Getting the Shot: A kinder, gentler face of the Tour de France

After yesterday’s crash-filled stage I was hoping that today’s stage would be relatively quiet.

Photo: James Startt

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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 all you want is a quiet day at the Tour de France. And after yesterday’s crash-filled stage, I — along with just about everyone on the race — was hoping that today’s stage from Redon to Faugères would be relatively quiet. And it was.

There was a time when the first week of the Tour de France was unrelentingly predictable. The trek across northern France was filled with one sprint stage after another.

Also read: Getting the Shot: Caleb Ewan on stage 3 of the Tour de France

In recent years, however, the Tour de France has made an effort to alternate flat stage stages with punchy stages for more varied racing. But this year’s Tour was made more unpredictable with its steady string of crashes.

At the start of today’s stage, a quiet stage with a classic sprint finish was all I wanted. And in some ways, the riders appeared to be in a similar stage of mind, as they extended the self-neutralized start for several kilometers.

Soon enough they allowed two riders to roll off the front before settling into a controlled tempo.

I could have asked for more, and set my sights on finding a scenic shot that would focus on the more scenic side of the Tour.

Rolling into the town of Pipriac, barely 15 kilometers into the race, the mood was high, as it has been throughout the Tour’s Grand Départ in Brittany. And when I passed this family, I knew I had found a good shot.

Decorating their house in festive colors and with flags from France and Brittany, the entire family was wearing the polka-dot tee shirts distributed by Leclerc, sponsor of the best-climbers jersey.

I sat across the street and waited for the race. In a situation like this, the fans are really the subject and so I focused on them but chose a relatively slow shutter speed, 1/80 of a second, to assure that, while the fans would be in focus, the pack would be blurred as it rolled by. While the road was not particularly large, I opted for a standard 50mm lens rather than a wide-angle, as it provided a relatively tight frame focused only on the fans and the riders. For years I relied on a wide-angle lens in such situations, but in recent years I have really come to appreciate the classic 50mm for more and more situations.

When the breakaway went past, I fired my first shots. And while I was pleased with the frame, I knew that the image could be even stronger with more cyclists passing through.

As the pack approached, I positioned myself once again fired. I knew I needed some luck as well because if the riders were too close together, they would entirely block the family.

I am not sure how many shots I fired, really, but taking a quick look in my camera’s viewer, I could see that there was potential in at least a few of the images. As I edited my images in the press room, I found at least several shots where the fans were clearly visible — much as I had hoped for.

After this shot, I managed to cut the race off one more time in the town of Liffré. But while the mood was even more festive, I was less satisfied with my recent shot. And while I was only too happy to see Mark Cavendish winning in the Tour de France, I was still less satisfied with my finish line shot.

At the end of the day, this is the shot I hoped to get on this final stage in Brittany. And for today, at least, I was happy to simply reconnect with the pastoral side of the Tour de France. In some ways, it felt a bit like the Tour de France of old. And that was just fine by me.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.