The Road Marshall

A Tour de France photo essay

American photographer Marshall Kappel was at the Tour de France for Rapha this year, casting his artful eye upon La Grand Boucle as part of our More than a race campaign. As the paint fades from the mountain roads, and the riders enjoy some well deserved lie-ins, he presents his favourite photographs from the race, and the stories behind them.


Stage 1

Le Grand Départ

Mont St. Michel is quite a hike from the closest parking area where the team buses and crowds were parked. The riders had the luxury of cycling to the start line, but the rest of us, fans and photographers alike, had to walk the 4km to and from the base for the actual Grand Départ. As I meandered my way towards it, the rumble of voices against the waves was shockingly interrupted as eight French Mirage jets skyrocketed overhead in a blaze of blue, white and red. The great race was at hand and my heart leapt in tune with the fast firing of my camera’s shutter.


Stage 2

Saint-Lô to Cherbourg

I’d been invited to the VIP double-decker mobile home at the finish in Cherbourg and thoughts of cold beer and champagne were swirling after a very hot and rainy day chasing the peloton. As a photographer seeking the action or the unusual, I often skirt behind the crowds one way or another, but facing out over a sea of multi-coloured hats brought the magnitude of this into perspective. At that moment, Geraint Thomas came barreling across the finish line to the grand cheers of the fans.


Stage 7

L’Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle

Following another long day in the saddle, riders like Geraint Thomas are engulfed by reporters hoping to be the first to capture a word or two. I stay back, away from the finish line and use the framing of other reporters’ shoulders and equipment to tell the story.


Stage 7

L’Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle

This was late in the summer evening following Stage 7 and as I climbed to the top of the Col de Tourmalet, the sun was gleaming brilliantly through the clouds. It was a moment of calm before the following day’s excitement.


Stage 8

Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon

This is Team Sky effortlessly guiding Froome over the top of the Col de Tourmalet. I expected the fans to be wild, but thankfully, there was quite a lot of space left for the riders. This Tour the organisers sent out more than one set of advance motorcycles warning fans of coming too close to the riders, a move that all the teams supported.


Stage 9

Vielha to Andorra

A wild day of sun, rain, hail the size of marbles, raindrops the size of marbles, wind, more rain and then later in the day even more rain. This was taken as I struggled to run almost 7km down the final climb in the thick rain to where I had parked. I wondered if the stage would be halted, but nothing stops the magic, inconsistency and unpredictability of the Tour de France.


Stage 10

Andorra to Carcassonne

As I drove out of Andorra the clouds engulfed the road. I knew somehow this would be the place to shoot. Other photographers slowed, then drove on, fearing the clouds would make a shot impossible. Then, five minutes after this was taken, the clouds cleared and the peloton wove its way from one level to another back into France.


Stage 11

Carcassonne to Montpellier

The frenzy and folly of the caravan is not just for kids. Here, a policeman looks on with indifference as kids, mothers and grandmothers alike dive for free madeleines.


Stage 12

Montpellier to Mont Ventoux

Didn’t we all know Ventoux would be special? The sun was hot, the crowds immense and rowdy, and the anticipation of some grand event sat somewhere precariously in our minds. I chose a spot crouching at the feet of some fans and then heard the news that Froome had crashed. Moments later he appeared awkwardly on a bight yellow Canyon unable to pedal properly. Blocked by the gendarmes from chasing after him, he passed through the narrow tunnels to cries and gasps, none of us knowing what had happened.


Stage 12

Montpellier to Mont Ventoux

Cycling is and always has been a grassroots sport, and while team budgets may be in the millions, even Chris Froome stays with the general public at the closest Campanile or Ibis hotel. I do the same… except for today! I booked a small B&B in the shadow of Ventoux and as I gazed out from my balcony over the fields, the fire in the setting sun hit the summit. I grabbed my camera and handheld this very long exposure to burn in the details. Another magic moment on this mysterious mountain.


Stage 13

Bourg-Saint-Andéol to La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc

My favorite pursuit: the time trial. I arrived early in Bourg-Saint-Andéol to capture World Time Trial Champion Vasil Kiryienka. Witnessing ‘Kiry’ warming up in his new Rapha world champ’s skinsuit was a sight to behold.


Stage 15

Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz

As the helicopters approached the polka-dot lined mountain pass of Le Grand Colombier the heat of the late afternoon sun, the whirl of wind mixed with screams almost felt like a religious experience.


Stage 18


Similar to the TT on Stage 13, I shot a bit of the warm up then followed in my car behind Tony Martin to a preselected position on the final climb. The mottled light is difficult to shoot in because faces are either overexposed or underexposed, but I knew the bright light opposite the Union Jack would be perfect for Froome’s roaring entrance.


Stage 19

Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc

Another rainy day in the Alps. Given the complex logistics of mountaintop finishes, particularly in the Alps (one road in, one road out), I decided to leave my car at the bottom and take the cable car to the top before walking my way back down to pick my spots. Geraint came flying around a blind corner and I was lucky to frame him against the snowcapped mountains. It’s crooked, but I like this dynamic as it gives the photo a sense of chaotic movement.


Stage 21

Chantilly to Paris

The late start in Chantilly makes for a perfect sunset finish along the Champs-Élysées. Still enough light for the team to take and compare selfies on the podium!

You can follow Marshall Kappel on Instagram and Twitter.