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Tour de France

Getting the shot: The peloton and Leonardo’s castle

It is a classic shot — perfectly framing the peloton, the château, and the Loire River.

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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.


Sometimes getting even the most classic shot at the Tour de France is complicated beyond imagination.

Ever since I understood that stage six of the 2021 Tour crossed the Loire River Valley, in Ambroise, I knew where I would position myself on this day.

Also read: Getting the shot: Mathieu van der Poel alone against the clock

For years I have covered the Paris-Tours cycling classic, and for years I stopped on the bridge, here at Ambroise, to photograph the peloton crossing it underneath the shadows of the majestic château where Leonardo da Vinci worked in residence in the 16th century, until his death 1519.

It is a classic shot, perfectly framing the peloton, the château, and the Loire River. I describe it because today it was a shot that was simply impossible to get.

Leaving the start area in Tours extra early I drove ahead to Amboise. Parking my car just after the bridge, I walked back towards the bridge, only to be stopped by a French gendarme who explained that he was under orders not to allow anyone to walk across the bridge.

I begged. I pleaded. I showed him my Tour de France credentials, but nothing worked. Orders were orders. I even called the Tour de France chief press officer, who was as surprised that such an order had been given.

He promised to call the upper authorities at the gendarmerie in an effort to find a solution. I waited. Other photographers with a similar idea had also congregated and the officer was understanding. In his defense, he actually was calling his superiors. But as his head shook and the Tour de France helicopters came into sight, I understood that there would be no Loire River Valley shot today.

Doubling back, I quickly found a spot and shot away as the peloton passed to the cheers of the fans.

I shot it at a slow shutter speed (1/80th of a second) to accent the fans and the château in the upper corner of the image. It’s a satisfying shot, really, but not what I was after.

Sometimes the most classic shots in the Tour de France can be maddeningly difficult to get. That, too, is the Tour.