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Diary of the Tour de France - Over the next couple of weeks, sports photographer Chris Wallis will be reporting and photographing the Tour de France for ePHOTOzine. As each stage is complete, Chris will update this diary with details of life on the tour, with a selection of images of the event in progress.
The race is competed on time, the man with the lowest after each stage wears the Yellow jersey with the hope of taking it to Paris. There are three other main competitions within the Tour, the Green jersey - the Sprinters jersey for the most consistent finisher on each stage, points being award on each stage. Then the polka dot Jersey, for the best climber of the Tour, points given at the summit of the climbs, the higher the summit the higher the points.
This year is a bit of an open event with the retirement of seven-times, and last years, winner Landis under suspicion of drugs use. Now there is more than one man with a shot at the Yellow Jersey.
To cover the tour takes a lot of effort and preparation, making sure you have all the equipment you need as you will only get a couple of chances each stage to get the killer shot. For me the tour is divided in two, moving house is never well timed so I will have to take four days out to do that, but will join the race at the start of the week when the race should really be on.
- EOS 350D - hopefully my 1D Mark III will make it to me for the second half of the tour (fingers crossed)
- 480EX Flash Gun
- Sigma 10-20mm lens
- Sigma 28-300mm lens
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 ISL lens
- Canon f/1.4 exII lens
- As many batteries as I could lay my hands on
- TomTom - as I will get lost at least once.
- Maps of the stages, starts, finishes etc
The tour always starts with a short time trial, giving everyone the chance to see all the riders, although the stage is usually less that 10mins long. This year the Start has been given to London, in a fairly unusual move as it usually doesn't start outside France. While the British may not have the kind of riders yet that can compete properly for the overall the time trial is a good bet for a British result, and this year we have Bradley Wiggins and David Millar with a good shot.
For this stage I set myself up with the 70-200, the 28-300 and the 10-20mm to get a variety of shots. So, packing reasonably light I made my way to the press centre for a briefing and then into the centre of London.
I started with the first rider off from the start ramp and then made my way along to Buckingham Palace for the better half of the riders. I found myself using the 70-200 for most shots so that I could crop in tight, I took a couple of scenery shots with 10-20 mm just to give the idea of the crowds.
The problems I faced were equipment based, with only the 350D at this point I only had time for one or two shots with each rider, and thus had to hope they would take a good line for me and I could keep them in focus. For the most part I got some good shots, I would have like a tighter lens to get closer on the face but I do like getting a whole bike in.
After taking far too many shots, and of the last man coming through, I made my way to the finish for the podium to catch the presentations.
Stage 1 - London to Canterbury - Too much stress, and no British win.
Having had a nightmare the night before - laptop problems for which I had to drive two hours home from London to sort out, getting to bed at 2am with no photos processed, I was then faced with the trip back and being on the wrong side of the course.
I skipped the start as the spaces for photographers were limited to just a few which happens a lot in the tight spaces of starts and finishes. Having got as far as the course I managed to convince a policeman to let me on the course for a short time to get on the other side and made it to the sprint at Teston, but still 1km from the actual sprint. I have developed a good technique for running with camera.
Then it was another mad dash across to Sissinghurst to where I thought would be a good spot, but this was ruined at the last minute by one of the lead motorbikes completely blocking my shot. Having seen only the lead group come through I cut my losses and made the journey to the finish in Canterbury.
Again the limitation was too short a lens, being a full sprint finish we are further back to avoid being a danger to the riders. With a bit of hustling got my self a good position in the press scrum and a good shot for the effort.
Stage 2 - Dunkirk to Gent - Too Little Sleep and a rush to the finish
Today's stage, the first one back on French soil looked like it was going to be a rainy one, as I got off an early ferry in Calais the rain was lashing down.
The real challenge now was getting round the race, as I was in uncharted territory geographically. I made the mistake of trying to get one spot in on the way, and almost got caught out trying to get to the finish. With a minor car accident on the way to Gent things only got worse, clipping a wing mirror cost me 10mins but with a quick run I made it to the scrum.
Yet again I was left wanting a 600mm lens to get real tight on the finishers but the 1.4 extender just about made it and got a reasonable shot for the finish.
A second body, or lack of is beginning to become a pain as the podium shots require a much short lens, 50mm of something similar, I end up standing well back with the 70-200mm still on.
Stage 3 - Waregem to Compeigne - A lazy day for everyone
Having had a hectic day yesterday I planned on a more quiet day and be a little more selective with my positions on the course. Avoiding what I did yesterday I left on the race course ahead of the race and got to see the locations as I went instead of hoping that where I had chosen worked out.
I chose a nice open spot where I could get a scenic shot of the bunch head on - and then pan with them to pick out specific riders. The race was already divided, as the first week usually is, with two riders out front, followed almost 10mins later by a very placid peloton.
Not realised quite how placid the bunch was being I went straight to the finish to see that they were still over 100km away giving me a chance to do some editing and prep-work pre-finish.
This is one of the hardest parts getting from the finish and to the press centre and trying to scan through, chose and then edit the right shots. As it turned out I had plenty of time to spare, the peloton were exceptionally slow and took almost an hour longer to get to the finish. So plenty of time to wait around before the media scrum at the finish.
Stage 4 - Villers-cotterets to Joigny - Still getting lost
Although a reasonably long stage, the route was not kind for the photographers travelling in cars as it was not going to be easy to get more than one or if feeling really brave two possible shots before the finish.
The weather was not great today, the light constantly changing from good sunshine to slightly overcast, so not lending itself to a good shot, one particular place a nice tree lined straight road would have been good if the sky was clear and blue. and catch them rolling through head on
Carrying on driving I found the hill that I had planned to shot on and the sun was out and shining. I planned to take a low and wide angled shot to catch them close up as they went by, to get a slight angle and then complete with a panned/blur. As you can see from the shot the light changed at the last minute sky is looking very burnt out. After that is was a straight shot to the finish the routes have not been kind on the car using photorgaphers, meaning, start - finish and one shot on the course it the most likely. As I have been wanted to get the whole story for the day I have been keen to the finish, when it get to the mountains it will be a different story and I will go for something away from the finish to hope to catch the action.
Stage 5 - Chablis to Autun - Crashes and sunshine
Today was the first day that the sun really shone on the tour, I think my head can testify to that. A small problem with parking at the depart meant that instead of getting onto the course and getting to one of the hills that I wanted to cover I was left improvising to get to a spot on course.
I lucked out, my pass opened some barriers for me and i caught the escapees at an early point and then peloton rolling through many minutes after them. not the most ideal spot but I got a great tight head shot on the main french man in the break. After that I had very little chance to get back on the course and headed straight for the finish.
The shots I got were not too bad, waiting for a much slower finish to get closer to the line and not get caught short on lens focal length, or maybe try my luck on the stairs which are usually closer but give you a side on shot.
Waiting for the finish was a little painful as I realised there were slow again today, until the last 60km or so. The media scrum started early and in the baking sun I was falling asleep, and getting burnt.
Having got to the finish early I got the chance to actually see some of the race instead of waiting for the finish completely blind to the events of the race. As I had seen some key people crash it gave me the chance to try to catch them coming in after the bunch, hopefully with enough time to line up a shot.
Looking forward to Saturday now, just realised today that it's Bastille day, which is always a good day on the tour.
Stage 6 - Semur-en-Auxois to Bourg En Bresse
Yet again I parked in the wrong place - the directions are not always as clear as they should be. This time though I took the gamble and missed the chance for signing-on shots, in order to move the car. I still got some, but missed a number of the UK riders and some of the top seeded riders.
This time though, out on course I had time to pick a place. I drove past several places I had considered for the first proper climb but on the way I almost stopped at a little village with a great Church and château but the view didn't quite work. There was only a small gap on a flat bit of road so no chance any height to get them front on, just would be a side on blur.
Instead I carried on past that, and past the hill which I had been aiming for, there was nowhere to stop on the hill for shooting so I carried on further.
After being shouted at by a police gendarme I finally got to stop somewhere with a shot, a nice rolling road with a good vantage point. From here I climbed up a bank to get some height and lined up a straight shot right down the road with trees on either side framing the peloton.
Thankfully Bradley Wiggins was well off the front so I got a great tight shot on him and then the scenic shot of the peloton.
I was then stuck behind them from the next 30mins or so with all the exit routes I had planned on taking completely blocked, finally got off course and headed to the finish. Today was the first day I really struggled to get a finish shot, (which have not been high quality anyway) as always I am limited with the longest lens being a 70-200 with a 1.4x extender and we were quite far back.
Instead I had to hope to get them after the finish, on their way by the photographers, thankfully I was able to get some of Wiggins as he rolled over the line. But not for the first time I was cursing the lack of a 2nd body as I changed lenses over several times, as I needed the 70-200mm for the podium which was quite far back.
Stage 7 - Bourg en Bresse to Le Grand Bornand
After what I thought was a good start - I parked in the right place - the day only got worse from there.
I got a few good shots at the start and then headed out onto the course, the plan being to find an early stop, maybe on the 3rd cat climb and then get off and dash straight to the main climb of the day, missing the finish but hopefully getting the action on the climb. The first stop was a lot further down than I had planned, there was no-where to stop despite some potentially good shots. I ended up stopping in a little town and finding a sweeping corner and going for a low and wide angled pan, and then catching any splits as I walked back to the car.
That was alright but after I waited for the voiture balai, (last car) which signals the end of the race for 20mins I just headed onto the road and caught up with the race. It was another 30 or so Kms before I could get off the course. That was pretty much the last time I saw the race, my plan to get on the climb failed with the junctions being closed and a painful 10kms to turn around, paying the toll on both sides of the road.
I then headed straight for the finish, always fighting a losing battle. I managed to get to the entry point in the course and jumped onto the course with camera in hand.
I managed to see some of the stragglers as they came in, sitting myself in direct line of the apex of the corner gong for tight head shots. Once the Yellow jersey had gone through my day was done with very little to show for it.
Stage 8 - Le Grand Bornand to Tinges
Today was my last day, and not a full one, before the Pyranesse and figuring how much I could shoot before having to begin the long drive home. I pushed my luck and stayed for the sign on and then to see the bunch roll past the off course exit point. Shooting at the start today was a little difficult as the sun was especiialy bright so casting a lot of shadows and burning out the sky if not careful. I was lucky to catch the guys in the right place and get some nicely coloured blue sky in the background, along with some idea of the mountains that surrounded us.
Having only one shot, and being limited with the position i could get to, an early exit needed, I was lucky to find the off course exit point on a slight rise and a corner and was able to catch the bunch stretched across the road and get some of the typical alpine trees in the background, not exactly the action shot I like to go for but it meant I had at least one shot for the day of bike in motion.
At this point Chris headed home so now we pick up his exploits as he returned for stage 14.
Stage 14 Mazamet Plateau-de-Beille – The first trip into the Pyrenees
Today I decided the I was definitely making it to the finish so I discounted any thoughts of doing an early shot, I might have scarificed the chance for a classic cycling with sunflowers shot but the finish was more that worth it.
A nice drive all the way to the off course route to the entry point, only hampered by the police setting up speed traps and pulling over any tour vehicles, despite doing the same speed as the car in front (non-tour) I was pulled over and remind to drive more slowly.
The 16Km climb to the finish held no good places to stop, but some nice corners so I headed all the way to the top. The finish line didn’t make for a great shot so I headed for a little spot with about 25m to go and caught the action on the way to the line – as you can see I got the leaders sprinting it out for first place. It worked quite well for a slightly angled head on and a slight pan shot. I also had a complete side on pan with the 70-200mm lens. I had the flash on to be extra cautious as the light was temperamental, cloud cover changing quickly at that height.
The only challenge for the day was trying to get back off the mountain. It took over four and a half hours to get off and back to the hotel, only just making it in time to check in, missing dinner.
Stage 15 - Foix to Loudenville Le Louron - a real long day in the car
Yesterday was the first day that I drove the whole race route, on the way to the shots. It was a painful journey as I only made it to the bottom of the 2nd climb before I caught up with the caravan and was then left with a slow drive the rest of the way to the final climb, which was only 10km from the finish.
It was then a tough choice of where to stop, having driven past some of the early spaces the road then got to hairpins lined with people so I drove to the summit and hoped for a space just over the top. I was lucky and there was a nice place to park just a few meters from the summit. I left the car there and walked back down the climb to find a good spot.
This was a the first time I had to shoot through dense crowds. In classic road-lined Tour de France style, the spectators get so close to the riders and almost don’t get out of the way. Thankfully I found a nice spot to catch them head on and the crowd were real kind and parted just in time. The only real challenge was judging the lighting, quite a few shots were screwed up and the sun went behind clouds in seconds, even with a flash on for fill. The only other shot that was missed was the white jersey as he attacked about 5m from where I was and burst out of the crowd that I didn’t have time to focus properly.
Stage 16 Orthez Gourette - Col d'Aubisque - a bad day for the tour
I decided to maximise my chance of getting to the final climb of the day where all the action would be and miss the start, I have more than enough shots of everyone at signing on.
I made a nice leisurely journey to Gourette and the shuttle point for the press half way up the final climb, being a very small area at the top the press had to park just below gourette the ski resort and get a shuttle up. This provided a nice challenge in pack for the journey up, making sure I wasn't going to get caught short, and as with my previous experience I took flash, long, short and wide lens not quite knowing what was up there.
The finish was not a good one for photography, the finish line was on a peak in the road with the press placed behind the line and the crest. We were shooting almost blind, into the sky with the sun coming from in front which casting some lovely shadows over people crossing the line. With a few minutes to go I, and a few others, were given the chance to stand on the podium giving some good height and moving the sun slightly out of shot and reducing the shadows. This working really well, as you can hopefully see in the finish shots, getting a sneaky peak at someone else's shot who stayed low and behind the line the shadows on their shots was much greater.
Sadly the shots of the winner were the last ones of him in the yellow jersey and in the race. The 3rd drug scandal of this years tour saw the yellow jersey wearing Rasmussen sacked by his team and excluded from the race for missing out of season drugs tests.
Stage 17 - Pau Castelsarrasin
After the thrills of the mountains with lots of choices to stop and take shot today’s flattish stage left me wanting it to be the weekend and the time trial and the Paris stage to go.
I headed out in front of the race looking for somewhere to stop and the only spot I found, a nice downhill stretch with a little country church on it, but it was far too close to the finish that there was no chance to make it back in front of the race in time. Having spent the last few days driving through farm land filled with sunflowers, I was hoping for a classic cycling shot of riders with sunflowers but was denied as all the sunflowers were either facing the wrong way or looking more than a little dead.
This left me with a hope that there was a nice corner in the last kilometre of the finish to get a side on shot. Sadly, it was almost 900m straight in with no real corners to catch them coming into.
I was stuck with the finish shot and too short a lens again, so not a great shooting day, although getting a wide shot of riders in the distance and on the big screen made for a slightly interesting shot.
Stage 18 - Cahors to Angolueme - Another long day in the car
Yet another slightly boring stage that was destined to end in a breakaway and a sprint finish. And yet another long straight shooting almost into the sun. Thinking that the direct route would be quicker and easier I decided to go in front of the race to the off-course exit point and get a shot before then and drive straight to the finish.
The first shot I took was a bit of an experiment having found some slightly interesting towers in the background I messed about with the shutter speed to get a blurred shot, for the first time I got some filters out to counteract the bright sun, an ND2 and a CPL (as I only have the ND2 for that size) and dropped the shutter speed down to 1/20sec. Still not 100% sold on the shot but worth while for something different and thinking on my feet.
The rest of the day was a frustrating journey in the car, with some poorly signposted off-course route so only with luck did I happen upon the proper entry point. The fact I was the first one there with only an hour till race arrival showed what kind of day everyone else was having. In speaking to a few people who stopped on route shows how sparse the scenery was.
It was now down to another finish straight, 600m slightly up hill and almost into the sun, so shadows across the riders. I tried something different today, aperture priority over full manual to get the proper blur from a nice wide f/4, had a few issues with focusing today as the swing from left to right messed the AF up a little.
Stage 19 - Cognac to Angloueme
Today was going to be quite a relaxed stage, which I was so grateful for, no need to drive a couple of hundred kms in one day. I skipped the start all together and went straight to the finish. Didn’t feel like trying to find somewhere good and get shots on the course. I struggled getting access to the course due to some poor direction.
As the British guys were quite down on the GC (General Classification) I had to get to the finish line quickly to catch Geriant Thomas crossing and then it was time for lunch and sit down ready for the action.
The finish was the same as yesterday, and although it threatened to rain for most of the day when the sun did come out it was coming straight down the finish. Thankfully as it was single riders coming across the line I was able to sit closer and, although surround by guys with 500mm lenses, I got the shots I wanted.
Not all the riders were kind to the photographers and weaved across the finish straight and also bowed their heads as they crossed the line, denying the facial expressions on some. Looking forward to a long drive to Marcoussis for the start and then into Paris and figure out how to shoot that.
Stage 20 - Marcoussis to Paris – and finally I can go home
Ironically the day I was looking forward to was the poorest day for photography. The Start was not looking good when it started raining and didn’t look like stopping, and then in between showers all we got was overly bright clouds, not making for the best backgrounds.
The roll out was on some very ugly roads so it was a quick drive straight into Paris and then onto the closed roads of the Rue D’rivoli and the Place de la Concorde.
I took up position at the opposite end to the Arc D’Triumph so that I could shoot coming onto and leaving the Champs Elyesse. I am putting my lack of shots down to some real tiredness. I got the light wrong a few times, motorbikes got out of the way to late so I could focus on the riders properly. In short all the things that I have done, learnt and practiced over the last few weeks went out the window and had to concentrate to pull a few shots out for the day.
The finish was even worse. Being the last stage lots of people turned up just for that so it was a real crowd. I had two choices – end up far too far away with a 70-200mm lens or hope that the winner sprinted into my shot. Sadly the winner went down the inside, the one bit I couldn’t see and I missed the shot completely. Thankfully the Yellow jersey was nice to me and kept where I could shoot him.
I have learned a lot and will look forward to going back to the tour next year, and doing more races this year, better equipped, both in technique and also with improved equipment.