Tour within a Tour
Today was just one of those days.
We arrived at the Velodrome in Marseille with time to burn. However, a miscommunication regarding accessing the press area found us on a 45 min guided tour of the facility we couldn’t seem to talk our way out of.
At least we got to hit the buffet on the way to keep our energy levels up!
Shooting a time trial is always tricky. Unless you have an army of juniors or assistants on hand - or belong to one of the larger bureaus - you need to be highly strategic about the ‘who, where and how’, in order to get your shots.
Stage 20 would have been a really tough one too. With only 22km of course in a major metropolitan city clogged with traffic, road closures and spectators, getting to multiple spots would be tough, if not impossible.
Likely realising this (and/or giving old Beardy a helping hand), the organisers went about delivering a series of le Tour ‘firsts’ to make the stage more accessible.
Firstly, and on a kind of side note, this would be the first ever time trial in in the port town of Marseille, which would mean stunning images of the French Riviera, if I could only get to the right spots. Francophiles will point out that Marseille is likely a little too far west to be considered a part of the Côte d'Azur, with Saint-Tropez the more recognised boundary on the French side. Tomato, tomato.
Secondly, the organisers had the ITT start and finish in the same place, effectively cutting the length of the course in half. This meant less area to cover, and double value points if you hit a really good spot.
In another Tour de France first, the individual time trial started and finished in a velodrome, meaning great access for media, easy press parking and an electric atmosphere.
So, the ASO/organisers get a big tick for their part. Chapeau Fabrice!
As for me, I had planned to get out on the ITT course before the riders, driving to a location along the seaside that I had picked out. However, after our unplanned facility tour, which delayed us getting the correct accreditation to get to the start/finish area in the velodrome, we were too late to access the main roads.
An inside tip from one of the officials saw us navigating around the narrow backstreets of Marseille, surrounding Notre-Dame de la Garde, at break-neck speed. We made surprisingly good time, without so much as a scratch on our zippy little Škoda.
I had circled all the riders that were favourites to take the win on my guide - with Mrs McBeard barking out the order while I shot them. Once we hit a big enough gap between the key riders, we made a dash for the only climb on this otherwise flat ITT, a super-steep road up to the church.
In total we managed to get to 3 spots, making it back to the velodrome before the GC leaders had hit the course. A reasonable effort, especially given it looked like most of the other photographers had yet to leave the press room buffet. I even caught Rigo and Froome warming up by the buses. It was all falling into place.
After Froome rolled down the ramp, all the photographers rushed to the opposite side of the velodrome to capture the remainder of the riders finishing. I found myself a sneaky spot just behind the UCI tent. As each of the riders completed the course, they got ushered into the tent to have their bike rechecked for motors, correct weight and dimensions. As they did this the riders collapsed onto a chair right in front of me.
I couldn’t see the screen, but the noise from the crowd reverberating around the stadium was near-deafening. I could almost assemble a mental finishing order, based on how loud the crowd was; Beardy’s ‘applause-o-meter’. Of course, I allowed for crowd bias and favouritism. I was nowhere near the mark.
Still, when Froome rolled in, the places went bananas. As press photographers and TV cameras descended on him, I had a fair hunch he might have secured the Maillot Jaune. Congratulations on a fourth Tour de France crown Chris! You were made to earn it this year, and you responded like the true champion that you are.
Paris can wait
Mrs McBeard and I had decided some time ago that le petit tour de la barbe would take in only the major mountain stages, as well as a few others that were not too far off the beaten path from our on-again-off-again romantic French getaway. This included avoiding the 800km drive to Paris to capture the stage 21 finish on the Champs-Élysées.
Some of you might well argue that the stage 21 finish is the most important spectacle for a cycling photographer to capture at le Tour, especially given he is already in France. The big finish, the presentations, the confetti canons. What’s more, I couldn’t say you were wrong.
Still, as we packed up and said our farewells to the other photographers who were frantically getting their affairs in order so as to be able to set off for a mind-numbingly long, 800km drive to Paris, we were left with conflicting emotions. Yes, we wanted to be there to see the Tour end (and it would be a mighty finish, as it always is). Yet, when I casually floated the idea of joining them to Mrs McBeard, who has already driven thousands of kilometres, always in the opposite direction to her dream French holiday, the resulting look spoke volumes. That was it, we were done. Both with the Tour, and, accordingly, the Caravan for another instalment.
And so, there was only one last job left before our flight back to the pool bar; the return of the Škoda to the dealer (which was not very far from the Velodrome). What we hadn’t taken into account was the surge pricing on Uber, due to the crowds, which had pushed prices to astronomical levels. To get back to our hotel from the dealership would have cost well over 100 euros.
What followed, in a moment of thriftiness and, possibly, insanity, was a series of incidents that I’d rather not remember. Or re-live any time soon. Suffice to say, after a crazy sampling of public transport combinations, including, bus, metro and train, then taxi (not necessarily in that order), we finally arrived back at the hotel almost 3 hours later.
So there we have it friends, another grand tour done and dusted. Thank you so much for reading!
What’s next, I hear you say? Well, just between you and me, I won’t be away from the Caravan for long. Stay tuned because, after a short break, Beardy’s Caravan will be back from the roads of la Vuelta a España! Until then, it’s 'au revoir' from Mrs McBeard, Beardy Junior and myself.