Keen observers may have noticed that, until just a few hours ago, stage 14 was missing from my 2017 le Tour advent calendar. You know, that list of hotly-anticipated, must-read, action-packed content on my Tour page. Given that it wasn’t a decisive mountain stage, I had instead planned to continue my on-again-off-again French holiday with Mrs McBeard.
Still, as we sat sipping Rośe in our dinosaur-themed BnB courtyard, making delightful small talk over a rather long brunch, something just didn’t feel right. I’m not sure if it was my intuitive grissini gut reawakening, or the fact I had missed two important finishes in the last two days (which I had desperately wanted to bring to you). Suddenly I felt destiny calling me, nay, screaming at me, to be at the stage 14 finish.
Let’s call it a cyclist’s intuition - I just knew something big was brewing. I knew I had to be there.
Husbands (as well as select fiancés and other long-term boyfriends) everywhere know the look I am about to describe. It occurs after you have said something so boneheaded, so utterly, incomprehensibly stupid that the recipient can only stare back at you with a mix of shock, bewilderment and rapid blinking. Sometimes, if you really pull one out of the bag, there will also be a slight edge of bemusement, as they start to look around for the hidden cameras and pearly-white-toothed host crouching in nearby bushes to explain they’ve just been punked. This is all, of course, a preface to the white-hot, searing anger and rasping condemnation that inescapably follows.
And so we headed off to the stage 14 finish. There wasn’t much small talk in the car.
The steep uphill finish had gotten everyone’s attention - it seemed every man and his camera were descending on this finish.
However, I had arrived so early (for once) that I had the pick of the initial spots. This was lucky, as my late start to the Tour had relegated me to a grey vest. Like the coloured belts of martial arts, each media vest colour at le Tour de France affords its wearer certain privileges. The grey vest is the bottom of the pile, meaning you should yield to the higher grades, or risk an ass-whooping.
Accordingly, I had to fight tooth-and-nail to hold my position. Not just against the entrenched media scrum, but also the photo motos who are notorious for flying in at the last moment and pushing all the other photographers out of the way. Now I know why they call it a ‘press gang’...
By some miracle (and some well-timed elbows) I managed to hold my ground and capture the shot of Michael ‘Bling’ Matthews winning the stage in a hard-fought sprint. The mix of shadow and light on the finishing straight made for a challenging shoot - however I managed to snap Bling just as he popped into the light to celebrate his hard-fought victory. I swelled with nationalistic pride.
Chris Froome looked like he was hurting as he came across the line shortly afterwards. All that pain quickly disappeared, though, as he was reunited with his old mate, the Maillot Jaune.
The look of disappointment on Fabio Aru’s face was palpable - and also oddly familiar...