After spending the first four stages skipping the start to race off for an early shot, Stage 5 saw us hanging around for the roll-out.
It wasn’t, however, exactly a ‘team effort’. I manically ran around, shooting the stars of the race, while Speedy kicked back and enjoyed the good life. I fought tooth-and-nail in the photo pit, trading bruises and elbows, while Speedy sampled the local produce in the Tour Village.
At least he managed to rustle-up some baguettes for lunch - so all was forgiven in the end.
Our one and only photo opportunity today was approximately 180 km into the race, so we made a beeline to the highway and started working through the kms. As we ventured further into the mountains, our Nostalgie reception dwindled, forcing us to, reluctantly, sample a new station. We settled on something called Skyrock. Contrary to its name, it contained neither sky nor rock music - only the bitter sounds of disappointment. In lieu of music, then, we resorted to conversation, games of ‘I Spy’ and eating peanut butter-flavoured Cheetos.
As we left the ‘Hors Course’ and got onto the race route, the Curse of the Caravan struck again. This time, it was the lumbering Tour de France caravan in the way, forcing us to crawl, achingly slowly, up 3 categorised climbs and across several narrow mountain passes. Even the poor (usually upbeat) bloke in the swinging gondola float, near the back of the procession, looked over it all. It was, quite literally, the longest 50kms of our lives.
Things were looking dire, tempers were flaring and the water was running out - so it was a good thing I made a thermos full of coffee before we rolled out. We slowly sipped from our matching ceramic mugs and stared blankly out the window, garnering looks of curiosity as our colourful convoy inched past the expectant crowd.
Eventually we reached the summit of Pas de Peyrol and were able to skip past the technicolour madness. However, a new challenge soon presented itself - a herd of campervans had been mustered into every last inch of available space, leaving nowhere to park. To add to the chaos of the grey-nomad jamboree, our planned escape route to the finish had been blocked off by a wall of fans and fencing - we weren’t going to see who won the stage today. A sense of panic set in as we realised that there would also be several kilometres of running between wherever we parked and any shots from the summit.
To further complicate matters - the shot from the summit was nowhere near as good as the potential shots I had seen on the brisk jog up from the car. There had been another valley in the background, plus winding roads along the ridgeline - much nicer than a parking lot full of campervans. After shooting the race leaders go over the top, we madly dashed back towards these previous locations, cowering in the gutters whenever we heard the sound of freewheels buzzing.
It turned out that our parking spot was, on balance, a blessing-in-disguise - offering a clear run to the bottom. Speedy lived out a childhood fantasy of driving full-tilt down a closed alpine road, albeit in a compact SUV and not a DB5. However our luck was short-lived, with the Jean-Claude-van-Dammeries blocking our exit point. Instead, they forced us to drive up and over the next climb, dodging aspiring cyclists, unruly children and drunk, shirtless men - all of which we’ll no doubt experience again in the coming days and weeks.