You’d think we would’ve learnt our lesson back in Stage 4, but we arrived at the start of Stage 11 of the Tour de France running on fumes. So instead of the relaxed morning we had planned, meandering amongst the scenic surrounds of Albertville, a "Town of art and history", instead we had to navigate a sticky web of road closures to the one gas station on the opposite side of town. And all this before I’d even had a coffee.
At 108.5km, this was a very short stage. Last time I shot a short stage I only managed one photo spot. But with a full tank of fuel in the ŠKODA and a couple of coffees caffeinating my blood stream, I was feeling confident and optimistically penciled in 3 locations. After all you can’t make wine without crushing grapes, and Beardy’s Caravan is all about the pressure, baby.
The pressure would be on for the riders today too, starting straight up a 12km climb. With Geraint Thomas sitting second in the GC, his Team Sky mates were looking all fired up and ready to attack. If I were Greg Van Avermaet I’d be feeling the yellow jersey like a target on my back.
Making friends with salami
Our first mountainside photo spot would require another dashing backwards escape plan as soon as the riders had swept through. Driving backwards on the course was still an official non-non, but I was feeling brave after yesterday’s success. Fingers crossed the grupetto wouldn’t be too far off the back, delaying our exit.
I found the best-placed switchback for a perfectly framed shot, but unfortunately the parking was already chockablock. We drove on, hoping to find something not too far away. But look as we might, we couldn’t find a gap bigger than a baguette, even to fit one of Álvaro’s creative parking maneuvers.
Just when we were approaching squashed grape pressure levels, a nice Dutch lady in a campervan took pity on us, moving their tidily set up table and chairs so we could park. Our free caravan loot from yesterday came in handy again, Álvaro dipping into the stash to thank our Dutchies with some packets of bite-sized Cochonou salami. (Don’t worry, we’ll still have plenty of genuine #beardysbricabrac left to give away next week!)
I set myself up for an absolute ripper of a shot, framing the switchback below with a backdrop of distant snow-capped mountains. There was a photomoto parked just out of sight, and I could hear news of the race crackling through his radio, letting me know it was almost showtime. And then, the words of doom: “Team cars of breakaway riders are now allowed to pass the peloton”. Nooooooo!
Just as the riders came into view, team cars started pushing past, polluting my perfect photo. I scrambled down from my high vantage point, desperately trying different angles to salvage something from the disaster.
My hope was that no riders would be too far back at this early stage of the race, as we now needed to swim against the stream and head back down the climb. If Mark Cavendish was too far back (no offence, mate) we were screwed and it would be a one-spot day. Climb, sprinter, climb!
But the back of the bunch came through in good time. So we said goodbye to our friendly Dutch corner, which was very sedate compared to what we will be experiencing on Alpe d’Huez tomorrow, and booted it to the next spot.
The motographer's revenge
The beautiful little town of Beaufort was perfectly positioned for a quick shot en-route to the climb of Cormet de Roseland. I snuck some shots of the break from a small laneway, then dashed up to the top of the church stairs for the main group. The timeless, heritage buildings contrasted nicely with the frantic colour and movement of the peloton, reminding me how many editions of le Tour some of these towns must have seen.
We found ourselves surrounded by a massive convoy heading to Cormet de Roseland, so Álvaro snagged the first park on offer, not wanting to have to give away any more precious Cochonous. The climb didn’t have the huge number of spectators I had expected, but I guess they were saving their flares and flags for tomorrow's final Alps showdown.
The rugged and rocky landscape was an incredible backdrop, but it seemed that I had again somehow angered the patron saint of motor vehicles and miscellaneous machines (perhaps through our dusty mistreatment of the ŠKODA yesterday?). My carefully composed image of the GC group was a wash thanks to a badly placed photomoto.