several frames as he seemingly flew around it and charged towards the line.

I focused in on Pogačar, concentrating on his movements as he pedaled — his yellow jersey and the neutral background offered by the pavement. His pedal stroke was so effortless and when he was in attack mode he possessed the sleekness of a cat about to pounce on its prey. But I had to shoot quickly because, boy, did he move fast!

There were several images from the series that pleased me.

Tadej Pogacar riding to the win on stage 18 of the 2021 Tour de France.
Tadej Pogacar riding to the win on stage 18 of the 2021 Tour de France. Photo: James Startt
Tadej Pogacar holding Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz in the final meters of stage 18 of the 2021 Tour de France.
Tadej Pogacar holding Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz in the final meters of stage 18 of the 2021 Tour de France. Photo: James Startt

The first as he came around the corner and eyed the television camera just ahead of him. The next where he glances back towards his competition I also found engaging. But finally, it was my last shot as Pogacar raced towards the finish, with his yellow jersey in the lower corner of the image against the black pavement.

For me, this image said, clearly, that we were at the Tour de France, and it does so in a minimalist way.