A Picture in Time
Date: July 27th, 1998.
Where: Les Deux-Alpes
Features: Marco Pantani winning the 1998 Tour de France
Words and photo by: Andy Jones
I took this photo 20 years ago this year, it’s from stage 15 of the 1998 Tour de France. The stage ran from Grenoble to Les Deux-Alpes, it was 189kms (117 miles) long and included the climbs of the Croix de Fer, the Télégraphe and the Galibier. The final climb was up to the stage finish at Les Deux-Alpes ski station, and the weather was terrible.
At the start of the day the German Tour winner from the previous year, Jan Ullrich had the yellow jersey and Marco Pantani was just over three minutes behind him in fourth place. But as the race unfolded the bad weather deteriorated and heavy rain added to what was already a tough day.
I was an accredited photographer on the race, riding pillion on a motorbike with a blue race plaque. That meant I could go ahead or behind the race but not in it, which requires a higher level of accreditation. So I spent the day up ahead, trying to pick the best place for my pictures that day.
Coming off the Galibier in the rain was; well, let’s say it was interesting. You could feel the back wheel of the motorbike twitching in the corners because rainwater was streaming across some parts of the road.
I decided that the last climb would be the best place to stop and photograph the action. I'd kept my cameras as dry as possible all day, but I still had my fingers crossed everything would work when it came to the moment.
I knew Pantani had attacked on the Galibier and Ullrich was unable to follow. By the final climb, where I was waiting, Pantani led Roldofo Massi and Fernando Escartin by nearly two minutes and Ullrich was way back. By the time he got to me Pantani was winning the Tour de France.
I stood between four and five kilometres from the finish line, and this is the image I achieved in the gloom and rain of that epic day with my Nikon F90, flash and Provia 400 ISO film. With the conditions as they were, with the equipment I had, you only really get to fire off one frame, two if you were lucky. It's so different nowadays with modern digital cameras.
I love the focus and effort you can see in Pantani's face, and the reflection of his bike on the road below. Pantani took the stage and the yellow jersey, with Ullrich trailing in nearly nine minutes behind him. It was enough for Pantani to take the jersey all the way to Paris, the first Italian to win the Tour since Felice Gimondi in 1965.