A Picture in Time
Date: July 7th, 1996
Where: Val d’Isere
Features: Jan Ullrich
By Andy Jones
This one goes back a bit, I took it inside the last few kilometres of the stage eight time trial of the 1996 Tour de France. It was a mountain time trial, mostly uphill for 30.5 kilometres from Bourg St Maurice to the Val d’Isere ski resort.
The stage was the second in the Alps, in a Tour de France dogged by terrible weather. Looking back now it seems like it either rained or was bitterly cold every day, and it even snowed in the Alps.
This stage went off okay, but as you can see from how the spectators are dressed it wasn’t warm. Next day the stage was drastically reduced due to snow. The riders were driven around the worst weather and the stage started almost at the bottom of the last climb. It was a road stage, but only about 46 kilometres long
Bjarne Riis won that shortened stage, took the yellow jersey and won the 1996 Tour de France, but it’s his young team mate Jan Ullrich in this photo. Ullrich was only 22 when it was taken, and this was his first Tour. He came sixth on this stage, which was won by the Russian, Evgeni Berzin. Ullrich ended up winning the white jersey for best young rider and finishing second overall to Riis.
I took the photo shortly after he emerged from last of the six tunnels on the road up to Val d’Isere, so not long after the riders past the Lac du Chevril, a reservoir held by the Barrage de Tignes. That’s normally a beautiful place, the sky-blue waters surrounded by near vertical mountainsides, but it was very drab and dank that day, and the mountains more intimidating than spectacular.
I used my Nikon F90 camera and 35-135mm lens to take the shot, with the lens set at 65mm. I also used fill-in flash because of the dark cloudy day, and the photo was taken on Velvia 200ISO film. It’s so long since I took it I had to clean some spots and scratches off the transparency.
I like this photo because Ullrich has no glasses or helmet on, so you can see the effort he’s making, the pain on his face and the concentration and determination in his eyes. Such a shame that the young man in this photo, who is fighting to beat his rivals in a bike race, seems to be fighting his own demons now. I hope he comes out okay.