This morning we bid farewell to some amazing Airbnb hosts in Les Houches and the Canadian bars of Chamonix; promises to return have been made. Today was also the final day of real racing, which left us with a bittersweet feeling. It meant we would soon have regular sleep patterns, but we would no longer be rubbing shoulders with the pros as we raided l’espace gourmand in the Stage 20 village.
We would have the chance to shoot the team paddock and two climbs today. After narrowly getting onto the course in time, we drove over the first climb and headed to the Col du Colombier. As always, the best spots to park were taken, so we stopped in a spot temporarily and a Gendarme approached Speedy’s window. Instead of shooing us away he guided us into a safer spot, in return we offered him a Prince biscuit. He declined the offer, but the gesture was accepted by another Gendarme, who eagerly shook the treat from the packet.
Getting to the spot was the hardest part as it was a steep and slippery hill, with nettles, thistles and cow pats covering the grass - this was one time you REALLY didn’t want to slip. While scrambling down the embankment Speedy noticed that an Orica Bike Exchange soigneur had obviously been rushed into the car and his bag was sprawled open on the grass. However, it was neatly hidden away from the eyes of fans - so we got first dibs on some bidons before the crowd descended on the remains.
As the rest of the crowd started to cover the road, we madly dashed to the car. Some polite toots later we were on the scariest descent so far; narrow with very tight corners, sheer drops and a very wet surface. Without warning, we rounded a corner to find Monsieur ‘Arrets Frequents’ taking down the route signs in his white van and promptly dodged him. After catching the ‘Presse’ convoy, he pulled up next to us and polite “ça vas?” were exchanged as well as a route marking sign. Mr. AF had sure changed his tune since last year’s TDF, when he kept overtaking us, then stopping, as we tried to follow behind the end of the race.
As we drove up the final climb, the rain hit the mountain - getting heavier and heavier. People were dashing for cover and the merchandise vendors were making a killing with €10 ponchos and even more exorbitantly expensive umbrellas. After reaching the summit, the rain seemed to disappear, though dark clouds still threatened to unleash their payload.
Minutes before the riders were due to reach us, a cloud started to creep in, steadily filling the valley and blocking out the amazing view. I had to leave my latest perch, which I’d only just scrambled up to. Conveniently, the fog lifted just before the peloton stormed past us so I climbed back up again - much to the amusement of onlookers. One lady even commented that my climbing display was the most impressive performance of the day. I thanked her, chuffed that my efforts to get the shot didn’t go unnoticed.
After the ‘Fin de Course’ van passed, we started the squelchy journey back to the car. On the road, a fan and her daughter stopped me for a chat and a photo - it turns out that I have some fans in Massachusetts! It was definitely a day of giving as they walked away with some of the stickers I had been meaning to give out.