Today was my first of several days on one of the Tour de France motorbikes. While it is always exciting, photographing from a moto is very different from driving ahead of the race and picking your shot, really composing it and working it. On a moto the possibilities are seemingly endless. And yet it is constantly stressful.
On a moto you must often act quickly, and since there are at least a dozen other accredited bikes in the race, you are constantly jostling for position. Several Tour de France regulators signal when exactly you can drop back and photograph. And often by the time it is your turn, the light and overall situation has altered.
Today’s stage from Aigle, Switzerland to Chatel just over the French border provided endless opportunities. The opening kilometre raced along Lake Leman and up climbs blanketed with lush vineyards. While I had several decent postcard shots, none really satisfied me.
As we drove ahead of the pack I looked for other potential landscapes. But I found nothing. By the mid-race point, I decided to simply concentrate on the racing.
I spent hours it seemed, fading back to the pack to get Tadej Pogačar, whose yellow jersey rarely left the top 10 spots in the pack. There were numerous shots that I liked with Pogačar dancing in and out of the shadows on this picturesque stage.
But really, my favourite shot came in the final kilometers where I got ahead of the race to photograph Bob Jungels, who appeared well on his way to his biggest victory in years after attacking the breakaway nearly 60 kilometers from the finish.
Getting up to Jungels I had to first go to the front of the line of the in-race moto photographers. My turn came just as we entered a village about five kilometers from the top of the final climb. At first I feared that once again my turn came at the wrong time, but as we turned a corner, I knew there was a tremendous opportunity.
The crowd was intense and the light was spot on. I told my driver to slow down and we accelerated just as Jungels rounded the corner. I shot 20 frames at least, trying to stay aware of the action and the light. Already the first ones felt right, but as Jungels swung to the left-hand side of the road the fans went wild. And the shadows they created only added a dramatic repetition to the frame as Jungels powered past.
Looking at the camera screen as we pulled away, I knew instantly I had my shot. The combination of the emotion from the fans, Jungels' intense physical effort and the light were just what I had hoped for.
"We can go to the finish now," I told Bruno my driver. "I’m not going to get any better than that!"
Getting the shot in bike racing is often like that. You don’t know when it will happen, and often your best planned shots don’t materialise. Sometimes you just have to let the shots come to you. And sometimes you need a little luck. But luck only comes to those who are ready for it.
Camera : Nikon D5
Lens : Nikon 70mm-200mm (set at 135mm)
Shutter speed : 1/1000th
Aperture : F 3.5