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Tour de France

Getting the Shot: The peloton and the old café

Often these quiet moments at the Tour de France are the moments I most enjoy.

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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.


For as long as I have been covering bike racing I have always loved coming to the French Midi region, in southern France. It is a region I first discovered covering the Grand Prix de Midi Libre, a race no longer in existence, but fondly remembered.

Today’s stage from Carcassone to Quillan would have been a classic stage in this old race. It was clear from the start that by Tour standard it would be what is often called a transition stage — a stage that does not favor sprinters, climbers, or time trailers — where a breakaway almost surely can get away.

Also read: Getting the shot — Cavendish gets number 34

I went out ahead of the race, uncertain if I would focus on the race or the landscape.

Wine vineyards greeted us almost immediately and there was a sprinkling of the iconic sunflower fields in the opening kilometers. But nothing lent itself easily to a photograph.

Suddenly though, about 40 kilometers into the race, we drove into a village and I instantly noticed this aging café.

Stopping a few meters later, I walked back. It was clear that the café itself was no longer in business, and with children gathered outside, I sensed that it had simply been transformed into a house.

Chatting with the family, I learned that the Café Vaquie actually belonged to the family. First opened in 1835 as a hotel and café, the family finally closed the café itself in 1998 and was living there since.

Lost in time, it captured so much of what I love about this region, and it offered me a perfect stage for today’s image. I waited for the peloton to pass and I set my shutter speed at 1/100th of a second. In situations like this, I prefer to let the cyclists blur by to better focus on the backdrop.

Bauke Mollema of Trek Segfredo soloing his way to a stage 14 win at the 2021 Tour de France.
Bauke Mollema of Trek Segfredo soloing his way to a stage 14 win at the 2021 Tour de France. Photo: James Startt

The kids were excited to see the Tour come by and the father readied his telephone to capture an image of the cyclists spinning by the family.

After the peloton passed we said goodbye and went off in search of another spot.

I really loved an image of Bauke Mollema speeding towards victory in the final kilometers that I caught late in the day. But in the end, it was the Vaquita family in front of their old café that resonated the most. It was a quiet moment in the Tour de France, but often these are the moments I most enjoy.