Photographers' Blog

Tour de France 2011 – A long way to Paris

This year’s riders of the Tour de France covered 3430.5 km (2131.6 miles), divided into 21 stages, according to the Tour’s official website.

What you may not know is that the Reuters pictures team covering 2011′s most-watched sporting event managed to tally up some 10,000 km (6213 miles).

I was excited to cover the race but aware that despite careful planning, any big job can have its moments of near disaster. After meeting at the Reuters office in Paris with team leader (and Italy chief) photographer Stefano Rellandini and French photographer Pascal Rossignol we checked all our equipment, made sure our laptops were working, that our passwords were valid and that Mifi was setup. We picked up our local phones and configured wireless transmission devices from cameras. One thing’s for sure — the planning stage is essential on a big job like this, and a good team spirit never hurts either.

The next day we drove to Vendée in the east of France, where the race was due to start and met with our veteran bike drivers Jacques Clawey and Michel Vatel. This year’s team consisted of three photographers. Photographers on bikes take two types of pictures during the race: postcard (landscape shots) and action. When you’re on the postcard bike the rules are clear: you can only take photos once the bike has stopped. Take a pic when the bike is moving, and you could be out. The ‘action’ bike’s rule? Don’t crash.

The third photographer drives the car to the finish line to take photos of the stage’s end.

Witness to a cobblestone crash

I am writing this on the road from rural eastern France at the end of the fourth stage of the month-long Tour de France. It’s hot and dusty outside with temperatures at about 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). On the backs of the motorcycles in protective gear we are suffering as we spend all day in the sun. Fortunately there has been a lot happening in these early stages of the Tour and the images have been worth it.

On the third stage of the Tour between Wanze in Belgium and Arenberg in France, I was riding on the second of our two motorcycles. The second bike is not authorized to shoot the riders on the move, but instead can overtake the pack and then stop on the side of the road so the photographer can shoot the riders as they pass by. The third stage was very special as the last 50 kilometers were on the famous cobblestone backroads of northern France more commonly associated with the Paris-Roubaix cycling classic. This section is known as the “Hell of the North”. I have covered 21 Tour de France races, but never had the occasion to cover either Paris-Roubaix, nor shoot a cobblestone section.

RadioShack's Lance Armstrong cycles on a cobblestone sector during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Wanze and Arenberg-Porte Du Hainaut, July 6, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Early in the stage, while listening in to the official two-way radio commentary, the race directors announced that all the motorcycles must travel directly to the arrival site bypassing this cobblestone sector at the end of the race because it was simply too narrow and too dangerous for everyone to work. Only a one-motorcycle pool would be authorized access. So, I took a chance and sped way ahead of the race. Our motorcyclist got the bike onto the cobblestone section and safely parked the bike off the road well before the race drew near. The day had been terribly hot and the impenetrable dust cloud thrown up from the accompanying official vehicles gave an aura of a foggy winter day rather than mid summer.

Rain man

Tuesday March 10 was one of those days when the cat wouldn’t go outside. Had it been foolish enough to do so, it would probably have blown away or more likely, drowned. On England’s south coast huge waves battered the shoreline while in Western France the powerful storm ran a large freighter aground.

Weather 1

As commuters struggled with their umbrellas as they crossed London Bridge and winds reached 150Kph in France, Reuters Bucharest photographer Bogdan Cristel was climbing on the back of a 1000cc Honda Varadero to cover the first stage of the Paris-Nice cycling classic.


Bogdan has never covered a pro cycle race before and because he will be part of our team covering the month-long 2008 Tour de France cycle classic,