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Getting the Shot: Pogačar the Cat

Tour de France Stage 18

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I am writing today’s “Getting the Shot” from the traffic jam that is Luz-Ardiden, a remote ski resort in the Pyrénées.

Now I did not start today, the final stage in the Pyrénées, with any particular game plan, other than to go up Luz, the final climb of the day, not to mention the final climb of this year’s Tour de France.

I have been here many times and there have been a number of memorable stages to say the least. But it is far from my favorite climb here in the Pyrénees. It just does not boast the natural beauty of a climb like the Col de Portet yesterday or others like the Col de l’Aubisque, which is nothing short of breathtaking.

So I drove up with an open mind. As I edged out of the tree line, I first considered focusing on a crowd shot as fans were dense and I have yet to focus on them much this year. But parking spaces, I quickly found, were scarce.

At the 3-kilometer mark I hesitated just long enough to miss one spot. And that proved to be a fatal move as there was not so much as a free inch of space in the final kilometers.

Soon I was in the barriers and my only way was up to the finish and the Tour parking, which I remember from experience, was well above the finish-line area. I knew I would be here for a while.

Walking to the finish I understood that the race had already hit the bottom of the climb and I would not have time to walk down to the 2-kilometer mark where the barriers began.

But already just after the 300-meter mark I saw a series of switchbacks. From here I could shoot the race coming up the sinuous road in the valley below and then have time to climb up above the sweeping turn here.

The mood was festive here as fans were enjoying their prime seating on the hillside. And it was much earned as most walked or cycled to the top. Some were viewing the race on their telephones and I had a sense of the approaching race. And soon enough I could see the lead pack about 4 kilometers below. Fifteen riders still made up the lead group, but as they approached 3 kilometers the group began splintering. I shot away as they came out of a dramatic hairpin.

At 2 kilometers I could see the yellow jersey at the front and then at 1 kilometer saw the Movistar rider alone. But suddenly Tadej Pogačar sprinted free.

Pogačar breaking free on stage 18. Image: James Startt.

I stood above my turn, shooting several frames as he seemingly flew around it and charged towards the line.

I focused in on Pogačar, concentrating on his movements as he pedaled, his yellow jersey and the neutral background offered by the pavement. His pedal stroke is so effortless and when he is in attack mode he possesses the sleekness of a cat about to pounce on its prey. But you have to shoot quickly because, boy, does he move fast!

There were several images from the series that pleased me.

The first as he came around the cornered and eyed the television camera just ahead of him. The next where he glances back towards his competition I also find engaging. But finally it was my last shot as Pogačar raced towards the finish, with his yellow jersey in the lower corner of the image against the black pavement. For me this image says clearly that we are at the Tour de France, but it does so in a minimalist way.

Pogačar, ready to pounce. Image: James Startt.

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