Behind the Job – Tour de France

So something new that I’m going to try and do here on ‘Room 2850‘ is to pick some of the stories I’ve covered and then explain a little bit about the back story of how I came to get the shot or shots. Maybe throw in a few technical details here and there on camera settings and all that kind of stuff and generally ramble on about what happened….in the main I’ll use a single picture from each job but to open this idea I’m going to include three pictures, each taken over the 3 days that I covered the Tour de France when it came to Yorkshire.


The Tour de France Grand Depart hit Yorkshire like a whirlwind! For weeks, months even, before the event small villages in remote areas of the Yorkshire countryside were buzzing with talk of the Tour.

Street decorations, signs, bunting and yellow bicycles were cropping up everywhere as the day of the Grand Depart from Harewood House near Leeds drew nearer. Impromptu campsites sprung up all over the place in fields, sports grounds and on random patches of grass – more about this later – and the excitement started to build even amongst those who weren’t keen cyclists. I was shooting the weekend for Getty Images and had been given a broad brief about the requirements but it’s always good to be prepared for a ‘plan B‘ in case things change and in this case that was a good thing!

I went to Harewood House the day before the start to cover the prep and build up of fans and spectators arriving to camp within the grounds of the stately home for the weekend but as the slow trickle of people arrived and the rain came down it became obvious that the pictures weren’t really coming. So knowing that the start – and the royals – was going to be covered by another Getty photographer I got the word to go and find ‘a typical Yorkshire village‘…..and thus, Plan B kicked in!

1 Harewood House 003.jpg Day 1 – A cyclist rides passed Harewood House the day before the Grand Depart


After a quick scan of the route the name that jumped out straight away was Ilkley. So I packed up my gear into my Land Rover and headed over there. With a huge amount of roads in the area being closed at different times for the race and with thousands of people in the area to watch it was always going to be hard to find somewhere to stop. I definitely didn’t want to park on some road or street that was to be part of the race the following day and subsequently find my car getting towed! So the search was on to find somewhere as close as possible to the main centre of the town.

Fortunately after sitting in a slow moving snake of traffic all the way to Ilkley I happened to glance out of my window and noticed two things. Firstly a fish and chip shop! This is always a good thing to see when you’re hungry and secondly a small sign next to it saying ‘Camp Site’ and an arrow pointing down some side street. I knew I was virtually in the centre of town so in the true spirit of adventure and because of the chip shop I made a turn to check it out…

On further investigation I found a sign saying ‘Camping’ with a mobile number written below it on a fence post on the edge of a small strip of grass outside a scout hut. So I called the number and spoke to a chap who said he would come along and see me. Ten minutes later I was parked up, paid up and ready to head back along to the fish and chip shop for some food!


The following morning was an early start to get some build-up shots as spectators prepared themselves along the route for when the Peleton passed through the town. It also offered a good opportunity to check out a few potential spots that might work for pictures before it became too busy to move through the crowds later. I wanted to try and get at least one wide shot, preferably from a higher viewpoint so I went in and spoke to the manager of The Crescent Inn which is situated right in the centre of the town. They were really helpful and made space in one of the top floor rooms that was used as a storage room for bedding, sheets and towels.

After working the crowds for the hours leading up to the time when the Peleton was due to arrive I headed into the Crescent Inn and went and waited in the room. As the time drew closer the crowds became more and more enthusiastic and cheered pretty much anything and everything that passed them by on the road. Police motorcyclists, official cars, delivery trucks or any other vehicles were cheered as they passed but anyone who rode past on a bicycle – especially the young kids – with cheered with as much enthusiasm as if the lead riders themselves were passing by.

As the time for the riders to pass approached the pre-race caravan passed by throwing sweets and assorted merchandise out into the crowds. Loud music blared out from huge speakers wired onto the flat bed trucks that carried the young women who through out the ‘goodies’. The loudest cheer of the day went out as the ‘Yorkshire Tea’ truck passed by. At this point, apart from craving a cup of tea I’m taking a few pictures from the window on my longer lens. Trying to isolate some of the crowds and get some of the atmosphere. Once it was obvious that the caravan had passed and seeing the swarm of TV helicopters start to come overhead it was time to change to a wider lens.

Leaning out as far as I could, standing on tip toe with a high wall of sheets and blankets leaning precariously against me and threatening to fall at any minute I got ready for the Peleton. The light was changing all the time with bright sun one minute then clouds passed by and the light levels dropped so I hoped for at least some good light on the riders but not too much to make too many shadows from the buildings.

I had manually pre-focussed on a spot on the road. This wasn’t really the time for the auto-focus on the Nikon D3s I was using to decide to hunt around and risk missing the pictures and I was on the widest lens I had – a 28mm f2.8 – to try and get as much in the picture as I could. I would have preferred to have gone wider though if I could have. I was shooting at 1/800th of a second at f8 and was at 800 ISO.

You knew they were close because a collective cheer went up further along the road and built as they got closer. A wall of noise carrying the riders through. Then as they approached I picked my moment and began to shoot a few frames.

Thirty seconds later it was all over. The Peleton had passed and ridden through to the next town. Time to head back to my truck as quickly as possible to begin editing and then file the pictures back to the desk.


Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 20.13.17My spot – Top floor, fourth window from the left in the Crescent Inn


Day 2 – The Peleton passes through Ilkley in Yorkshire on Stage 1 of the Tour de France


After waiting for the roads to re-open in Ilkley I then headed off to another impromptu campsite/field that I had found a couple of days earlier and pre-booked. One of the few that wasn’t full and which was near (ish) to the big hill climb on stage 2 at Holme Moss. Driving for just over an hour to the site I was making good time until the road I needed to use to reach the site was closed by police. The stage wasn’t even due to pass there until the next day but already the road had been closed. No amount of sweet talk by me could persuade them to let me through so a slightly altered route was needed to make my way to the campsite/field.

I won’t bore everyone with all the details of the journey but suffice to say that a good Ordnance Survey map of the area, a 4×4 vehicle and a very broad interpretation of trespass laws allowed me to find my way onto a road that would take me to the campsite/field I was looking for and soon enough I was parked up with a beer or three ready to go.

The thing with large events similar to these is that you’re kind of working all the time. You need some time to ‘admin’ yourself and your gear of course but when whatever is happening doesn’t occur very often then you need to shoot as much of what’s going on as possible. So even though I was parked up and ready for the next day I had to get some shots of the campsite and of those who had made this random field in the middle of Yorkshire their home for the night. So I wandered through the site for a bit shooting a few pictures and chatting to some of the people. There was a good vibe, the wine and beer flowed, kids ran around playing on the field and everyone was in a good mood in anticipation for the following day. I headed back to the truck, edited and filed the pictures in…I was able to get a good enough signal on my mifi to get on the t’internet which had been a concern – and then sorted my gear out for the next day.



Essential pre-tour administration sorted

I said earlier that the campsite/field was close(ish) to the hill at Holme Moss. Now close is all relative I suppose as it turned out to be about an hour and a half steady walk from the campsite/field to the hill. An hour and a half that meant quite literally that those heading to the hill would have to walk up hill and down dale to get there. So this presented a few logistical issues I had to consider. I had to carry my laptop, Mifi and associated ‘stuff’ that I would need to file my pictures. I didn’t know if I would get a signal from the hill but I had to try. It wasn’t like I could nip back to my truck to send them and I had to carry enough camera gear to ensure I could cover what I hoped to get. My only concern was battery power for the laptop!

So the following morning it was an early start and a leisurely walk to the hill. As I went I shot a few pictures of those other happy campers making the walk through what has to be said was a very lovely part of the world. The farmer who owned the field had very kindly assisted those who visited his campsite/field by laying a route marked every few meters with pink ribbons tied to markers or fence posts. All the way from the site to the hill which was a very considerate thing to do. I did however hear a few people commenting on the hill later on how they were going to get back after seeing a lot of people carrying small pieces of wire with pink ribbons attached to them sticking out of their rucksacks!

So I had arrived on Holme Moss hill. The path had brought me out near to the ‘S’ bends about half way up. Thankfully though there were a couple of burger vans parked here so it offered a good opportunity to not only recover from the walk in but prepare myself for what would be a busy and physically demanding morning making my way up and down the hill several times to get as many pictures of the day as I could in the build up to the Peleton passing through. I thought the best way to prepare for this was to have a coffee, a bacon bap and a fag and so, suitably prepared in the healthiest of ways off I went to join the throng on the hill and shoot a few pictures…

I’ve put a link to my original blog post at the bottom of this post where further pictures can be seen but the picture below is one that I like. I shot a few of this chap and his dog who were just chilling on the hill and watching the chaos below them as the crowds built. He lived in Holmfirth, a village at the bottom of the hill and had walked up here for the day. I don’t think he was a huge cycling fan to be honest but like many people he was just enjoying the occasion and every so often his mobile would ring and he would go into discussion with someone. He told me that his wife and daughter were in 2 separate locations on the approach to the hill and were sending him regular updates on the current location of the Peleton. He gave me the nod when they were 10 minutes away. Can’t beat local knowledge!

Now I had already filed some pictures in by this point from the hill. Surprisingly I was able to get a signal and the pictures zapped away at a reassuring rate and I felt a sense of relief that every photographer who has to file pictures in will know when they have a picture desk waiting for your stuff. So as the Peleton came and went I shot away and was reasonably happy that things were going to be ok to get the pictures out. The second feeling I then had was the frustration and annoyance that once again every photographer who has to file pictures will know when you then, for no logical reason can not get a signal for love nor money despite being in virtually the same place as earlier! The huge amount of technical knowledge I have (not) guessed wildly that the volume of traffic passing through the networks from all the crowds trying to tweet and update their Facebook status with random selfy’s may have been the culprit but nonetheless my pictures were going nowhere fast and I wandered around the hill sides of Yorkshire with my laptop held up above my head trying desperately to get something, anything that looked like a hint of a signal.

Failing miserably and tired of looking like a dickhead for the day (…”Daddy what’s that man doing..?”. “I don’t know son, come over here next to me...”) and noticing that I had 3% of battery life remaining on my laptop I decided there was only one thing to do. Head back to my truck. So it was time to forget all this leisurely bimble through the woods civvie stuff and for the ‘army head‘ to come back out and ‘tab‘ back as quickly as possible to my Land Rover….to an internet signal…..and to a power supply and my kettle. Now in military speak to ‘tab’ is basically to walk really, really quickly so after looking like a demented hill walker to the crowds ambling back through the countryside I reduced the walk to 45 minutes (not too bad for an old bloke) and arrived back and quickly began the process of turning the pictures around.


5 - Waiting 003.jpgDay 3 – A man from nearby Holmfirth sits with his dog watching the crowds build as the race approaches Holme Moss on Stage 2


So after all this adventure did the pictures make anywhere? Which is pretty much the point of it all really…well fortunately I had a few good shows in print and on-line and they were picked up by publications and websites in a number of places around the world such as The GuardianCBS News , The Telegraph Al Jazeera AmericaThe Metro and ESPN sport amongst a few others and it’s always good to see your work being used so I was happy with the result.

The three days spent eating, living, sleeping, editing and filing and using the truck as a base from which to work had come to an end and it was time to head off. All being said the truck did really well as I expected and I don’t have any real issues in preparation for the next time I use it like this although I do plan to fit a second ‘leisure’ battery to help with charging requirements…oh and to pack more Bulmers…obviously!



The Truck! This is the campsite I stopped at on the third night after leaving Ilkley to cover Stage 2 at Holme Moss

FilingKettle on and ready to start editing and filing pictures back to the desk

downloadSleeping in the back of the truck



 You can see my blog post called ‘The Yorkshire Effect‘ which contains many of my other pictures from my three days of covering the Tour…… HERE

See more of my photographic work over on my website and blogs…… HERE

Images remain copyright Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

The Yorkshire effect

The helicopters buzzing around overhead indicated that it was getting closer. That finally and after many hours the waiting was almost over.

The relentless rise of cheering voices, the sound of whistles blowing and of cow bells being rung let everyone knew that it was almost upon them.

The cars and motorbikes sped past. Police motor cycle riders high-fived the crowds lining the streets. The sound of endless car horns left your head buzzing. Public address systems mounted on official looking cars shouted out instructions. Something in French that not many could really understand. Something about not standing too close. Nobody could really hear it anyway. Nobody seemed to care.

Then it was upon them. Speeding past in a blur of colours. Pumping legs and a bobbing sea of cycling helmets. An unfamiliar crescendo of noise as nearly 200 hundred riders roared past, their pedals turning fast. A rush of air washed over those standing close and the cheering reached a new, louder peak.


The Tour de France Peloton had arrived. In fact no, let me add to that. The Tour de France Peloton had arrived in Yorkshire and the people of Yorkshire were just a bit excited about that.

For the first time in the 111-year history of the race three of the stages were to be held in the UK. The 190km Stage 1 ran from Leeds to Harrogate. Stage 2, the longest of the three at 201km went from York to Sheffield and Stage 3 started in Cambridge and ended 155km later in London.

But over the first two days it was the people of Yorkshire who really took hold of this race and made it their own. The months of planning, the endless organising and logistical arrangements along every stretch of the route was all geared towards those 15 or 20 seconds when the Peloton raced past.

It is estimated that 2.5 million people lined the roads for the first two stages of the tour! That amounts to half the population of Yorkshire!

Bunting was strung out over the streets. The colours of the race – from the race jerseys – was the theme. White, green, yellow and white with red polka dots was everywhere. On cars, in windows, painted on sheep, on flags, drawn on the side of hills, hanging from lamp posts, painted onto people…it covered everything.

Wherever you went in Yorkshire there seemed to be a push bike of some description either propped up against or hanging from something and every single one of them was sprayed yellow. If you’ve always had an ambition to start a yellow bike re-cycling business then I would suggest now is the time.


The Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme, described Yorkshire’s Grand Depart as the “grandest” in the history of the race. Asked whether Le Tour will return to the UK, Mr Prudhomme said: “Yes. The question is not if, but when, although I don’t have the answer for the second part.

“Thank you. It was unbelievable. I can see the Tour in their hearts, and in their eyes. For that, I say thank you to everyone in Yorkshire who has made this Grand Depart so very, very special.”


The five-time Tour victor Bernard Hinault said that it was the first time in four decades he had seen such crowds.


Whether you’re ‘into‘ your cycling or not anyone who watched this event from the streets or from the hills of Yorkshire couldn’t help but feel caught up in the buzz that surrounded it. The build up to the Peloton arriving was a huge part of the event. The participation of the crowd. A young boy of around 5 or 6 cycling through the main street of Ilkley was cheered and encouraged as loudly as the race leader by onlookers. The 4-seater quad cycle making its way slowly up the steep hill of Holme Moss was treated to the shouts, the whistles and the ringing cow bells that all potential ‘King of the Hill’ riders get. Anyone and everyone on a bike was cheered along as a prelude to the main race passing by.


As for me? Well I was living, sleeping and eating out of my Land Rover for the three days I covered the event for Getty Images . I spent the Friday looking at the build up at Harewood House near Leeds prior to the start the following day. A wet and grey day that lacked a little of the colour that was needed to help lift the occasion.

On Saturday as the sun shone and the weather improved I covered the race and the crowds in Ilkley during Stage 1 before finally making my way further south to cover the Holme Moss climb on Stage 2 on the Sunday.


I’ve put a few of my pictures below and have broken them down in to the various parts that I covered. Enjoy.


Harewood House – The day before the ‘Grand Depart’…..

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Ilkley sees the Peloton arrive on stage 1…..

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One of the many impromptu campsites that sprung up to cater for spectators along the route – this one was just over an hours walk to the Holme Moss hill climb…..

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From the surrounding campsites spectators made the long walk in to get to the hill…..

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…and then they waited. Until the pre-race caravan past by to entertain the crowds before the Peloton made its way up Holme Moss hill…

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Some of the photographs I saw coming out from other photographers during these stages were pretty amazing – the sort of pictures where you say to yourself “Shit! I wish I’d thought of that or done that!” But you can’t be everywhere and you can only keep working hard to get into a position that might work and do the best you can throughout the job and to be honest I’m reasonably pleased with the pictures I shot – but I’m never fully happy! No photographer ever is.

But nonetheless many of the pictures I shot have started to appear all over the place as a result. Too many links to put here and bore everyone with but I’ve seen some of the pictures used as far afield as St Louis in America to Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald.

On various websites forming part of the global coverage that this race in Yorkshire has received from the likes of CBS News, Al Jazeera, BBC, The Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, The Metro, Eurosport and so it goes on. As a photographer it’s always good to see your work out there, of course it is, but also to be part of the coverage of an event of this magnitude is a very rewarding experience even for a non-cyclist like myself.



See more of my work on my website and blogs via the link here

    Images remain copyright Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

No reproduction or usage without permission