Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains – Pra-Loup
Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains – Pra-Loup
Wednesday, 22nd July 2015
Wednesday, 22nd July 2015

We arrived promptly at the start after a relaxing rest day.


We had a some time to kill so we pulled out the laptop in the car to check our email. One that stood out was from our media contact Fabrice. The email went on to say that, due to the conditions predicted for today's 17th stage, the climb to Col d'Allos would be closed to media cars with blue stickers. That was us!


Having had a day to prepare I had the perfect spot picked out on the narrow winding climb of the Col d'Allos but now, with 1 hour before we had to leave, all those plans were out the window.


The first spot we had chosen would still be accessible, but the climb of off limits. To add to this the final climb was closed to all media cars, with only a shuttle bus from the bottom of the climb.


Further complicating this, the shuttle bus stopped running at 2.30pm and didn't start again until after the race had finished. We were never going to make it by 2.30pm, meaning we would be walking up the climb of Pra-Loup to capture the finish.


We formulated a new plan for the day, which still included enough time to nip into the village for a coffee. I just had to try one of the waffles on a stick (smothered in Nutella) I had seen people eating last time I was here.


I bought one, and it was as tasty. But not great beard food it must be said, as I ended up with Nutella stuck in mine.

As we headed off to drive the race route we encountered our first major hurdle – one that could have, potentially, meant missing our first spot.


The attendant at the gate was told the race route was completely closed for blue stickers (us) and we had to instead take the hors course.


This would mean going directly to the finish and not being able to get our shot at the dam wall as planned.


We pleaded with him to let us through – but he stood firm. Luckily, with persistence, we we were able to wear him down.


He called his boss to explain the situation. I was sure the answer was going to be ‘no’ but when he came back with a ‘yes’ it was high fives all round!


Now to find that dam.

It was really starting to heat up and there was no sign of the bad weather change as predicted. If it was anything like the rest day it come in by the afternoon, just as I looked to hang out the washing.


I had moved it under the awning, but then the rain started coming in sideways along with hail that lasted for the rest of the evening. We had to use our alternative drying rack – the parcel shelf of the car to scatter half-dry t-shirts undies and socks.


Arriving at the dam wall we crossed it to the other side and found a park. I grabbed the camera gear and went to check it out.


There were two Gendarmes on duty and, as I approached, a booming voice said in French, and then in English, ‘it’s forbidden to cross the dam’. I tried every trick in my book but they stood firm. This was one battle I wasn’t going to win.


I noticed an alternate road, and it looked as if you could get an elevated view, so I walked up it and disturbed a third Gendame taking a nature break.


The spot was average – leaving me no choice but to give up on the dam shot that was never meant to be.


Just round the next corner was another spot to rival it. There was a steep cliff on one side of the road and on the other a spectaular view across the vivd blue lake. If I could get up there I could get a great perspective of the riders as they rounded the bend.


No stranger to a bit of rock climbing I got to work and managed to scale up the wall several meters. Onlookers commented on my climbing skills and even took a photo of me perched above the road.


A boy watching thought it looked like fun but his parents told him I was an official Tour photographer so I was allowed to do a little rock climbing. I can already picture next year’s briefing – ‘absolutely no rock climbing allowed’.


I got the shots without knocking any rocks down on the riders, avoiding the news headline ‘Photographer sabotages Tour de France by knocking out riders with stones’.


Getting back down safely without slipping into the cavalcade of team cars whizzing past was twice as hard as getting up.

There was a huge gap between the last bunch of riders and the Fin de Course van. After our close call on stage 16 we didn’t want to leave prematurely.


Then sure enough there was one rider off the back. It was Nathan Haas. Pulling in behind he decided to call it a day and got into the team car. It’s always sad seeing an Aussie abandon the Tour.


The road to the finish was without a doubt one of the most spectacular yet. The Gorges de Daluis with red rock walls, balcony roads skirting the edge of the deep crevasse to the river down below, and the countless single lane tunnels.

Next was the Col de la Cayolle and once agin there was no time to stop and smell the roses as the diversion was so much longer than the race route, and I was already thinking about my jog up the Pra Loup.


Arriving near the base of Pra Loup the road was blocked with no one allowed through. I grabbed my camera gear and my raincoat as the clouds were building and I didn’t want to get caught out.


With over 600m to the start of the Pra Loup climb, I had no idea how far away the rider were. So I started running, soon pulling alongside a boy riding his bike. He was gawking at me as I puffed and panted up the hill.


We stayed neck and neck until I popped. I couldn’t run any further. I slowed to catch my breath and he sped off ahead to the invisible finish line.


I stopped by a row of tents, setup with the race playing on TV.


The riders were less that 10kms from the base of the climb. There was a good spot at around the 2km mark so I kept on running. I got a good cheer from the fans as they chanted photo, photo, photo to me.


If running up a category 2 climb with a camera around your neck isn’t hard enough, the Gendarme told me I had to be outside of the barriers. Now I had to leap over bikes, picnics and dodge spectators while not slipping down the embankment. It was like a crazy obstacle course.


The barriers ended and I could get back on the road at 1km. The helicopter was close and so I put in one last effort. I could see a corner up ahead – this would have to do.


I was still running when the first rider came into view. I spun around just in time to catch Simon Gescke and his magnificent beard making it’s way to victory on the Pra Loup. Long live the beard.

See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.

Stage 19: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - La Toussuire - Les Sybelles
Stage 14: Rodez - Mende


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