Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 38 seconds
Well, sometimes you plan and make allowances and things just go wrong.
Our plan this day was to get to the Col du Marie Blanque, the first climb of the stage and only 30km from where we were staying, and a reasonably steep climb. This would allow me to get good photos (due to the grade) as the riders moved past slowly (for them, anyway), then give us time to get home with no stress and watch it on telly over the Soulor and up the Tourmalet.
However, we ended up going to the Soulor as one of the group wanted to ride up the Tourmalet to watch, and the Tourmalet was about 150km from where we’re staying – too far for him to ride a return ride.
It wasn’t that bad a plan as whilst riding L’Etape du Tour this year, I found a cracking spot on the Col du Soulor for photos; a perfect switchback with the separation an old stone retaining wall. It was an absolutely cracking spot.
We left early for the Soulor as the weather set in. Miserable, drizzly rain, just like the 2009 Stage into Colmar. We got to the Soulor but the road was closed (and had been for a couple of days before hand). We found a good spot down the road from the town of Ferriere. Michael and Clarky decided to ride over the Soulor in the rain, to get to the Tourmalet.
After Andrew and Mike B took off, the rest of us (Amy, Sdot and I) wandered up into Ferrieres. Below are some photos I took. We found a Cave du Fromage, which means, Cellar of the Cheese. We didn’t have a knife, so I sacrificed my CD of my cycling fit.
French villages are so nice, it’s one of my favourite things about France. Loads of people grow their own veggies, and the veggie patches make me green with envy.
We found some people from Mondevelo (the people who organise L’Etape) jury-rigging a satellite dish and buvette stand (coffee, tea, wine, food).
People park in the most unlikely spots. I don’t even know how this guy got his car in this spot.
The rest of us settled in with some baguettes and cheese which we had bought from up the road. I got absolutely soaked walking about 3km, so was glad to have spare clothes. I was also sort of glad I hadn’t ridden to the Tourmalet as all the camera gear would have gotten wet.
I ran through our spot and found multiple vantage points. One spot from high on a wall on a bend would be excellent for a wide angle, one shot from across the raging creek would be ripping, and one from up the road.
Due to the foul weather, the caravan had battened down the hatches so the freebies were few and far between. I scored a sought-after Caisse D’Epargne tshirt. It was a bit of a let down though.
There was a real lack of atmosphere as the choppers did not appear out of nowhere, heralding the arrival of the protagonists. Two gendarmes on motorbikes with lights flashing, with a breakaway arriving soon after.
Their arrival surprised me and I only managed to reel off a couple of shots. #timfail.
I sprinted up the road, realising I would not have enough time to shoot through the trees across the creek, as the group would not be split up enough.
Sastre appeared, solo (turns out he attacked a crash).
I vastly underestimated the peloton’s speed as they approached and barely managed to get my shots away.
After they’d passed I started looking at my shots, and my heart sank. Normally I’d have enough time to check my settings (even after doing pre-shots to check lighting etc), but due to the closeness and speed of the group I just didn’t have time. Sometime between racing up the road and switching out my lens, I’d knocked the setting from shutter priority to aperture priority but hadn’t checked. The shutter speed dropped from about 1/320th of a second to around 1/30th. I was heart broken. We’d been in such a great position and sooooo close (with my head even appearing on TV as they followed Sastre’s breakaway), but it had all been for nought.
I was utterly gutted.
Anyway, we now had to hightail it down to a town for a TV. The funny thing about France is that there are no obvious signs of life in bars and hotels. We searched two towns until we saw other people going in to a place for the Tour. We bunkered down with a beer and watched the carnage unfold up the Tourmalet, as Andy Schleck battled his guts out to break Contador.
What an epic battle. Clearly Schleck is not far away from a win.
Afterwards, we met the boys in Lourdes. I was a bit bummed I didn’t get to go to the grotto, as my grandfather wanted a vial of the water, but there’s always a next time. The traffic was absolutely horrendous.
We got the guys and headed back across the Soulor and Aubisque. The sheer drop off the Aubisque is truly frightening.
In any case, I learned some lessons again this year, that I hope you can learn from this. My key tips here are:
- Be on an uphill to get more free stuff.
- Get to your proposed vantage point 4 hours before the Tour is scheduled to. You can usually find the expected arrival time of the caravan and the lead group to key areas, which lets you plan. This means if your vantage point is up a Col/climb, allow 6 hours. I promise you won’t regret it.
- If the weather looks the least bit sketchy, pack rain gear. If you have camera gear, have a back up plan. Pack a plastic rain bag/hood that covers all of you. There’s nothing worse than standing in the miserable rain, getting wetter and wetter.
- Have a back up plan including a different route to where you need to be.
- Be prepared to walk (take note of point about rain gear). Pack food and water in case you can’t find a place that sells food and water, and prepare to be located in a place with no toilets.
- Always choose a steeper part of the climb (~10%+) to ensure the peloton is not bunched, and check your photos after the first two!.
If all of of this sounds awesome and something you have to do, check out the comprehensive Guide to Cycling through France.
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