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Tour de France

Getting the shot: Postcard from the Pyrénées

Transition stages can often provide suspenseful racing but can be complicated to shoot.

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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.


Transition stages can often provide suspenseful racing. But shooting them can be complicated, at times. Sure, the rolling hills can be plenty challenging on a bike. But the lack of high mountain perspectives can be frustrating for a photographer.

Today was one of those days: As the race swooped down out of Andorra over a series of category one, -two and -three climbs, like the Col de Port, and the Portet d’Aspet, I knew from experience, that the race remained by and large, in the trees.

Also read: Getting the shot — Sepp Kuss on his way to a Tour de France stage win

Looking at the stage profile, I originally thought that I would be best served going past the climbs altogether, as I knew that the run-in to Saint-Gaudens offered some lush farmlands.

As we climbed the Col de la Core, the second major climb of the day, I started to have other thoughts. I don’t remember the climb from past Tours de France, and while it didn’t even peak at 1,400 meters in altitude, we did edge out of the tree line in the final kilometers, riding over a lush valley that is so typical of the Pyrénées mountains.

Cresting the summit, the clouds were thick, contrasting with the green hills. Together I thought they embodied the fecund beauty of these mountains. This would be my stage.

Waiting for the peloton I found a spot and perched just above the road. The wind was stiff and I was hoping that the thick clouds would not be blown away. But for more than a half-hour they did not budge. Clearly, they had settled in.

And soon enough I saw the first signs of the race — first the breakaway, and finally the pack. Focusing on the first riders I could see the Belgian national jersey of Wout van Aert, as well as the white and yellow jerseys. I snapped away, using my Nikon Z7 with its 14-24mm lens as I wanted this shot to be as wide as possible to capture the entire scene.

A family watches the race go by on stage 16 of this 2021 Tour de France.
A family watches the race go by on stage 16 of this 2021 Tour de France. Photo: James Startt

Looking over the images from the day, I had a solid shot of Patrick Konrad on his way to a solo victory, as well as a fun shot in front of a family clad in polka-dot tee-shirts underneath a lonely statue of the Virgin Mary. Such statues are also typical of the Pyrénées.

But at the end of the day, it was the peloton on the Col de la Core that was the most resounding image in my eyes.