It was an early start this morning and already 30 degrees by 10am. We made a quick stop for fuel and then again to photograph some random monster trucks by the roadside.
With our stops putting us behind schedule I did a quick lap of the team buses, grabbed a free coffee from one of the sponsors and ran back to the car to find some mountains.
Today was the last day in the Pyrenees and there was plenty of climbing on offer. We had enough time to shoot either of the first two climbs and still make it in time for the finish.
The first climb, Col de Portet d’Aspet, was rather short at 4km, but the steeper of the two.
However, the summit wasn’t that spectacular so we headed for the second, Col de la Core.
Arriving at the summit the clouds started to blow in and fat rain drops began to fall. It was a welcome relief as the mercury had hit 36 degrees.
The summit provided a good vantage point of the riders approaching from down in the valley.
By the time the riders reached the summit the sun was back out and, against the dark rain clouds, made for perfect photography conditions.
After the last of the riders came through I ran back to the car, knowing it was important to get going if we were going to make the finish.
We left with just enough leeway to get us there on time, on such a tight schedule even the smallest delay could have been a disaster.
There was a delay.
Reaching then bottom of Col de la Core we hit the feed zone and had to wait for all the teams to pick up the discarded bidons and musettes before we could move through, though I’m sure the countless scavenging spectators would have done the job anyway.
We had only lost a couple of minutes but anymore and it would be cutting it fine.
Then somehow we went around a roundabout and exited too early, ending up on a small parallel road. It was so close to the one we were suppose to be on that the GPS hadn’t picked it up. Only realising as I looked across at the view and saw a team car on the opposite road.
Quickly we turned around, only to realise the road was one way. Lucky for us no one was coming as we drove up it anyway.
It was only a minute or two off course but it was enough time for the spectators that had been collecting bidions to get back in their cars and camper vans, clogging up the escape route.
It was torturous watching the arrival time get later and later as we crawled along in the heavy traffic.
But by some miracle and Mrs McBeard’s carefully honed overtaking skills we got ahead of the chugging convoy.
Back in the game we caught up with a couple of the team cars from earlier and together hastily headed for the race course.
I was checking on the estimated time of arrival for the riders versus our time – it was a head to head race!
As I was starting to give up, sure we’d be too late to the bottom of the final climb, I saw the road ahead was closed. Disaster. Not sure it was the ‘Off race’ route or some major roadworks up ahead we reluctantly prepared to take the deviation.
But then the team cars ahead zipped between the witches hats and onto the closed road. In a flash, we followed. Now we had a highway with no cars between us and the race course. We were back on track!
Arriving in the town of Tarascon sur Ariege there were people running up the street to get a view of the riders as they passed. This was not a good sign.
The riders were less than 10kms away from the base of the climb. But when we met the intersection with the course we were waved through. I couldn’t believe it, we had made it.
On the final climb to the Plateau de Beille the rain had returned and just kept getting heavier. The spectators on the roadside were taking refuge however they could crafting rain coats out of Publicity caravan freebies.
Suddenly the weather escalated, the hail and lighting causing the crowds to disappeared, ever the Gendarmerie took shelter under the campervan awnings or huddled under kindly shared umbrellas.
I opened the window to try and get a shot but so much rain came in the leg of my shorts was saturated, so shut it as fast as possible.
When we reached the diversion for the press parking it was banked up with traffic. I needed the get my wet weather gear and find a spot to shoot as the riders were on the climb already.
I wasn’t sure if I would have enough time to make it to a good location on course so I checked the finish line.
It was jam packed, not even room for one more lens.
So I went for it! Running down the climb as fast as I could with a camera around my neck. There were so many puddles. I couldn’t avoid them, so I just ploughed through soaking my socks and boots.
I just made it to a corner near the 2km to go mark that I’d seen on the way up. As the riders came into sight I tried desperately to get the lens and view finder clear so I could see what I was photographing. The rain continuing to hammer down.
I managed to get a couple of good shots in the chaos of it all and made a beeline back up to the car to dry off, where Mrs McBeardy had some dry clothes ready for me.
By this time the entire carpark had tuned to mud. Magically we avoided getting bogged and made our way down the only way off the mountain with the hundreds of other official cars, trucks and vans for the 2 hour drive to the next hotel.
See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.