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Best images of 2020: Elia Viviani on the Plâteau de Glières at the Tour de France

VeloNews photographer recalls the chaos of cars honking and mechanics yelling, as the Italian rider came out of the dust backlit by the summer sunlight.

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Sometimes bike racing photography is like this: You can go for kilometers, days, or weeks without striking gold, and then suddenly — in the space of a couple of minutes or a couple of kilometers — you come up with some of your best images of the year.

Stage 18 of the Tour de France was one of those days. Coming near the end of the 2020 Tour, there had already been numerous opportunities for great images. This was the Tour de France, after all!

But still, I had been waiting impatiently for this stage that crossed over the Plâteau de Glières for months. Already I could tell by looking at the screen on my Nikon, that I had strong images of the peloton entering this dust-laden gravel road. The yellow jersey was easy enough to spot out and I knew that I had captured numerous other top riders. And I was already very happy with my shot of the peloton and race vehicles in the dust.

In many ways, my day was already done before I got this shot. I started to make my way across the Plâteau towards the finish. I made one more stop, but I was not happy with the frame and quickly moved on. Then suddenly, as I made my way back to the car, there was a mass of confusion as numerous team cars came to a complete halt. I was unsure what was happening, to be honest. Was there a crash in front of me?

And then suddenly, Italian rider Elia Viviani came out of the dust backlit by the summer sunlight. There was chaos all around him as cars were honking and mechanics yelling. And yet Viviani seemed totally resigned. The sprinter on the Cofidis team had been struggling through much of the Tour de France, unable to find his best legs. And on a climbing day like today, he was in total survival mode. But his bad day obviously had just gotten worse.

There was power in the emptiness of his expression. Viviani was seemingly void of emotion, and yet I had the distinct feeling that what he wanted to do most was simply scream. I followed him into the finish. He rode uninspired, simply trying to make the time cut. When I got back to the press room and saw my images, I knew I had a completely unique shot, one that summed up the disappointment and defeat we have all come to know as cyclists—but in a way I had never quite seen before.