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Spain's Abraham Olano
© James Startt
Tour 2000
by Zoe Mezin

Will Armstrong win again ?


M
y 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 sport’s 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 1990.
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, he’s 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 a winner.
This year’s competition promises to be a thriller as Armstrong returns to defend his title against 180 of the world’s finest bicycle riders.
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 Poitier’s Futuroscope in western France, previously used in 1990, riders will battle their way through the Hexagon’s diverse landscapes. From Brittany’s lushly undulating countryside to Southern France’s formidable mountain ranges, the Pyrenees and the Alps, this year’s 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 team’s fifth of nine riders across the line is given to all of the first five. Two other retro additions to the Tour’s 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 race’s 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 Master’s student at Indiana University. So it comes as little surprise that art and history merge in Startt’s first book, Tour de France/Tour de Force (Chronicle books).
The true tour de force of Startt’s book resides in its accessibility to hard-core fans and general public enthusiasts alike. The attractive page layout, which juxtaposes archival photographs with Startt’s more recent coverage, does much in guiding the reader through key moments of the Tour’s history, from its grueling, six-day-long debut held in 1903 to the drug scandals of the past few years.
Startt’s 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 Tour’s great moments, Startt’s 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. That’s why I don’t like barriers,” Startt explains. Though he is quick to add that “you don’t 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, Brentano’s, 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)


Italy's Mario Cipollini'
© James Startt

Lance Armstrong '99 Tour winner
© James Startt

US Postal service accompanying Lance Armstrong for the Victory rider
© James Startt

© James Startt