Looking back at my first ever Tour De France, it felt like there were a lot of barriers to get over at the time, but at the end of the day, everything fell into place, and I had some incredible experiences. I met some amazing people, and took some memorable images. What else could I possibly ask for? Most of my favourite images have already been posted with my road side race reports, but what follows are some of the other images, and the stories behind them that I remember fondly.
I’ll start off with some of the people I met along the 3000KM of France I’ve toured. It was a pleasure meeting so many passionate cycling fans, and crew. I spoke with and photographed so many interesting people including: the professional cyclists themselves, fans, caravan staff, journalists, mechanics, soigneurs and the list goes on and on.
I had no idea before leaving for France that I would spend so much time with the caravan. It is such a huge part of the Tour experience, and I had a blast with them as they carried such a high level of energy with them, every single day.
Caravan staff start their day, almost everyday, with a choreographed dance party. This little event wakes up a lot of the performers, and gets their blood flowing for a long day in the sun.
The fans live for the little trinkets that the caravan throw out to fans. Grown men take time off work tending the vines to stand on the side of the road in the hopes of receiving a little bag of candy, or washing detergent. I was a little surprised that some of the items thrown from the caravan vehicles included: portable ashtrays, as well as condoms. At one point, I saw a young child ask his mother what kind of candy the condom was, and the mother basically just grabbed it from his hands nervously, not actually answering the young child’s question.
As I have found covering other international sporting events, it is often tough to speak with the athletes directly due to lack of access, and when you do manage to get a few seconds with a rider, there are language barriers. I had questions prepared for specific riders, but way too often they could not understand what I was trying to ask. One such interview gone awry, was with Slovak sprint superstar, Peter Sagan. As he was checking over his bike at the team bus one morning, I managed to ask him a few questions. He did not understand some of my more in depth questions in English, and they essentially went unanswered.
Though the interview didn’t go as well as planned, as I was photographing him, I got a little close with my lens, and he clearly noticed, as he playfully leaned right into my lens, just centimetres away from the camera. I backed off a bit to give him space, and headed to the start area. Peter came to the start line moments later, and once I had my super wide angle lens on the camera, I asked Peter if he could lean into my lens again, like he had done as a joke minutes before. He did, and I like this different perspective that resulted.
After looking for the famous Didi Senft, better known as the Devil, or El Diablo, for several days, I finally found him during stage 8 as the race headed to the Pyrénées stationed on one of the early sections of the Col de Pailhères. I jumped out of the car while it was still practically moving to make sure I didn’t miss him. As I wrote in my initial roadside report that day, Didi doesn’t speak much English (he is German) but it was a pleasure meeting him.
Without asking, he automatically did his signature look, and his signature jump as well. It was very tough to pick just one image to post for my portrait a day project that day. One of the other images I really liked that day was a look that I had not previously seen him ever do in photos or on television. You will see hundreds of images of Mr. Senft jumping on the side of the road, or hissing at the cyclists and news cameras, but have you ever seen him disco dancing? It brings a smile to my face when I look back at this image. I can almost hear the Bee Gees.
One of my big disappointments of the tour, was not getting a proper chance to speak with Jens Voigt. Every time I got near him, he seemed agitated dealing with journalists, though I think that’s kind of his thing. The journalists beside me asked to speak with him, and after trying to get out of it several times, he finally begrudgingly accepted their request. After the interview, I asked if he would mind if I asked him a few questions, and he answered “yes I do mind” and walked away. It was really unfortunate, as I had prepared some questions specifically for him, and knew he would give me some colourful answers. He was the oldest rider in the Tour, and he can’t be too far off retirement at this point. Who knows if I’ll ever get another chance to talk with him.
For the most part, I had incredible access during the tour. During my first day working the team time trial in Nice, I was inches away from the riders on the start line. This allowed me to get some unique perspectives. I was able to capture a lot of detail shots being so close. This only lasted for the first few teams though, as at some point early on, I had a tap on my shoulder, and a stern french lady telling me to move to another area.
And while on the subject of access, one of the biggest highlights for my first ever Le Tour De France was the individual time trial. I was told by my editor that if I wanted to try to get into a team car for the individual time trial, I should try to find a rider with a start time towards the beginning of the stage (down on the GC) as they may have space in the vehicles. I also tried to find an english speaker so I could actually talk to them about their experience afterwards.
After talking with the media coordinator for team Europcar, it was set that I would be following Canadian, David Veilleux around the scenic Mont Saint Michel route. I was sitting in the backseat of the van, sandwiched in the middle between two Ibis Hotel executives. I had to sit with the spare front wheel between my legs for the duration of the race, which would have been fine except for the crazy manoeuverings the driver managed to pull off tailing Veilleux at speed through some very tight corners. It was an incredible way to watch the ITT, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to see this particular stage from inside the team vehicle.
The only thing I wasn’t able to photograph during the Tour were the podium presentations at the end of each stage. The photographs made during the podium presentations generally look very similar to each other, though I have been able to create some unique images from them in the past. I like to concentrate on details while the pen full of photogs point their lenses in the same direction. I did manage to somehow get a half decent shooting position for the final podium on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, go figure!
Before the peloton arrived on the Champs-Élysées, I managed to get myself a unique souvenir from Paris, an image of myself standing in the middle of the most beautiful avenue in the world.
I was in Paris and wanted to see and photograph the finale of the 100th edition of the tour. I didn’t have a photo bib though so my photo positions were severely limited. I staked out a good position amongst the crowd around 6:30pm, when the race wasn’t scheduled to come through until close to 8PM. There was a lot of hanging around doing nothing but it was cool to see the 10 laps around the Champs-Élysées. Things got a little dicey though with just a few laps to go in the area I had waited a long time to be in with the fans. Certain fans had stood in the same spot for hours to guarantee they had a great view of the finish line and then with 3 laps to go, half of the photographers that were stationed in a photo area in the middle of the Champs-Élysées avenue were suddenly told they had to find another place to shoot from on the side of the street (where I had been the entire evening).
The fans were told they had to move so the photographers could do their job, and the fans certainly did not appreciate this. Tensions were starting to run high, and arguments broke out between photographers and fans. I had put my accreditation underneath my shirt, so the lanyard wouldn’t get caught on anything, or ripped off my neck. At one point an angry French photographer told me to move, and I showed him my accreditation. I wasn’t wearing a photo bib like him, and he took a look at my pass and proceeded to insult me in both French and really, really poor english, basically calling me a ‘photo assistant’. Regardless, I stayed where I had waited for hours, and was pretty happy with my images of the remaining laps.
After watching Marcel Kittel win another incredible sprint, I found a decent spot to photograph the final podium presentation. It was cool to see the Arc de Triomphe used as a giant projection screen, but to be honest, the podium presentation was very anti climactic. There was no champagne, no fireworks, and the top guys never even joined arm in arm on the top step to embrace their gruelling battle shared over the past 3 weeks, and 3000+km. At the end, a voice over the sound system basically said, “its all over now, see you next year”. I built up the podium to be this big great thing, but it was very tame, though it still resulted in a few photographs I am proud to have made.
My first tour was a success, and I certainly learned a lot. After basically living in a tiny little rental car, I learned that French radio mostly consists of English music, and the radio stations are required by law to play something like 20% French music. The other 80% is English music, and mostly a mix of new top 20 songs, and older tunes from the late 90’s that I am unfortunately all too familiar with. I learned to relax (a little) on my dietary habits of eating cooked meat, and drank more wine than I thought was possible for myself. I also learned that not everyone in France is happy about the Tour coming through their town, but the ones that are happy about it, celebrate it like nothing I have ever seen before. Clearly not everyone that lines the streets waiting for the caravan and peloton to pass through their area of France are actually cycling fans, but they support it in full force. These fans grab whatever yellow clothing they can find in their closet, regardless of the fact that it completely clashes with their outfit.
Fans come from almost every country on the globe to experience the greatest cycling event in the world live. Elderly people, young people, friends, and families wait for days atop larger than life snow capped mountains to see a bunch of skinny dudes in super tight clothing ride bicycles past them for only mere seconds. On paper it sounds a little crazy, but the atmosphere and energy of these people cannot be done justice with any words of mine. You cannot help but smile to be amongst the crazy throng that is the Tour crowds. A lot of alcohol is consumed, new friends are made, and people of vastly different cultures and nations unite to celebrate sport. Vive Le Tour!