The first port of call for Stage 19 was the first climb, which was only a couple of kilometres after the neutral zone ended. The road wasn’t a properly categorised climb so there wouldn’t be any KoM points up for grabs. Still, there was a breakaway straight out of the neutral zone, doubling my chances of getting a shot from the spot. It was a good thing too, as I was being a bit of a koala-beard and had climbed up a rock overlooking the road and the valley - so I wasn’t in a hurry to move to another spot.
After some rough times dealing with roadblocks and course logistics over the last few stages, the latter making multiple spots almost impossible, today’s route was a masterclass in how to manage the roads (kudos to the organisers). We only needed to drive on course behind the riders for a couple of kilometres before we could exit the route, drive for a bit, and then re-enter the course well ahead of the peloton. By the time we were back on course, the riders still had some serious distance to cover - including a Category 1 climb.
Once again the stage finished on top of a mountain, so, of course, there were transport difficulties. This time we needed to catch a ski lift to the top, but not before we grabbed some baguettes from the kiosk at the lift entrance. Either we looked very hungry, or were exuding nice guy vibes - because we walked away with an extra baguette. Merci.
I had an idea where I wanted to shoot next - there was a big concrete barrier on the inside of a corner, and I wanted to climb it and call it mine. After a slippery ascent, I made it up just in time before the rain hit. Fortunately, I had managed to grab the umbrella Speedy was given by some lovely Spaniards in Andorra, and so I was able to change lenses under cover.
Once the final riders of the breakaway had passed, I clambered down off my perch and made my way up to where the crowds had covered the road. Once again there was a hint of chaos in the air as the riders who had finished the stage were being sent back down the hill with jackets on and whistles in their mouths - while the remaining riders were still coming up. The result was a crowd, plus a bunch of professional athletes (some fiercely blowing whistles, while others were still trying to finish the stage), trying to move in all directions - the crowd trying to dodge the riders while the riders tried to dodge the crowd. Queue the Benny Hill music...
After the mess of the last mountain finish, we decided that we didn’t want to risk another 3 hour trip back down the mountain. We also thought that after 3 weeks of compulsive baguette consumption, coupled with minimal exercise, we could use a decent walk. Plus, we didn’t want to miss all the fun.
As we trekked down, it was almost like playing frogger with pro cyclists, amateurs and gendarmes tearing past us. The good news is that we did a better job of going down a wet hill than some of the riders did today.