Behind the scenes of winning the Tour de France
The Tour de France is the biggest cycling race in the world. I embedded with Team Jumbo-Visma and shot their victory behind the scenes, from finish to celebration, focusing on Jonas Vingegaard.
Winning the Tour de France has been the defining goal for Team Jumbo-Visma since it rose from the ashes of Rabobank. It actually stated the explicit goal of becoming a yellow jersey organisation. This means at all levels of the organisation, people should aspire to work at a level matching winning the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Winning that race this year was their crowning achievement and the biggest milestone in the team’s ten year existence.
Being present to capture the emotion of winning the biggest cycling race in the world was a personal highlight as well. The work of Pete Souza with president Barack Obama inspired me to shoot similar images in sports. It was my dream to capture behind the scenes images like his, in a similarly unique environment. Shooting the championship of PSV Eindhoven from the perspective of the players was one of my first highlights in this respect. I also captured similar images during the Pro League finals for FIH. To then get to document winning the Tour de France was pretty much the pinnacle of my cycling photography.
Tour de France victory parade on the Champs Élysées
I joined the team in Paris on the morning of the final stage. Jonas Vingegaard had virtually sealed his victory the day before in a time trial in Rocamadour. Today’s stage would mostly be a victory parade at a leisurely pace. Traditionally, the riders pop some champagne and the winning team crosses the finish line first. Then, after a few laps on the local circuit, a sprint for the win of the final stage ensues.
My mission for the day was to focus on how the riders and staff experienced the victory, with a special focus on Jonas Vingegaard. I’m not usually shooting in the race itself. Instead I go to the start and finish and join the team from there. This time, I went to the start of the stage for a few quick photos of the special bikes. It was also my chance to congratulate all the riders and staff who had been in the race for over three weeks.
From there, I hopped on a team car to get to the finish line in time to see the riders cross it for the first time. Next, the riders completed a few laps of the local circuit through Paris. This gave me a chance to shoot of few photos of the team’s riders on the iconic Champ Élysées. I also sought out some Danish fans to capture their enthusiasm.
Most meaningful photo of my career
After the stage was finished and the three-week race came to its conclusion, I ran to find my team’s riders. These first moments are often the most sincere. Riders find their loved ones, happy with the amazing result, and happy to be reunited with them again.
After these first moments of cheer, I followed the riders to a backstage area. Here, they put on some clean clothes and recover a bit before the podium ceremony.
It was here that I shot the most meaningful photo of my career. Jonas and Trine settled down on a couch and embraced in such a tender and loving way. I love how this photo resonates with people and how everyone sees a different story and emotion in it.
As soon as the podium ceremony was all done, the entire team hopped on cars and relocated to the Dutch ambassador to France’s residence. It was telling to see Jonas once more take the time and thank every single member of staff for their contribution, before we had a private dinner and small celebration.
Private plane escorted by fighters jets
Later that week, I joined Jonas again as he did a tour through Holland to to visit some sponsors. We also met up with Wout van Aert for the big celebration at the team’s headquarters in Den Bosch.
The very next day, we boarded a small private plane from Amsterdam to Copenhagen. At some point during the flight, the pilot drew our attention to two small blips on his radar. These were Danish airforce fighter jets, with the mission to escort us to the Copenhagen airport. A unique experience, with the jets flying so close to us that you could count the pilot’s fingers. Jonas got the opportunity to talk to the airforce pilots, who welcomed him back as champion.
Once we landed at the airport, the firefighters gave our plane the traditional honorary salute. From the small platform where our plane parked, a squad of police motorbikes escorted us. Quite a crowd of people had gathered at the terminal, but that crowd paled in comparison to what came next.
Our convoy drove from the airport to Copenhagen city hall, about a 15 kilometer drive. For pretty much the entire distance, on both sides of the road, people lined the street to see Jonas.
On the way there, we saw on social media that people had been waiting to see Jonas on the town square all day. Then we got there and saw this:
The place was completely packed, with people even spilling into the smaller streets leading away from the main square.
Give the people what they want
We made our way into town hall, where Copenhagen’s mayor hosted a reception. Jonas’ local cycling club joined him there, wearing the jersey he had worn for years. After Jonas had given a short speech, it was time to give the crowd what they wanted: to see Jonas wearing his yellow jersey, on the balcony overlooking the square. The balcony was actually so tiny it could only hold a few people. I had to take some photos through the small door that gave access to it. After a few frames I opted for a different angle, giving the other photographers present a chance to get some shots as well.
After traditional pancakes for lunch we snuck out the back of city hall and made our way into a van. This moment kind of felt like my Pete Souza moment, where you just go along in this logistical operation entirely set up to transport a famous and important individual to his appointments. With our police escort still clearing our way, we quickly reached Visma’s office building, where Jonas had some face time with one of the team’s two major sponsors.
Symbolic return after four weeks of Tour de France madness
Our last stop was a symbolic one. At the start of the Tour de France, a big team presentation was hosted in the middle of the iconic, nostalgic Tivoli theme park. Jonas had been moved to tears by the size of the crowd shouting his name, full of anticipation. Now, a full month later, he would return to the exact same spot.
We were dropped off at the park’s entrance and escorted to small amusement train carriages. Jonas and his partner boarded the first carriage, our cameraman Tijs and myself hopped on the second. It later turned out that this second carriage was actually intended for the other Danish riders who’d raced in the Tour. Completely unaware, we sat first row blocking these riders’ views. Sorry about that guys! It made for some funny images though.
The train took us to the stage, where Jonas and his colleagues were treated to the attention and respect they deserved for their accomplishments. After some more interviews and a private reception with some snacks, we said goodbye to Jonas and had some sushi at a place recommended by the Danish cycling foundation’s president.
This was a truly unique experience and possibly the highlight of my years shooting cycling. I feel this is also where I’m at my best: shooting behind the scenes images offering a unique view of a person, subculture or event. I’m so happy to have had this experience, and incredibly proud of what the team has achieved and how it has grown.
Both Jonas and Wout were kind enough to provide every member of the team with an original Tour de France jersey, which I’ll be proudly hanging in my office.