The Alpe d’Huez is many things to the world of cycling, but it is one complicated day for photographers. This year, the first time the Tour de France has visited this historic climb since Covid, saw the fans back in force. After all it is the fans that make this climb.
While they assure an ambiance all their own, the crowds make tackling the Alpe d'Huez a harrowing experience for everyone in the race. And I know that even with the benefit of a motorcycle, my options are limited on this crazy climb. Positioning in front of a rider is always complicated and opportunities to pass are few and far between.
Making matters worse, I was frustrated much of the day as I felt I was shooting on the back foot over the Galibier and Croix de Fer climbs, reacting too late and simply not anticipating situations as you must in this game.
Stopping on the descent of the Croix de Fer for a panoramic shot of the peloton riding past a mountain lake, I nearly missed getting to the Alpe d’Huez before the race hit the climb as there was sheer chaos behind the pack with team cars frantically trying to feed riders before the final climb. Finally getting permission to pass three kilometers before Bourg d’Oisans, the village situated at the foot of the climb, I raced to get up to the breakaway before they hit the opening slopes, and barely managed to get in front of the race before the crowds made it impossible to pass.
Once ahead, I shot what I could of Tom Pidcock pacing his way to a stunning solo victory. But I knew dropping back to the yellow jersey group was now impossible.
Instead I told my motorcycle driver to bolt ahead as there is a corner where I often work. Hairpin four turned out to be even better this year as a number of Danish fans packed the turn in hopes of getting a glimpse of their new hero Jonas Vingegaard in his newly acquired yellow jersey. Needless to say the mood was frantic, and it only intensified as the helicopter over the yellow jersey group approached.
Fortunately a space between two camper vans in the corner allowed me to see the yellow jersey approach. Panning with a slow shutter speed and a fill flash so that the background blurred, I fired two frames as Vingegaard sped by and nearly got taken down by a Danish fan in viking attire! At first I feared that he had ruined my shot. Instead he kind of makes it, or at least adds a level of intensity and it was clear that this would be my shot of the day.
It saved an otherwise frustrating day. But the hairpin number four always does me right on the Alpe d’Huez.
Nikon 24mm-70mm (set at 24mm)
Shutter speed : 1/250
Aperture : F 11
ISO : 320