A veteran of 25 Tours de France, James Startt is the senior American journalist in the press room of the world’s biggest bike race. From January to November every year, Startt travels the world following "La Petite Reine," as cycling is known affectionately in France. Here is just a small selection of some of his favorite images from 2014.Above: The Town of Sisteron in the foothills of the southern Alps is a common point of passage for the Tour de France. Napoleon passed through on his return from Elba in 1815, and nearly 200 years later, the Tour riders crossed the Durance River underneath the Baume Rock as they rolled through Sisteron.
Bragging rights for the best early-season race vary year to year, but the Tour of San Luis has made good arguments in recent years. I discovered the race for the first time this year and immediately understood why riders like Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, and recent Tour de France winner Vicenzo Nibali frequent this sun-drenched South American race. Far from the pressures of the World Tour circuit, the ambiance is simply unmatched.
Known as "The Race to the Sun," the French Paris-Nice race is one of bicycle racing’s time-honored institutions. As tradition has it, the riders always roll past the majestic Hotel Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais in downtown Nice on the final day.
Colombian cyclist Carlos Betancur prepares for the final stage of the Paris-Nice race. The explosive rider dominated the week-long race in March, but did little for the rest of the season. Don’t expect a long and glorious career from this 25-year-old pro, but rather one filled with flashes of brilliance.
Without a doubt my favorite single-day race is the epic cobblestoned classic Paris-Roubaix. Every year I wait for the riders at this corner near the end of the first section of cobblestones just outside of Troisvilles. While more than 25 cobbled sections still await, those who hope to win are already well-placed here. And this year proved no exception as eventual winner Niki Terpstra led four-time winner Tom Boonen through this 2.2-kilometer obstacle course.
The Arenberg Forest is to Paris-Roubaix what Heartbreak Hill is to the Boston Marathon. The iconic cobblestone road defines the bicycle race also known as "The Hell of the North." And while the race is rarely won here, it is often lost.
With a strong ninth-place finish in Paris-Roubaix, 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins found a new source of motivation for the final years of his career.
Poppy fields welcome the riders during the Dauphine Criterium, a key warm-up race to the Tour de France.
American Andrew Talansky proved to be the surprise winner of the prestigious Dauphine Criterium. The leader of the Garmin-Sharp team upstaged stars like Alberto Contador and Christopher Froome with a late-race attack on the final stage.
The Tour de France always maintains its reputation as cycling’s most popular event as fans of all ages wait for hours just to get a glimpse of the sport’s top stars.
I’ve covered the Tour de France for the past 25 years, but have never been so impressed with the roll-out we had in England this year where fans packed literally ever kilometer of the road during our three-day stint. Here the pack rolls out past King’s College in Cambridge at the start of stage three.
For me, the exploit of the year in cycling definitely went Vicenzo Nibali for his gutsy ride on the rain-slicked cobblestones during stage five of this year’s Tour de France. At the start, most thought the Italian would limit his losses at best. But by the end of the day, he increased his advantage with a incredible third-place performance.
One of the great aspects of the Tour de France is its connection to the heart and history of France. Here the peloton rolls past the Verdun battlefields as the race pays homage to World War I. It is always a very moving moment. The publicity caravan is not allowed to make noise and there are few fans as the riders roll by in uncharacteristic silence.
Fan turnout in the Pyrenees is always intense. And the narrow, winding roads leave little room for the riders to pass. But with an uncanny sense of precision, the wave of spectators always opens for the riders in the final seconds.
Polish rider Michal Kwiatowski was one of the sensations of the 2014 season. Although his Tour de France was unimpressive, it set the 24-year-old up perfectly for a strong late season, one where he became world champion.
Vicenzo Nibali (in yellow) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (second from right) lead the pack past the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Elysees on the final stage of the Tour de France.
In recent years, the Tour de l’Avenir has become one of my favorite races. A sort of mini-Tour de France for riders under 23, it provides a great opportunity to discover future talent. And after a month with the crazed crowds of the Tour, it is refreshing to roll through the French countryside uninhibited. Here the pack passed by the Roseland Lake on their way to the summit of the Cormet de Roseland, one of the most majestic passes in all of France.
If you don’t know Caleb Ewan yet, you will soon. For the past two years, the Australian has rocketed away from his competition in the sprint finishes at the Tour de l’Avenir, the world’s premier under-23 race. The 20-year-old pro will ride for the Orica-GreenEdge team in 2015. And don’t expect him to waste much time before he wins his first professional race.
Without a doubt two of my favorite races each year are the Grand Prix of Quebec and the Grand Prix of Montreal, North America’s only World Tour events. The two Canadian cities host many of the world’s best cyclists only weeks before the world championships for two days of intense racing. Here the peloton rolls past the historic port of Quebec on its way toward Quebec’s historic center.
Everybody’s favorite cyclist Jens Voigt just doesn’t know how to do anything halfway. And after spending 18 years cycling full-gas at the professional level it was only fitting that the 43-year old German would end his career in style. And that is exactly what he did when he opted to make the world hour record his swan song. Fittingly, it was a total success.
Au revoir champion!