Getting the shot: Jakobsen in full flight

James Startt explains how he got his spectacular side-on shots of Fabio Jakobsen and Peter Sagan in the stage 2 finishing sprint in Nyborg

Sprint shots are always exciting, but often limiting, as race photographers are positioned by the Tour de France organisers and the options are limited if you want to get a straight-on shot of the sprint.

Fortunately Covid broke up the monotony.

With social distancing rules in place for the past two Tours, few photographers were allowed on the line, and many of us had to search out other positions. In many ways it was a blessing in disguise.

One spot some of us have found is right along the barrier in the last 25 metres. It has given me some of my best shots. And a few complete misses. 

Arriving at the finish today in Nyborg I first scouted out the steps where I could shoot down on the line. And while there was an attractive plunging perspective, I decided to check out the sideline. The sun was almost perfectly placed, which is not always the case. And the background was clean, with a nice balance of blue sky and fans. My choice was made. 

Now all I had to do was wait. It is always a bit nerve racking, especially when you see the television helicopter approaching over the pack. Visibility is always limited and the increasing thunder from the crowds always makes it hard to anticipate just when the riders pass in front of you. 

Regarding equipment, it would be easier to shoot with a wide angle lens, but if the main action is on the opposite side of the road you lose the immediacy of this perspective. I prefer to shoot with a more classic 50mm if possible. But if the riders pass just in front, then the lens can be too long. 

Today I had a bit of a doubt just where the front riders would pass, I took my 24-70mm lens and set it to about 40mm, a decent compromise I thought. 

As the noise from the crowd increased I could sense the pack closing in. With both eyes open, I got a glimpse of movement and started to shoot, ripping off about a dozen images as the first riders sprinted by. 

It is always a bit of a crap shoot really, and you never know what you have got until they have passed and you can look back over them. I had no idea who passed first or who followed. 

Looking at the images on my screen, I could see the Quick Step–Alpha Vinyl jersey of Fabio Jakobsen appear first, and by chance, he was clearly in the middle of the road, so most of his bike and body are clear. 

It’s always nice to get the winner. 

Just behind two other figures appeared in the corner of my screen and it was hard to make out as they were on the inside less than a meter in front of me. It turned out to be Wout Van Aert and Mads Pedersen battling for second and third. But really their identity mattered little as the almost abstract intensity added a sense of tension to the image. 

Behind, I really loved another similar frame of Peter Sagan and Danny Van Poppel in full effort. Here there is no one in the centre, but you see more of the fans. 

To be honest I really like both of these shots, and from a pure compositional perspective, I have a slight preference for the image of Sagan. 

But I am still a bike racing fan, and Jakobsen’s victory today is simply historic. His horrific crash in the Tour of Poland in 2020 is well documented. It was impossible to know if he would ever race at the same level again. So to win the first road stage in his first ever Tour de France is simply too good to be true. And it gets my nod for shot of the day.

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