While writing up the Caravan last night, Fabrice (our media man) dropped a bombshell on us; the climb up to Mt. Ventoux on Stage 12 would be cut short by 6km due to dangerously high winds. This was the stage we were most looking forward to, since it is such an iconic (and scenic) climb - plus it fell on Bastille Day, so the fans would be going nuts (more on that later). Not to mention it was the location of the first Tour stage I witnessed back in 2013 - and is where the passion for chasing this race (and Beardy’s Caravan) comes from. Therefore, it is fair to say we were all a little deflated.
Given this new information, there was no argument about whether or not we should head straight to the climb - it was going to be a mess getting up there and, given the changing of the finish line position, we needed time to scope the right spot. Poor Speedy had a bit of a rough task driving up as people were spread out all across the narrow road, zig-zagging their way up on bikes, asleep on the edge of the road, trudging up with Eskys, or clad in costumes and drinking a beer.
It wasn’t long before we realised our car was too quiet for the rollicking crowd to notice - they were too busy celebrating to hear us and get out of the way. To rectify this, we blasted some mad tunes and the crowd parted. Unfortunately, the music also caught the attention of those keen to party - and they thought we were keen as well. We had a sumo-suited man with a chicken on his head karate chop the car, then superheroes with bulging foam muscles run alongside us. As annoying as these characters were, they made it easy to pick out the places to shoot.
We found a park looking directly across to the sommet; it is definitely one of the more intimidating places to finish a climb with the barren peak and the observatory commanding your attention. While making a baguette at the back of the car, a fan was walking his bike back from the summit and said something. I jokingly offered some food and coffee to say how well prepared we were, however he decided to take me up on my offer and expectantly put his hand out. I’m sad to say that my baguette was a little shorter than I had hoped, so I decided to have some Prince biscuits as a supplement.
Finding the right corner to shoot from wasn’t particularly difficult, as you could hear where the crowd was going nuts. However, finding an actual shot amongst the horde was a challenge. Too high and I’d lose the riders in the crowd, too low and I’d be in the middle of the moshing madness. Since I had spent some teenage years as a metalhead, I went for the mosh. Party on, Garth...
The whole road was covered in one heaving party which only stopped very briefly for the convoy of cars and Gendarmes to make it up the mountain ahead of the riders. People were well prepared for the Bastille long-haul with barbecues, overflowing Eskys and chairs.
Initially, the crowds were only one or two people deep at the side of the road, so it looked like there was plenty of space for the riders. However, by the time the Gendarmes rode past, there was only enough space left for a single rider at a time. Once the riders started to appear, smoke flares were let off and the chanting got louder - trombones and trumpets were produced, providing a backing-track to the chaos.
In order to get my shots, I found myself wedged between the punters and the team cars. I got so close to the action that my foot was run over by a team car. Later, I learned that I wasn’t the only one to have a brush with traffic...
On that, **Spoiler alert**. Owing to the fact that the crowd was so dense and loud, I only heard about the Froome/Porte/TV moto accident (which happened only just up the road from us) after walking past the Team Sky soigneurs and mechanics having a slight meltdown.
We finally got back into the car to leave, jostling our way into the convoy over the top of Ventoux. The wind picked up and the dark clouds started to roll in. Once we hit the summit, the car began to rock in the strong winds - the race organisers had made the right call for the riders. Halfway down the descent, we began to slow unexpectedly. The hairpin turns soon revealed that it was Speedy’s nemesis, the silver Ford Focus, slowing down the convoy. They soon pulled over and we were moving again.
I hope to reveal the identity of the Ford Focus driver before le Tour is done. Game on.