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Getting the Shot: Tour de France Stage 1

Words & Images by James Startt

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VeloNews and Peloton contributor James Startt, winner of the 2021 World Sports Photography Awards, is covering his 32nd Tour de France. And for this year’s Tour he will provide a regular feature explaining how he gets his favorite shots of the day, along with details on some of the equipment he uses.

Photography is all about anticipating shoots and reacting to other less expected ones. And the first stage of this year’s Tour illustrated both. Looking at the map of the course before stage 1, I noticed that the race rolled along the beaches of Brittany. So about 10 minutes before the start in Brest, I headed out with my colleague Andy Hood in search of this stretch of coastline.

Approaching the town of Pentrez I decided to stop on the hillside just above, as it offered a full perspective of the beach and the Tour route by its side. After walking around the area, I found a spot that offered me the clearest view and I focused in as the pack rolled past.

The Peloton on stage 1 of the Tour de France, in Brest. Image: James Startt

But while I was happy with the shot, I was hoping for better as the parked cars and phone lines took away from the shot. But I knew that I would only have one more opportunity, somewhere around the finish.

Arriving in the town of Landerneau, I turned right and made my way up the final 3 kilometers towards the finish. I knew that the bottom of the climb was the steepest, and I was impressed by the wall, packed with people. And after driving to the finish, it was clear that this spot had the most energy and ambiance, so I opted out of the finish-line shot and circled back on a country road. The road was wide, but packed with fans on both sides, a sign that France is indeed coming out of its long lockdown.

Climbing on a fence and hanging onto a railroad crossing light, I found my best frame that took in the magnitude of the climb. By this point, the pack was not far behind, and let me tell you they were simply sprinting as they hit the bottom of the climb. I let the first group pass and clicked away as they made their way up. Riders were splintering off the back and the crowd was simply going wild.

I shot away, using my Nikon Z7 because I knew that with its 45 million pixels I would have ample room to crop if needed.

The peloton on the steep final climb of stage 1 of the Tour de France. Image: James Startt

I have to say that I was pretty satisfied with this shot. It was a definite keeper by my standards, and I was ready to call the day a wrap, as I felt like I captured the steepness of the climb, not to mention the chaos and drama.

But as I started walking back towards my car, the fans just kept cheering wildly for every rider passing by. Families were out. Friends had gathered. And the mood was simply too good to ignore. There was a sense of communion, a sense of unity, as every rider received enthusiastic cheers, not to mention the occasional bark from a dog.

James Startt’s shot of the day from stage 1 of the Tour de France.

I started shooting once again. And while I was more than satisfied with my shot of the pack on the climb, when I saw this shot of the family all cheering together, it was quickly my favorite shot of the day. From the number plate 31, you can tell that the rider is Chris Froome, who finished well back after crashing. But I am not even sure they family know that the four-time Tour champ was passing by. They were simply cheering for everybody.

I spent a lot of time looking for the best shots today, but sometimes, well, the best shots just come to you.