Admit it, even with the Vuelta a Espana just around the corner, and whether or not Bradley Wiggins was your choice for the yellow jersey, the end of the Tour brings with it a state of dissatisfaction. There’s an ennui that no other race can fill, even with the epic showdown of this year’s Vuelta looming.
Well, there’s a cream for that itch. It’s called “The Greatest Race” and if it’s not the finest photo book on the Tour de France ever assembled, it’s certainly on the podium. The Greatest Race is the result of a two-year project by photographer Mike Powell. We did a post roughly a year ago about the book as it was being prepared for publication. It was published last year but for reasons that are anything but clear, the publisher chose not to distribute it in the U.S.
My heart sank on that piece of news.
In the wonders-never-cease department the book is now available through Amazon. Which is all the occasion I needed to revisit Powell’s work. We spoke earlier this summer about what makes the work in this book so different from what you generally see from other photographers. Credit where due, James Startt is an exceedingly brave shooter and one who won’t settle for formula. A quick look at my bookcases will reveal no less than four coffee-table books by Graham Watson. He’s captured thousands of images that helped define the sport for me.
As we talked, Powell said what set this project apart from other assignments he’s had at the Tour de France was that he wasn’t on assignment as a journalist. There were no requirements that each day he capture the breakaway, that he find some scenic shot of fans enjoying a lazy day, that he be in the photographer’s scrum at the finish. He was free to pursue the shots that he found the most compelling. What can be difficult for the average fan to understand is that when you’re a brand-name photographer there’s a need to deliver each and every day. Experimentation isn’t something that plays well with a need to have something for an online report or a magazine feature. By necessity most photographers end up shooting nearly the same formula each and every year.
Powell explained how in working on this book he had the freedom to spend a whole day pursuing a particular image. Not many photographers get the opportunity to chase such windmills. Of course, not many photographers have the credentials Powell does. As the former head photographer of AllSport (later purchased by Getty Images), Powell can be credited with a great many truly iconic sports shots. He is arguably one of the greatest track and field shooters, ever. If a moment can be captured, he’ll get it, tack-sharp, and from the perfect perspective.
I don’t mind saying that this is less a book review than an explicit endorsement. Flipping through the book makes the Tour fresh and intimate, reminding me of the occasions I’ve been there and giving me a window into events I didn’t have the chance to enjoy. It does more to capture the totality of the race than any other photo book I’ve ever seen.
Enjoy the shots. And if you don’t pick the book up yourself, you might consider sending this link to your sweet one before Christmas rolls around: The Greatest Race.
Images: Mike Powell