||Spain's Abraham Olano
© James Startt
by Zoe Mezin
Will Armstrong win again ?
My hunch is that soap opera ratings will crash in July. Who needs
television when the Tour de France, touted as the most prestigious
and difficult bicycle race in the world, gives you more human
drama, struggle and glory than any made-for-TV movie?
Lance Armstrong, who capped his comeback after being diagnosed
with cancer in 1996 by winning the Tour, is the sports modern
version of Rocky, overcoming great odds to become only the second
American to win the race in its 87-year history. The last American
to bear the maillot jaune was three-time winner Greg Lemond in
In a recent interview Armstrong admitted to feeling a bit concerned
about his physical condition before the race. After coming third
in the Dauphiné Libéré tour early June, he feels that he may be
a little ahead of schedule and worries about being ready too quick.
In short, hes bursting with even more energy than last year.
In fact, nothing seems to be bothering Armstrong, including the
pressure of defending his Tour de France title. Perhaps he just
knows that any cancer survivor in a position to repeat in one
of the most physically demanding events in the world is already
This years competition promises to be a thriller as Armstrong
returns to defend his title against 180 of the worlds finest
On July 1, 20 teams of nine cyclists will embark on a three-week
journey through 3,630 kilometers (2,287 miles) of France during
which time each will vie for the coveted maillot jaune, the yellow
jersey which separates the leader from the pack.
Over 15 million spectators are expected to line the race route
and another 160 million will follow the unfolding drama on television.
Setting off from Poitiers Futuroscope in western France, previously
used in 1990, riders will battle their way through the Hexagons
diverse landscapes. From Brittanys lushly undulating countryside
to Southern Frances formidable mountain ranges, the Pyrenees
and the Alps, this years contenders will need to display, now
more than ever, the personal strength, endurance and courage it
takes to win the greatest bicycle race in the world.
Organizers have placed considerable emphasis this year on upholding
tradition. For one thing, they have brought back the team timing
trial, in which the time of a teams fifth of nine riders across
the line is given to all of the first five. Two other retro additions
to the Tours itinerary are the Aubisque pass, first crossed in
1910, and the Galibier, which riders crossed the following year.
After the last-stage finish atop Mount Ventoux, with its varied
landscape ranging from thick forests to rocky destertland, riders
will return to the Capital aboard the luxurious Orient Express
for the races 27-km end. The Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysées,
the Louvre and the Bastille: What better backdrop for a dramatic
finale than Paris?
Champs Elysées finish Sunday July 23, 5-5:30pm
Tour de France / tour de force
If you want to understand why James Startt's photos of the Tour
de France just do not look like any other sports photography you
have seen, ask him what his major was in college.
Startt concentrated on art history in college eventually studying
photography as a Masters student at Indiana University. So it
comes as little surprise that art and history merge in Startts
first book, Tour de France/Tour de Force (Chronicle books).
The true tour de force of Startts book resides in its accessibility
to hard-core fans and general public enthusiasts alike. The attractive
page layout, which juxtaposes archival photographs with Startts
more recent coverage, does much in guiding the reader through
key moments of the Tours history, from its grueling, six-day-long
debut held in 1903 to the drug scandals of the past few years.
Startts photos draw the viewer into every frame, making you feel
like a part of the action. By varying shutter speeds and using
grab shots, a technique in which the photographer quickly snaps
away at a moving subject, Startt manages to capture spontaneous,
even gritty, close-ups of the cyclists.
Far from simple illustrations of the Tours great moments, Startts
pictures tell a story. A story of the pain, agony and emotion
that are all a part of professional cycling of which the level
of effort, according to Startt, are three notches above the Olympic
trials in which he participated in 1992.
But the athletes themselves are only part of the story. Spectators
who appear to share the riders emotion make up an integral part
of almost every picture. I aim to capture the emotions of the
spectators and show the relation between the rider and their fans.
The fan is an active part of the Tour. Thats why I dont like
barriers, Startt explains. Though he is quick to add that you
dont need to be a fan to appreciate the human drama there is
in professional cycling.
Tour de France/Tour de Force (Chronicle Press), with an introduction
by Greg Lemond and preface by Samuel Abt, is available at WH Smith,
Brentanos, Village Voice and other English-language bookstores.
The French version (/seyuk-Chronicle) can be found at FNAC. And
twelve of his photos are exhibited at the Montparnasse FNAC (136
rue de Rennes, 6e)