Winter Sun…escaping the rain

As soon as there was space in the house the Turbo came in and my outdoor winter miles dropped significantly. With the advent of Zwift those miles became more enjoyable, as many have repeat “Outside is free….inside is warm”

There’s no two ways about it, I’m a fair weather cyclist, any of my team mates will tell you that. Don’t think for a second that means I don’t go out in the cold, wind and rain. Of the few really long rides I’ve done this autumn/winter I’ve been soaked through, so cold my hands stopped working and did 93 miles into a constant headwind. This definitely fits into the extreme end of type 2 fun, a grim sense of satisfaction that I’d made it.

Given the option though I’d always take my perfect conditions of 25C, brilliant blue skies and a tailwind the whole way. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth I took the brief gap between jobs to go and sun myself and escape and week of downpours in the U.K. Initially looking at Mallorca but then deciding that it wasn’t warm enough so I set my sights on the Canaries and having been to Gran Canaria and Tenerife I thought I’d try Lanzarote….not a choice I would regret!

For the next 5 days I had glorious sunshine and some of the smoothest tarmac I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride…it’s so good, most of the island is worthy of a Tour de France stage finish.

Thinking it was flat because it didn’t have a giant mountain in the middle was a mistake though….it’s not flat.

An old friend from Uni would have probably described it as “rolling” but then he would have described anything less than a hard day in the alps as rolling.

The roads generally went gently up or gently down with a few biggies to test the legs or your nerve…there were even some switchbacks to enjoy.

The wind was the only downside, the volcanic peaks funnelled the wind beautifully, it was a case of switching between barrelling along in the tailwind, leaning hard into the often terrifying crosswinds or grimacing into the headwind. you could forgive an English for wishing for his hedgerows to give a modicum of respite from being pushed left or right into the gutter.

In a final hurrah to top the week out with almost 300miles I did the closest approximation to a lap round the island I could manage. Carefully planning the route to give me almost 30miles home mostly downhill and definitely with a tail wind. Despite the slow and tiring miles into the headwind and up the gradual climbs that proceeded it cruising back almost averaging 20mph seemed quite respectable and a nice way to finish.

As I sit in the airport staring at my ridiculous tan lines and thinking fondly of the time here I look despairingly down at the piles of clothes in my hand luggage ready for the joys of British winter….

KM3349 Riders KM9147.5 Me

So that’s a wrap on the 2018 Tour de France, over 9000 KM and i am back where i started almost a month ago and what a journey its been, there have been highs and low, ups and downs (and not just because of the mountains) . Somehow Pete and I managed to not have any full blown arguments and very few crossed words and i know i and not always the most fun to be around.

The lows –

The first few days were rough, getting back into the groove of snapping is always tough and the last race i shot was Liege Bastonge Liege. The first stage was all  a little rushed and trying to work our way round the tiny winding roads of the Vendee meant a lot of driving for very few photos. to finish trying out a new lens on the first sprint finish and only realising in edit that it wasn’t up to the job….the ensuing uncomfortable silence was not an ideal start.

The Queen stage, photos in the car is always hard, getting off and back on the course but as soon as you hit the mountains it gets really tough, the sparse road system generally going over mountain passes. That meant the Col d’Aubisque was the place to be, the pressure of only one stop to sum up the race. Combine camera issues with weird light and the yellow jersey on the wrong side. In hindsight i can see what i could have done better…next time i’m on a mountain when a Welshman is in the Yellow jersey on the Queen stage of the Tour de France.

The highs

In terms of  photos it might seem like an odd choice but it sums up the world of working on the Tour for me

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Or for something thats less unusual but certainly unique

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Outside of the photos the are probably 3 things that stand out for me, mostly for the ego boost.

Romain Bardet using one of my photos, unsurprisingly it got a few more likes than if when i posted it, about 21,000 more 🙂

The whole of stage 20, the place i’d chosen was full of Basques and they were really on point with being enthusiastic…they quickly decided i looked like ex-pro Michael Rasmussen, who then retweeted the video of them singing to me, 19k views and 36 retweets later they then sang my name to me, yeap a bit superficial i know

But after this the food and the seat they gave me made the 5 hours i sat on the road much better, shame i was driving and couldn’t enjoy the beer they also offered.

The icing on the cake was a good day in Paris, some great pictures, a ride in a race vehicle at breakneck speeds from the top of the bottom of the Champs Elysees and finally a little bit of partying. Special thanks going to Pete for sucking it up one last time and going out, Sophie and Sadhbh for securing us beer when it seemed impossible and getting us in on the party action. It made the drive out of Paris and back to the UK a little harder but sleep is for the weak….until next time Tour De France

KM3349 Riders KM8207 Me

So that’s a wrap….the riders as done and off to get drunk, relax, eat what ever they want maybe even have an outrageous party…if they do I’d quite like an invite.

Along with over eight thousand kilometres driven (and I’m still not home) I’ve got 105GB/7488 photos taken…not sure what the edit/publishes count is…but it’s definitely lower.

For the first time I shot at the Arc de Triomphe and got the shots I wanted…to top that off I hitched a lift back down from the top in the Voiture Balai…that’s the fasted I’ll ever go on the Champs Elysees, exhilarating is the only word for it.

It’s now time for beers and maybe a party…although I’m not sure we’ve been invited to any and having just seen Taylor Phinney be turned away it could be a hard night to get in when you’re not on the guest list.

KM3233 Riders KM7934 Me

With at least a few hundred kilometres left to drive and race the Tour is pretty much over. Geraint just has to stay on his bike now, no proper racing for him to do.

For me the Queen stage in the mountains was a bit of an anti-climax. On the final mountain stage you hope for some action but with only one stop for the day you really have to hope you get lucky. Sadly Lucky I was not….camera issue just as the GC group arrived on me almost left me with no photos for the day. It’s a equal foil to the joy of capturing something you are happy with so Pete had to put up with a bit of grumpy silence for the evening. Thankfully our hotel aka Pete’s house was less than a mile down the road and dinner was sorted so there was no coup de gras for the evening of a long drive and scant dinner options.

With a long day looming and a long drive to the start I had to skip another ride up the Col de Marie Blanc, which after a little romp up it the previous morning was sad but with sleep needed and rain stopping play we packed up and headed off.

The rain on the drive to the start was no filling us with joy….bad light and sat in one place for 4 hours is not ideal.

The time literally vanished as we arrived so there was no time to recce the course and then loop back round to stop somewhere, I had to negotiate the course with riders still doing their recce and fans not quite paying attention.

By the time I started walking back to the 3KM point the rain was completely gone and the waterproof was not needed and in the heat I actually needed to take it off.

With all the riders coming though there is plenty of time to find the shot you want, my challenge of finding some good Fans was easily achieved, even with barriers.

The Basque fans were amazing, starting with deciding I looked like michael rasmussen and treating me to a little chorus of that and then after he retweeted the video a little chorus of my name. But e icing on the cake was food and then a seat

The pictures full of enthusiasm and colour were a bonus

Now onto Paris…4 1/2 hours to Poitier…one late night phone call to get into the hotel and a good nights sleep and we’re ready for one last stage and maybe a bit of partying before it’s back to reality outside of the weird Tour bubble.

KM2830.5 KM6839.7 Me

What a couple of days…post stage 15 i was not feeling great, not the greatest days of photos, no lunch, dinner wasn’t till after 10pm and i definitely didn’t feel quite right. I had made the statement that i needed to go to bed early but having not found somewhere to eat before 10pm already screwed that up it went completely sideways when 2 Dutchmen and a Columbian wanted to buy us drinks and we stayed up into the wee hours. The catalyst for going to bed was some guy sticking his head out of the window asking us to either talk about something else or talk quieter…

It was frustrating to then have a very late stage start and the Col D’Aspin literally on the door step and not be able to ride. It was a nerve wracking prospect of spending at least the afternoon on a mountain further than from a toilet than I was comfortable with.

I can’t tell you anything about the stage start, the Moto GP style grid or anything as it was restricted to 10 snappers so that left us with only one place to be.

We left for the stage finish pretty early in the hope of a press buffet and maybe even a freebie or two in the press room. These fabled things ceased out of existence the moment we have the opportunity to have them….it was Schrödinger buffet.

By the time I needed to head out I was feeling close enough to ok. A short chair lift up and then a reasonable walk down and I found my spot

Lacets and a great bit or road with some fans….perfect. I was beginning to wish I hadn’t lugged as much stuff as I did with me…didn’t really need everything. The walk back down after the race really made me regret it….I felt sorry for anyone who sat next to me after. Having managed not to die walking down a grass ski run, cutting off quite a few km of walking we decided to leave early with the evacuation.

This is probably one of the most fun things about leaving a mountain stage…getting through all the blocked roads tucked behind the blue’s and twos of the Gendarmary.

This one was slightly more fitful than most, they seemed to get bored a few times and pulled over which left us stuck in traffic but as soon as they started off again there we were pulling back in their slipstream and escaping the valley.

Even with this we still almost missed that chance for dinner…some how Pete managed to beg a small local place that was pretty much closed to give us some food tartiflete and a salad was like a Mitchlen star meal at 10pm in France…or even like rocking horse poo…it almost doesn’t happen.

All in all a pretty great day….

I may have skipped riding for yet another day now but sleeping in till 9:30 was just what the body needed…bike ride… à demain

KM2765.5 Riders KM6598 Me

Today was definitely one of the toughest of the tour…with 5 days to go I am feeling significantly more tired that I did last week.

With a bit of rest day socialising turned into a later night than planned my rest day did not leave me feeling rested.

The lap of the Carcassonne ring road to get to the right place was an amusing distraction before the race had begun.

The first stop was something I have been waiting for all Tour…for me the epitome of Tour de France photos…sunflowers.

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I still don’t thing I have done it justice…I will just have to come back.

The next stop was a challenge for photographing a bike race…shooting in near pitch black…but you as countless irritating people like to point out, it’s not a challenge…it’s an opportunity.

Today clearly being the day for find opportunities I decided to shoot the last climb on the decent rather than the uphill part.

Perhaps not my most successful spot but lessons learnt and remembered…it will work better next time. It was also a lesson that there are some chippers in the pro-peloton when it comes to descending. The variety of weird lines, squealing brakes left me thinking that maybe I’m not so bad

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The finishing touch to the day was a journey to the accommodation over the Col D’Aspin, the tiniest road i could imagine before getting onto the main road, cresting the summit into mist and sunset. The amount of concentration required for my day of driving has ruined me, its time for bed and hopefully a late start tomorrow…

KM2549.5 Riders KM5954.5 Me (still)

So with the rest day upon us its time for some fun shenanigans away from the race…others can stress about the Team Sky press conference but just so it feels like we’re there here’s a picture of Dave doing some classic hand gestures…i can almost predict that will accompany what ever crazy quote he gave out

Tour de France 2018  Stage 2 Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to La Roch

Meanwhile i had better plans…well different at least. Having seen it and photographed the race there i had decided to ride back up to Pic de Nore, a whole 1211m above sea level. By the route i had chosen the basically meant i rode up hill for 26 miles solid, there was one brief decent off the Col de la Croix Sous which was so sketchy i was happy to see the back of it. Single track..dappled sunlight..pot holes and tight blind hairpins, what more could a boy want, other than wide smooth mountain descents where you can actually see the road to read how tight the next corner is.

Still the i made it to the top and took the obligatory bike picture (to go with the picture of goats i took on the way up)…i even had to wait for someone else to finish taking theirs, i then set off for the joy of 23 miles back down on a much better road, sadly traffic and it still being slightly tricky i don’t think i was as fast as the peloton going down it yesterday.

all that was left to fulfill my rest day schedule was to look for some non bike pictures to take and the garden of the Gite i am staying in did not disappoint

 

KM2549.5 Riders KM5954.5 Me

So the second rest in upon us and finally time to enjoy a little rest, i excused myself from the covering the press conferences…you only need one person to take pictures of people sitting still.

its time to go and enjoy some of the roads i have been driving on and enviously thinking “i’d like to ride that” the plan is to go and do the final climb of yesterdays stage..in reverse and then back in the race direction…should be a fair amount of climbing and descending fun to have with some switchbacks to enjoy.

Yesterdays stage was an interesting one…doing a first stop in the first few hundred meters of the stage always seems odd, it means you start off behind and then the whole stage is a chase to get back on but the Milliau Bridge was too good an opportunity to pass on. Only finding out the drama of the days stage over dinner i spent a few mins desperately searching back through my pictures to see if i had been lucky enough to capture it. Given it happens in the 1st KM and i was at about 500-600m into the stage i was incredibly unlucky to miss out but as you can see below they are still playing nicely at this point..or maybe its happened and they are still next to each other.

 

either way the rest of the day was a driving challenge to get back on the course ahead of the race, one challenging section of winding roads had me concentrating hard to make it round hairpins. Within a few kilometers of the race route we came up behind a jeep and a motorbike that were clearly together. The road didn’t lend itself to the overtaking and as soon as it a was straight the sped up. All too quickly the race route was upon us, the classic “cars dumped on both sides of the road” and the familiar red and white blocks showing it was blocked. The jeep and the motorbike just seemed to pile into oblivious to the fact they weren’t going to be able to go further. The gendarme manning the road was on there quickly trying to explain they couldn’t go any further. Almost as quickly the team car that was following us that was also desperate to get on the route was at there door…i can only imagine the words exchanged. I should point at that also at this point the owner of the accommodation for the evening had phoned so i was having a conversation in bad french explaining what time we would be there and it couldn’t be any earlier, perfect timing.

Thankfully a combination of tooting, my colleague Pete, someone from the team car being a little more vociferous and the gendarme got them out the way and bingo we were on the race route. All i had to do was just sit there and be ready for the way to clear and then floor it to get the gap between the race and us for comfort.

With that all sorted the all that was left was deciding between a final stop and the finish, in the end the final climb was too tempting and we stopped. This time it was Pete’s turn to be smug…having loaded up and walked a way from the car i suddenly realised that he had grabbed his jacket…he just looked at me and smiled..a few hundred meters later we cleared the protected bit of the road and the wind hit us…too late now…thankfully it wasn’t too cold but having been acclimatised to 30C sub 20 in strong wind was pretty cold for a delicate flower like me.

KM 2368 Riders KM 5880 me

So today was a long and winding road…lined by some of the best scenery France has to offer. It’s not the mountains but it’s pretty damn hilly and also naturally beautiful.

To get to the first stop of the day I had to pass up the following..

Sunflowers…they were at KM0 for that day and mediocre at best…skipped

Winding downhill into a valley….nice string out peloton would be nice…skipped

Tunnel carved into/through the cliff…everyone loves a good tunnel but still…skipped.

More winding down hill…skipped

Finally I got to the stoop I’d heard people talking about in the morning Vallon Pont D’Arc. Parking was easy but getting in a place to get a shot was going to be hard.

Trying to walk through thorny trees and bushes on loose scree loaded with more camera gear that I really needed was honestly very scary…no tears but certainly blood and sweat

There were 4 or 5 of us who found our way up and in the interests of everyone’s safety made a pact to stay still until the entire peloton has passed…no one wanted to start a rock slide and hit a car or, god forbid a cyclist.

Sadly not everyone was quite so considerate or even clever. A few late comers completely ignorant of the risk barged on and scarpered while there were still car and riders passing below. Somehow major calamity was avoided…all that was left was to find my way back out…rescuing a fellow snappers photo bib with my monopod on the way.

With the shot taken all that was left was getting to the finish…an hour and a half on some very demanding but also stunning roads and I made it…desperate to go back and ride there at some point.

KM 1835 Riders KM 5351 Me

So the mountains have started and what a couple of day it been so far and with Alpe D’Huez providing the crescendo for the Alps today.

When travelling by car to cover the race the mountains are often a wistful look at what might have been, all the curling hairpins to capture to the peloton winding its way up…the beautiful vistas of the giant peaks in the back ground. Its so often a one stop day, the lack of roads makes it impossible to get back ahead and catch them again. But if you can find a great spot all the could have’s vanish from memory

Yesterday driving the route we saw a beautiful damn over which the race went and the when winding up the climb to La Rosiere we were making calculation of whether it was possible to shoot down the hairpins and still get back ahead and stop. Sense prevailed and we found the spot, then a few KM later found a spot to park the car, which is usually more of a challenge. a few shortcuts between the hairpins and the walk down was relatively pleasant. The walk back up after the race had been through was less pleasant and a little bit sweaty but there’s a lot of walking to do for these pictures.

Post race was a big transfer from La Rosiere straight to the Alpe, miscalculated a little and had a 3 hour drive but luck was in and we found a restaurant open to get some found and the after hours check in worked perfectly. Getting there was a little more challenging as both of my Sat Nav’s (phone and a tomtom), at the same time, decided that it wasn’t possible to get to my destination…just want you need a you are just skirting round a major city and several motor way junctions. I had a complete sense of humor failure for at least 5 mins.

Still sleep was had, a tough ride was done this morning (fasted ride up Alpe D’Huez is not to be recommended)

Photo count

3342

45GB