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Tales from the Tour…ticking off another stage

There is always a risk that the first week of a Grand Tour can get boring, from everyone’s perspective. Flat/Sprint Stages designed to put the leaders Jersey on a non GC rider, the transition from the Grand Depart to home country roads. Its important to race organisers to visit as much of their country as possible but logistics constraints don’t often make for the best stages.

With not much to going on at the start i fall back into my default, which is gawping at and photographing the nice bikes , although my normal photo companion isn’t too keen…i like to sneak a few in…surely every one likes a nice shiny pro bike

Tour de France 2017  Stage 4 Mondorf Les Bain Vittel A view of G

As has been the theme this year, security is much more visible and present at this years races, but in a change from the armored trucks and machine guns today it was shown in a much more lovable form, who doesn’t love a happy looking puppy

Tour de France 2017  Stage 4 Mondorf Les Bain Vittel Security is

Contrary to my thoughts at the start of the day it wasn’t going to finish as a damp squib, there was excitement inbound for the race and also for me, although potentially curtailing some for the remainder of the race.

Despite looking like he was going to be the dominant force in this years sprint stages Marcel Kittel was noticeably absent from the bubble of sprinters charging at the finish line. but given the events it was potentially a lucky happenstance to miss out.

With Mark Cavendish desperate to salvage a season marred by injury and illness with some success at the Tour any stage without Kittel in contention was going to be an opportunity not to be missed. Baring that in mind you could possibly apportion some or most of the blame on the Manx Man for the resulting crash when trying to fit two cyclists in a space only meant for one. The race jury seemed to take the opposite view laying the blame squarely on Peter Sagan for what seemed like a deliberate elbow. Not sure i really agree but the still image doesn’t really do him any favours, either way it left the race poorer by two great characters one disqualified and the other injured.

Tour de France 2017  Stage 4 Mondorf Les Bain Vittel Britains Ma

With that bit of Drama out the way it was time for some excitement of my own…

There is always a margin of doubt when booking accommodation for the tour, you often end up in the middle of no where, well outside the comfort zone of any city or large town hoping that you can find the place, its actually open when you arrive and that they have your reservation.

I was hoping that this was not the case today, it was so close to the finish and start the next day it was almost too good to be true, the Sat Nav got us there with no problem and it was open, that was two big tick boxes filled. The final hurdle almost toppled us, despite presenting printed confirmation of the reservation, the original emails there still seemed to be an issue. I am not sure quite how Pete and I managed it but eventually, seemingly reluctantly took us to the room he had for us…mission accomplished!

Possibly the worst thing was seeing the proprietor try and do this to the next two parties to turn up, one pair gave up almost instantly and drove off in search of alternative accommodation, the other (a fellow snapper) did not give up so easily. One very heated phone call to booking.com it was finally sorted and had was allowed to have a room.

Thankfully the 2nd beer really toned down any potential awkwardness of watching this unfold knowing we had a bed for the night

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Tales from the Tour…Another country ticked off…and the worst meal of the Tour

Having ticked off Germany and Belgium yesterday it was time to add another country to this Tour de Europe as we left Liege and headed to France via Luxembourg.

The start yet again gave a stark reminder of the state of society and the perceived level of threat to daily life. Armed soldiers in place of police officers, armored trucks posing as team cars (yes thats a bit of a joke but there were quite a few of there controlling traffic flow)

There are days when the landscape lacks the potential and there are days when it has too much potential and you so many options you don’t find out what works until too late.

On Le Tour you do get to go to some cool places and some you might not get to do in the same way without it and that was definitely the case with the Spa Francorchamps circuit. You always try not to just cluster like sheep next to other photographers but at the same time i always worry that I’ve missed something obvious and awesome.  This was definitely that case, the picture i didn’t quite get because the camera couldn’t keep up with the amount of “winging” i was doing. Its at time like this that you wish the creative juices flowed quicker but its always a learning process of what works and what doesn’t and how to assess that.

Tour de France 2017  Stage 3 Verviers to Longwy

The day didn’t really get much better for creativity, with the last couple of kilometers fully covered by barriers it really limited the options for covering something other than the finish line. Don’t misunderstand me the finish line is always a good shot but sometimes it feels like a point and shoot lottery. If you are lucky you catch the action and get a nice celebration or something else that’s happening, worst case is that you track the wrong rider and miss the celebration completely.

So for a fairly “light” day in terms of photos and therefore a short bit of editing it was off to find the hotel and dinner, As it turned out this was more of a mission that we really wanted.

The hotel was pleasant enough but it was buried in the city centre and their car park closed due to someone else doing construction we ended up a good few minutes walk away, while this may sound like i am being lazy when you have to lug all of your cases through a shopping precinct and it takes more than one trip it really eats into you time for finding food.  Team that up with being on the top floor and a lift so small you can barely a person in there, let alone a bag it makes a long unpacking effort.

Unpacking out the way and the very friendly offering a recommendation (probably of the only restaurant open on a Monday night) we optimistically set off for a long over due meal. The promise was high with the restaurant offering Portuguese cuisine, which turns out to be mostly grilled meat. The 50 minute wait with no wifi and watching other peoples food was certainly an interesting tactic to build the anticipation. The final execution and delivery made us feel slightly better but given how late it was and how long we had waited it was marginal gains. The picture below is the only time i was happy about the meal…that evening and the following morning were, to save you details thati am sure you can imagine from badly cooked meat… “sub-optimal”

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Tales from the Tour…Le Grand Depart part 3

The good thing about Time Trial stages is that you get a chance to build up some stock of riders you might not normally get…the bad thing about Time Trial stages is the amount of time it takes to go through all the pictures. By 2am on the saturday night/sunday morning i had finished the important edit (with 1500 shots to go through i didn’t finish all the others till i came home)

Luckily the start was not far away and also not too early but with a the first yellow jersey of the tour being worn and with Welshman Geraint Thomas wearing it the goal for the morning was to capture that moment and as you can see there was a bit of a scrum to get those

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But i think the proper shot worked out…Froomey in a “normal” jersey looking on at Geraint in Yellow

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Sacrificing time on the course to find the next to capture the Yellow jersey meant it was time for the first navigation fun and games of the Tour as we try and navigate our way onto the course. Race credentials and asking nicely usually get you back on course but its clear both ASO and the German police were taking security even more seriously. Its possible to negotiate with armed police but not when there is are bin lorries with no driver blocking the way. By the time we made it back onto the course there were so few kilometers left and some inauspicious landscape, not even the poor man’s scenic of a bridge to stand on it was a case of heading for the finish and settle in for the first sprint stage of the Tour, tucked in the mass of photographers and lens i awaited the arrival of the peloton into Liege

 

 

After a fairly long day on the road it was time for another 40 mins to find out hotel for what would turn out to be the best meal of the first week…

As we drove through Eupen we kept our eyes open for restaurants that were still open with the practiced eye of tour veterans we spotted a place called “paparazzi” which almost seemed a fait accompli that we were eating there. A quick check in later we were back there tucking into a great steak and a beer…the only small issue being that it was served in the wrong glass, which i would swear was illegal in Belgium..Sssshhh don’t tell anyone

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Tales from the Tour…Le Grand Depart Part 2

A note for the next time i am in Germany….don’t expect to function early in the morning after drinking too much beer, its as strong as the Belgian stuff but the don’t seem to have the same restraint when it comes to the quantity its served in….none the less i still went out and rode the course…even in the morning drizzle the joy of closed roads is not one to be dismissed.

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Two laps round the circuit did little inspire anything from the river side course, the grey clouds rolling in off the Rhine were not helping and the small puddles starting to form on the course were more likely to causes crashes than dramatic scenes of maximum effort

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So after two laps and being mistaken for a pro-rider doing a recce and having pushed as hard as i dared on the slippery roads i headed back to gear up for what looked like a very wet day.

With little to choose from i plonked myself on the exit from the first corner, stuck the long lens on the camera tucked as much as could under waterproof layers and hunkered down for a long afternoon.

you know its wet when the rains drops are heavy enough to catch the camera focus instead of the rider…

 

Tour de France 2017  Stage 1 Dusseldorf

Tales from the Tour…Le Grand Depart Part 1

With the tour now over and the photos files there is some time to look back on the adventures that were had along the way.

The destination was Germany…Düsseldorf to be precise and it was to be a weekend of collecting countries, enough to make you look back fondly on boarder controls with stamps for you passport. On the drive across from the UK I notched up 4 countries in the 4 hour jaunt to the Grand Depart’s host city.

The weather looked like it was holding and with a few spots of rain on the way in i was holding out hope for a sunny weekend. By the time i arrived the wind had got up a bit and the clouds were looking thicker. Having picked up my accreditation and checked into my hotel there was still warmth and daylight to be had to with a few hours to spare.

I unpacked the bike got my kit on, tucked my credentials into my jersey and set off to recce the time trial course and kick the driving out of my legs. With the roads not fully closed yet i wasn’t able to do the full route, not with out braving some head on traffic in a busy city centre so i settled for looking out for anything suitable for a photo position for the race tomorrow.

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Riding done i headed down for the photographers meeting, realising that i had booked my accommodation really well and was barely a few minutes from the press centre. Sitting through the photographers meetings can be a little challenging at times as its hammered home that we need to keep out the way and take the security of the riders very seriously, as well as the security of everyone else, and after you have done that if you feel like making sure the other photographers are safe then that would be great. Thankfully there is some translation that goes on as otherwise my french fails spectacularly, i almost feel aggrieved that GCSE french didn’t cover this stuff.

Finally with all the obligatory stuff out the way it was onto the important task for the night…dinner and beer and the German’s weren’t going to fail us.

Be warned two of these on an empty Stomach isn’t going to end well…as both Pete and I can attest to….

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Sunshine and finally some mist in the forest of the Zombie Apocalypse

When Roubaix comes around i look forward to it for two reasons, firstly for the awesome and heroic racing that awaits on the Sunday, but also for the chance to ride some of my favourite roads (second only to the Valkenburg worlds circuit).

The quiet roads of the Compiègne forest are so peaceful its leaves plenty of time for the brain to wander.

ForestMap

This little snip from google earth shows just how many roads and paths are lurking in the forest. Not all of them are suitable for a road bike, but on a gravel bike you really could go crazy.

Given my love of Zombie movies it was no wonder that the first thought that sprung to mind when presented with the scene below was the Zombie Apocalypse

Just add some groaning walking corpses stumbling out of the mist and you’ve got an episode of the walking dead. Nothing like that to spur you on as you sprint up a few punchy little rises the litter the forest…like one of the few english named strava segments

Climbed Enough to drop the Zombies

But for anyone who doesn’t love Zombies this does the area a disservice, there is some more conventional beauty to be found on the quiet roads of the area, nothing but fields (and, if you squint, a castle)

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But in a last ditch attempt to make sure people weren’t put off the forest for fear of the Zombies…if you get up early enough then the sunrise looks beautiful breaking through the trees and the mist

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LBL … queen of the classic’s weather

As to be expected from spring, the weather is as dynamic as the racing often bringing an extra challenge to the day.

For all the disappointment of a warm, sunny and ultimately dusty Roubaix Liege has often made up for it with some truly awful weather, almost like the parcel was delivered too late. or the sunshine package sent too early.

The times i have gone through at least 3 seasons in the weeks of the spring classics, from torrential rain at Milan San Remo to blistering sunshine at Roubaix

EMP - Paris Rouabix - a few riders chasing the disappearing pelo

Last year’s edition was almost the pinnacle of last years weather, delivering a blizzard of epic proportions. The snow covered many fields and villages on the first 100km’s of the course, and one very exposed road giving way swirling vision of white.

As the day wore on the weather had rallied slightly and we ended up with bedraggled riders

 

michael albasini, (Orica Greenedge) leads the race up the cobble

for the love of sunshine and for all the fair weather cyclists out there i hope the forecast for this weekend improves and brings some glorious sunshine and weather