Tour de France 2020

Getting the shot: The Tour de France’s classic Arc de Triomphe image

Photojournalist James Startt recounts a Tour de France image that he's taken many times before, but one that always looks great. It's the iconic Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

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I have said it before and will say it again: There are certain shots that I have taken many times, and I know I will take many times again. The classic shot of the yellow jersey riding past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on the last day of the Tour de France is one of those.

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And so on Sunday, I once again arrived early on the Champs-Elysées and made my way up towards the Arc. It can sometimes be a perilous journey, as you must pass dozens of French Gendarmes that stand along the roadside. And all it takes is one to decide that you do not belong, and over the barriers you go. Getting there was relatively easy today, as there were so few fans along the roadside that law enforcement was comparatively mellow—or so I thought.

Arriving at the Place Charles de Gaulle, I positioned myself on the inner corner where the riders pass just before bombing back down the Champs. And it was only after several other photographers joined me that the problems started, as one officer did not receive or understand that accredited photographers could work within the barriers. Little matter, a few phone calls and my finest French later, and we were once again guaranteed our right to work.

And now all I had to do was get the shot.

In some ways, the Arc de Triomphe shot is a no-brainer.

After all, the Arc provides a perfect stage and all one essentially needs to do is wait for the yellow jersey to pass. But often the lighting can be difficult as the late night finish often means complicated backlighting. And then there is the issue of isolating the yellow jersey in a pack of cyclists.

Today, the lighting was comparatively easy, as the Tour finished two hours earlier and in the month of September, it was gently setting to our side rather than directly behind us.

But finding the yellow jersey proved to be another problem. Most years, the yellow jersey team cruises through the first lap in Paris at the front of the pack, but this year Tadej Pogačar and his UAE-Team Emirates squad were nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps it was due to inexperience, but Pogačar was literally buried in the pack in the first two laps. And considering that the 21-year-old Slovenian only took over the yellow jersey the day before, I can tell you that numerous photographers were starting to panic, as we really needed a clear shot of the yellow jersey in action.

But finally, on the third lap, I spotted Pogačar cresting the Champs near the front, and I waited as he rolled around the Arc de Triomphe. And suddenly there he was, and I had the time to fire off three shots before he made his way back down the Champs-Elysées.

I don’t know if it is my best “Arc” shot, but I like the tinges of Autumn light found here this year. It’s a welcome change from the harsh summer light most years. But mostly I am relieved to have finally got the shot…at least until next year!