How Robert Capa captured Tour de France’s essence and began a tradition | Richard Williams

Photographer’s famous images from a pre-war Tour are among those celebrated in a new book that reminds us of the race’s rich visual literature

To understand the joy, the beauty and the sheer humanity of the Tour de France, look no further than the photographs Robert Capa took outside Pierre Cloarec’s bike shop in Quimper on 13 July 1939. Although a devastating war was only a handful of weeks away, there were no shadows on the faces of those waiting for the race to pass by on its way through Brittany.

The most famous of these images are two pictures taken from the same position, a vantage point on the pavement opposite Monsieur Cloarec’s shop. The first shows a group of about 20 people, mostly children and young men, with faces turned in eager anticipation of the riders’ arrival. The second shows them a few seconds later, their heads swivelled in the opposite direction to watch as the peloton disappears, a sense of wonder in their expressions. It will be the same next month as it was a lifetime ago: you wait all day, it’s gone in a few seconds, and you never forget it.

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