Get the shot: storm the finish with MVDP

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VeloNews and Peloton Contributor James Startt, the winner of the 2021 World Sports Photography Awards, reports on his 32nd Tour de France. At this year’s Tour de France he will be explaining in a regular feature how he takes his favorite shots of the day and what equipment he uses.


Greg LeMond once said that bike races are 90 percent responsive to other people’s movements and 10 percent force your own. And photography is often like that.

Today was a 90 percent day. When photographing a bike race from a motorcycle, you have several options. But if you take the tour from the car, the options are significantly limited.

The Vierzon to Le Creusot leg was the longest leg of the race, and the transfer to the finish was even longer, so I focused on getting a shot early to have enough time to finish.

Shortly after leaving the start, I came across a group of fans with their vintage Citröen 2CV, the French equivalent of the Volkswagen Beetle. I had already seen them on the tour and was drawn to their festive vibe, not to mention the cool collection of cars.

Plus, they were parked next to a wheat field which added a nice dimension. Standing in the field, I saw a second shot of the approaching tour route framed between two wheat fields. Maybe I would get lucky and get away with two shots?

I ended up getting away with two average punches. Sure, I was happy to let Mathieu van der Poel ride up front in the yellow jersey, but the shot itself was relatively classic.

And when he passed the classic cars I was blown away by my frame as the background of the cars was visually very busy and didn’t really add much to the picture. I wish I had worked with a slow shutter speed and just focused on one of the cars to let the cyclist go by. It’s something that in the end would have told the story better.

Frustrated, I set off, not knowing if I could think of much today. As I approached the finish line, I thought that maybe today I would just focus on the finish line.

But when I was on the line I saw a rolling hill across the street, something that offered a unique angle. And above, I actually liked the perspective. As I went down to the 50 meter to go mark, I found a nice opening in the trees and studied the best position.

The news that Mathieu van der Poel was in the breakaway group was music to my ears as I would have a better chance of catching up with him at the finish. And this time I wanted to use a slow shutter speed!

Mathieu van der Poel during the break on stage 7 of the Tour de France 2021. Photo: James Launches

With my shutter speed of 1/100 of a second, I was waiting for Matej Mohorič, who was on his way to an impressive solo victory. I waved as I passed, enjoying the movement and the light, but it was already slowing down to celebrate.

Minutes later, however, van de Poel stormed past the wheel in full sprint mode with Kasper Asgreen. Again, I shot several frames as I sprinted past him, who was sprinting to the line. And the result was even more satisfactory: the picture captured the power of his sprint, and his yellow jersey was sharp over the yellow hats of the audience in the foreground, making for a nice juxtaposition.

The day was far from easy, but it ended up producing one of my favorite pictures of the tour so far.



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