From the Front Line of … Le Tour de France Yorkshire

by George Hodgson … on the Côte de Grinton Moor

The day Le Tour came to Swaledale

The greatest annual sporting event on my doorstep proved to be an opportunity I couldn’t miss. But with every bed in Yorkshire anywhere near the route booked for over a year and with the roads closing at midnight or the wee small hours it meant camping was the only option. I stayed at the Dales Bike Centre just outside Reeth near Grinton where Stuart the owner went out of his way to create a carnival atmosphere. He certainly succeeded with a very reasonably priced bar, fast food vans, clean toilets and showers, even providing free face painting. Emma Salmons of Fairy Wings Face Painting must have painted hundreds of tour-themed faces over two days. Incredibly the queue just didn’t seem to go down and everywhere you looked you could see her handy work.

Saturday 5th July 2014 – Stage 1 of the Tour de France Grande Depart from Leeds to Harrogate via the Yorkshire Dales

From the early hours it rained, not just pitter-patter, but thundering on the tent like a true rock drummer doing one of those drum solo’s that go way past their sell by date. I awoke, if that’s the right term because I honestly can’t remember going to sleep, at 6 am. I had had enough of heavy rain on canvas, and moved to the comfort of my car to clean my camera gear and listen to the radio. The forecast was good for the day and the sky soon cleared to reveal a sunny morning. Everything dried very quickly – the ground was well drained and unlike Glastonbury it was not a mud bath.

Preparing for the shoot

I asked myself how do I shoot the Tour? Something I’ve never done before and realised I needed to make a decision of aiming for flat or climb. The flat would give me more possibility for setting the shot up, even panning, but the time for the whole field to go past would be 5 to 10 seconds. I picked a good spot on the apex of a bend that gave me a good view unimpeded by other spectators. I took several test shots of passing cyclists but it did not give me confidence I would get a good shot of the pro’s. The Peleton would be packed together at high speed with the riders concentrating and, in all probability, showing little emotion. The category 3 climb up on to Grinton Moor slows the field down and extends that time to 20 possibly 30 seconds and after a recce I picked my spot just after a cattle grid. This would cause a bottleneck and I figured would slow and string out the Peleton. The Pro’s would be moving a lot slower, thinned out and working harder, a chance for more quality images. The crowds and the atmosphere would be bigger and more up tempo and the hours I would be up there would give me ample opportunity to get some people shots.

Getting into position

Decision made gear packed I joined the crowds in a never ending sea of pedestrians and cyclists heading up the King of the Mountains Cat 3 climb. The atmosphere was building and the banter was starting, everyone was smiling and you just knew it was going to be a good day. After claiming my spot on the mountain I ran through a few test shots. The light was changing from one minute to the next varying from bright sunlight to quite subdued light while clouds passed by. I set up both my Canon cameras, one with a 18-55 mm kit lens and the other with a 55-250 mm when it was cloudy, then reset the cameras for the bright sunshine making a mental note of the different settings. The next 3 hours was spent in the best of company with thousands of spectators who literally walked for miles to cheer the riders on. What a fantastic atmosphere and it truly was a remarkable experience to witness.

The Action!

Then it started, the pre race caravan, with its carnival atmosphere distributing freebees, took almost an hour to pass. It was quiet for about 30 minutes then the five helicopters came into view and the buzz of anticipation went up from the crowds. The motor cycle outriders were next and then the lone leader Jens Voigt. What support he got!   Two minutes later the Peleton, five abreast came up the hill funnelled into the cattle grid just below me and lost all speed with riders stopping and having to filter in to a maximum of three abreast. This strung them out as I had hoped and allowed me extra shooting time. Next came the team cars with their racks of spare bikes and a dozen or more police outriders and soon they were gone.

After the race passed

We made a subdued descent to the camp site for a beer and a front seat to watch the rest of the stage on the big screen. The anticipation of our boy Mark Cavendish winning in Harrogate got everyone buzzing. The collective gasp and groan that went up when he crashed on the run-in to the line was followed by an uneasy silence that transported everyone from euphoria to disbelief in an instant.

The images I captured say it all. They may not be competition winners but do tell a story. They will always remind me of the day Le Tour de France reached its most northerly point in its entire history and I was there on the Côte de Grinton Moor.

George Hodgson

July 2014

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