I was excited about Col d’Izoard for stage 18. Not only was it a summit finish, it was also the first time the mountain had hosted a stage finish full-stop. Not to mention this year’s race being one of the closest GC battles at le Tour de France in quite some time!
However, the first stop for today was a quick check-in at the start to see Aussie Michael Matthews in the green jersey.
There was something strange about the stage 18 media communication sent out by our press contact (and serial frenemy) Fabrice. It stated that no spectators would be allowed in the desert section of Col d’Izoard.
The area in question was Casse Déserte, on the southern side, which is one of those breathtakingly alien landscapes you sometimes find on earth. In this case it reminds me a little of Monument Valley, with stone spires erupting from the scree slopes.
Casse Déserte is a national park, so I initially thought the ban was to keep people off the protected scree. However, Fabrice’s communique suggested it was more about creating a special view for the TV cameras. Thankfully, press and photographers would be permitted into the area, giving me an opportunity to mess it all up for them :)
The stage 18 press carpark was already overflowing with people when we reached the summit. As we pushed through the crowds, it was hard to comprehend that, just a short walk away, there would be no one. Sure enough, though, after walking a short distance down from the summit, there wasn’t a spectator in sight. It wasn’t exactly swarming with photographers either, I almost had this breathtaking scene all to myself.
There were, however, five massive semi-trailers parked along the side of the road. No one knew why, but there they were, ruining our shot. It seemed to subvert the very reasoning for keeping the spectators away. In fact, the trucks just made everything look much, much worse. Good luck with that TV coverage, Fabrice.
Truck-gate threw best laid plans into disarray, as photographers tried to come up with creative new angles to capture the riders whilst avoiding the hulking great trucks. After changing my mind several times, I finally settled on a high angle, perched well above the dozens of foraging photographers below. Beardy’s Caravan, bringing you a unique angle since 2015...
As I whittled away the time, watching that other caravan pointlessly throw bags of lollies, key rings and cycling caps at the bemused photographers below, I crossed my fingers that the sun would stay out long enough to see the riders clatter past. There were dense cumulus clouds headed our way.
Fortunately the sun stayed out and I got my shot before scrambling down the rock scree. I say scramble, but it was more like skating, as the small rocks rolled under my feet creating a mini avalanche. I yelled a warning to the photographers below, which was lucky, as they would have been showered in tiny rocks of fury otherwise.
Once the last riders had passed, I hiked back up to the top, just missing out on a lift along the way. Perhaps this was for the best. After all the caravan refuse I had consumed a little further back down the hill, I could do with a brisk walk.
Mrs McBeard had been hard at work, capturing the riders closer to the summit. Beardy Junior, as usual, was feeding his face. Just as we all met up back at the car, the herd of homeward-bound spectating cyclists were unleashed.
We were left with little choice but to carefully manoeuvre the Skoda through the stampede.