How can 2km turn into 20km? Easy. Stay in a hotel near the start and have a well deserved sleep-in after a long night of editing.
At the first turn out of the hotel we hit a 'Route Barree'. We flashed our passes but we were too late, meaning we had to take the long way round and would be getting to the start 45 minutes later than intended.
The press parking was in an underground car park accessed by a single-lane side street. Anticipating traffic chaos after the start (meaning we'd likely be stuck in the carpark for some time), we decided to skip the start and start driving the race route.
The first location crept up on us as I was checking live race updates on the phone. I just happened to look up - and there it was. A scenic little town, complete with a church spire on the hill, and a dramatic sky to boot.
All we needed was somewhere to pull over - but, as usual, places to park were few and far between. Down the hill and around the corner there was finally a place - so we pulled in.
It was a bit of a hike back up to the spot and by the time I got there another photographer had arrived.
He told me that he'd driven past as well but decided to keep going as the road went through the town and there might have been a better spot.
There wasn't, so he'd then driven all the way back without using the race course. It made my short jog up the hill not seem so bad after all!
As the riders passed and I set off down the hill, but by the time I got to the car the road was filled with people packing their gear and heading to their cars. We exercised our well-practiced car nudging etiquette to try and cut through and get away. It’s never a speedy getaway, but we’re getting better at our #tourskills
Back on track, we set course for the KOM. It was the category 4 climb of Col du Mont Bel Air.
As it was a Saturday the hill was heaving with people setting up picnics and soaking up the sunshine and carnival-like atmosphere.
There was a good view and plenty of action at the half-way point but also the same problem to be solved – a packed roadside with nowhere to stop. I am starting to understand the reasons a number of photographers use motorbikes/scooters.
We kept driving and, once over the top, found a parking spot behind a barricade. I made it back into the thick of the action, with two guys in full lycra body suits getting the crowd revved up for the riders.
The outlook gave a good view of the riders in the distance, with a number of spectators making good use of their binoculars.
After the riders had passed I got my second jog in for the day, this time uphill.
The last location we were targeting for the stage was the finish on Mûr De Bretagne. We made sure we calculated a route to get us there with plenty of time to park the car and find a good spot. Or so we thought.
We were just about back on course, around 4km from the finish (about to link back up with the race route in fact), when we were stopped by a Gendarme. He told us that we couldn’t get through and that the route was back the way we had just driven.
There was no way we were going back – we would miss the finish. After a ‘passionate’ exchange – showing him the road book and making it clear we were on the official route – he finally gave in and just said ‘go’.
The climb was steep. Unfortunately, the best section was in shadow from trees over the road. No shots there.
We continued to the top and parked in the press area. I walked back down to the finish, which was almost completely flat. Not satisfied with this shot, I kept walking to where I could see some other photographers camped out.
As I got to the spot, I was accosted by another Gendarme. He was really getting in my face and repeating the same thing over and over in French. I figured out he wanted me to climb over the barrier so I wasn’t on the course.
I tried reasoning with him but he just got more agitated. I decided it wasn’t worth getting my pass revoked for the shot and, instead, cheekily asked him if he would give me a boost over the fence. He didn’t look impressed so I got over myself and stayed as far away from him as possible.
The riders were getting close now, and I really needed to get a good spot, even if it was outside the fence.
There was a TV camera ahead that was fenced-off from spectators – so I headed for this. There were two photographers already in this area and not much room for a third.
Instead, I tried standing behind the TV camera but one of the officials didn’t want me there. I did my best to explain that if I was in the front section I would block the other two photographers. He was very persistent, but I needed this spot so I wasn’t going to budge.
Eventually, he left and came back with a more senior official who spoke some English, so I could explain my situation. She said I could stay but the other guy remained to keep a close eye on me. Im not sure what he was worried about.
The riders came into view a couple of minutes later, but with the number of motorbikes surrounding them it was hard to get a clear shot.
After the majority of the riders had passed me, I jumped the fence and finished the day with my third jog (back up the hill) to just make it to the podium.
See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.