Welcome back! It's been just over a month since the Giro d'Italia and we have been busy getting ready for a tilt at chasing the Maillot Jaune.
The Beardy mobile has cranked through the kms and we have taken in some amazing sights along the way.
Just to fill you in on some of the details before we dive into the prologue, here's a quick list to bring you up to date:
* Ripped a tire to shreds on the Strada Bianchi in Tuscany. * Car got towed in Frankfurt. * Third-wheeled on a very special cycling honeymoon in Italy. * Slept in a castle in France. * Climbed the Stelvio in glorious sunshine. * Sat down to a seafood extravaganza fit for a king in Cesenatico Italy. * Had a car tire blow out on the Mont Vial, France. * Sweated it out on the climb of le Cirque de Navacelles in the Massif Central. * Dipped my feet in the luminous green water of Achensee in Austria. * Rode the Bernina Pass in Switzerland. * Dodged hundreds of bicycles on the streets of Utrecht, Netherlands.
Just to name a few.
Photographing the Tour is never easy, just getting accreditation turned out to be much more involved than the Giro d'Italia. Proof that I managed to scrape through it attached below.
We arrived in Utrecht a day before the TT, only to find the pavement was literally melting in the heat – and the forecast was only getting hotter.
We checked into our hotel right in the centre in of town. There was a canal out the front and, as we unpacked the car, bicycles weaved past us on both sides with a quick ‘ring-ring’ of their bells.
A couple in a boat floated past. It looked like the place to be as they sipped on their cooling beverages beneath the shade of the overhanging trees, away for the baking pavement above.
There was a friendly hotel employee who took our bags inside while we parked the car. I felt a bit guilty when we returned and I saw the stairs leading up to our room. They were on a gradient that made Mortirolo look like a runway.
He was sweating after lugging 30kg in cases up the stairs but still cheerfully showed us our room. I was relieved that the air-conditioning was already cranking away inside.
The building was filled with original, structural wooden beams and he warned us to be careful not to bump our heads.
One of the beams even had ‘KABOOOM!’ painted on it. I found out why soon enough, bashing my head as I leaned down to pull the blinds. Right on the paint – bullseye.
After settling in we hit the streets to find some food. In the late afternoon light the heat of the day had subsided a little as we explored the paved streets of the old city.
We were pleasantly surprised by the variety of shops and restaurants in such a compact little town – it is not hard to see why Utrecht was chosen for the Grand Depart.
We finally settled on a cafe with outdoor seating and watched the parade of bicycles and people passing by – all while drinking a delicious, locally-brewed beer. Meanwhile, the ‘Coffee Shop’ next door seemed to be doing a roaring trade…
As Saturday’s time trail approached we checked the course again in our road book and marked all the locations that we wanted to shoot before turning in.
We left our hotel at 12:30 to make our way to the start in the fierce heat. We skirted around buildings, clinging to shadows and looking for every bit of shade along the way.
The crowd was enormous. It seemed like every person in Utrecht had made their way down to try and grab a spot to watch the stage.
Our first stops were the team buses, looking to get some shots of any new equipment on show. Unlike the Giro, there were fences cordoning off this area, making access more difficult. Even with our passes it still took a bit of sweet-talking to get inside.
Looking around I noticed Mark Cavendish playing with his daughter out the front of the team bus, not at all worried about the onlookers.
Next I saw Peter Sagan roll past and as I went to grab a shot, a spectator jumped in and handed me his phone. “Can you get a shot of me and Pete?”. I managed to shoot the image for the guy and one for myself. He thanked me as Peter was whisked away.
On my way to the starting ramp I stopped in to see a couple of bikes on the UCI rig that makes sure they conform to guidelines/regulations.
One of the bikes was a tight fit and I could see the stress on the face of the team. It made it through – just – and I wondered if that was indeed the idea; to push the boundaries as far as possible.
It’s always interesting to see the technology used behind the scenes of a race like le Tour – despite perhaps not being quite as bleeding-edge as the bikes themselves.
The start ramp was packed with photographers, and I was lucky to squeeze in with just enough room to get a shot of the first rider, Daniel Teklehaimanot of MTN Qhubeka, riding away. All the photographers had to duck down as the TV camera boom, which was setup behind us, swooped past regularly to get close-up angles. You could tell the seasoned pros of the media game, ducking like synchronised gymnasts, while still getting the snaps. The rookies needed crash helmets – and danger pay.
The yellow of the starting ramp seemed to somehow magnify the sunshine and the heat – I was sweating like crazy. I was drinking water at a rapid rate and was starting to think about leaving the ramp for another location fairly quickly.
That was until I found out that it was a 2km hike to get to a location where I could shoot inside the barriers.
I decided to wait it out and capture a few more riders. I waited for Richie Porte then moved on.
With a time trial, it is never as simple as following the course along – there is always guest seating, or a fence, in the way – so the long way is usually the only way.
Which is compounded by the fact that, with only 13.8kms of course, the window of opportunity is narrow. Aware that every passing minute meant another rider hitting the course at pace meant MY pace quickly increased to a brisk jog.
There was no chance of seeing anything from the sidelines with spectators packed in 3 or more deep at all points. Luckily, I spied a bridge across the course not too far away, and headed for that. The bridge was empty, save for a lone security guard. I asked if I could shoot from the bridge, showing my pass. He shook his head – no shooting from the bridge. I was allowed to cross the bridge, just not take any photographs from it.
I took up his offer, climbing the stairs as slowly as humanly possible until, just as I reached the top, a rider came into view. I grabbed two quick shots before hustling across to the other side. There had been lots of stories at the briefing of accreditation being revoked, so I didn’t want to push my luck. Yet.
The other side of the bridge contained a guest area and provided a much better view of the course. Then I hit the jackpot. A section of road that allowed 2 shots of the riders, one on the way out and another on the return.
There was an opening in the fence that I could just squeeze through – to claim a spot on the nature-strip that divided the two sections of the course.
It was a great spot, the perfect spot – except for the ants.
I didn’t notice them at first, as I happily sat on the grass. Then I looked down and the buggers were all over me. I jumped up like a rocket to try and brush them off.
So there I was in the middle of the road, hopping up and down, trying to get them out of my shoes, my socks, my beard. It must have been quite a sight for the thousands of spectators watching from all sides!
Fortunately, they didn’t seem to be quite as angry as Australian varieties, and I was able to get by with a musette on the ground to keep them away.
With the ants under control I was finally able to reap the rewards of my hard work and shoot the rest of the Time Trial from my little oasis in the middle of the course.
The crowd was really getting behind the Dutch riders, with the cheers for Tom Dumoulin from Giant-Alpecin loud enough to drown out the party music that was developing near the beer tent.
As the last rider passed, the spectators began to migrate towards the video screens for the final results. Walking back to the hotel with the rest of the crowd was a fitting way to end my first day of the Tour.
See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.