Cover stories: issue 18.4, Tour de France special, by Simon Gill

This mini project started simply as a way of being able to identify the riders less familiar to me within the peloton. Take a picture of the rider, then shoot their number on their back quickly to cross check that I have the correct name for captioning later in the day.

I’m often not looking for the household names when photographing Tour riders as there are 198 different (often captivating) stories to tell. The start of any stage of the Tour can be a good hunting ground for a photographer. 

Depending on the weather and the status of the race, riders will be relatively relaxed around their team buses, interacting with fans and then heading to the sign on for the start of the stage where they will be announced individually on stage. You can get off to a good start to the day and capture some really close up portraits during this time. Cycling is like no other sport in this respect. It’s a beautiful thing to be so up close and personal to an elite athlete so close to competition.

Editing over a rehydrating beer after each stage, the rider numbers started to leap out as a graphic in their own right. I thought to myself that I would start to deliberately capture the numbers in a more considered manner, once I had some more time on my hands apres-Tour and see what I could do with it. 

I became a bit obsessive about the project as if I were a young lad collecting stickers. The Yellow, Polkadot and Green Jersey were the equivalent of the shiny badge stickers. Riders notorious for staying on the bus until the last minute became an obsession. I would hunt them down and pick them off each day. I really wanted to try and get all the numbers within the race but this was, of course, almost impossible as riders abandon from the race each day from the start. 

I got some funny looks from the cyclists during the project but they are generally a friendly bunch. I was however wary about number 91, having been told to ‘fuck off, you fucking prick’ by the man behind this number at another race. I don’t think I’m alone here. You’re not a graduated member of the cycling media until this or similar has happened to you. 

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