‘Stick to a healthy lifestyle’
Rest days aren’t just for the riders. With over 2 weeks of Tour de France chasing under our belts, Álvaro and I were just hanging in there for today’s 181.5km Stage 15 from Millau to Carcassonne - ahead of a much-needed break tomorrow. The official media roadbook helpfully instructed us to “Be ready and alert: stick to a healthy lifestyle for the 3 weeks (sleeping well, eating well…)”. Somehow I don’t think that midnight bedtimes and chicken and chips for breakfast fits the bill!
Our entire plan for the day rested on one wild gamble. Instead of taking the safe option and shooting just out of town at the famous Millau Viaduct (the tallest bridge in the world, with its highest mast measuring 343m), we were heading to the first Catégorie climb Pic de Nore, sight unseen.
It’s the first time the climb has been used in le Tour, described by the road book as having a ‘panoramic view’. This was all the info I had to go off, as the internet in last night’s accommodation was so bad I was struggling to even get yesterday’s Stage 14 photos uploaded, meaning there was no chance of my usual digital reconnaissance.
A strange new feeling
We set off along towards the climb in our faithful ŠKODA. As we drove, I tried to work out where we could fit in a second photo location for the day. But it’s almost impossible to get ahead of the riders in this mountainous area. When we calculated the diversion to do an additional stop, it was going to take 2.5 hours and get us there just 10 minutes before the peloton. Even with Álvaro’s rally driving skills, that was way too tight.
After the last seven stages of scraping through against similar odds by the skin of our teeth, we decided to quit while we were ahead and call it an easy day. After all, we’d already clocked up 5150km since rolling out of Paris, and still had a big week of driving left.
The sun was out and the countryside was dotted with colourful local homages to le Tour. As we cruised along the 140km drive giving pockets of waiting spectators an occasional beep and a wave, I tried to identify a strange new feeling welling up inside me. Could it be… relaxation?
One wild gamble
The road started to climb upward toward Pic de Nore and the strange feeling ebbed away, replaced by the more familiar hunched shoulders and forehead furrow of stress. Without my usual digital research, I had no idea what to expect. So far the road was hemmed in with trees, and no sign of a view. What if it was like this all the way up?
Finally, the first open section came into sight. But this was only at the halfway point, too early for the bunch to be properly broken up. We kept going and the trees closed in again. 3km to the sommet…1.5km to the summit…still no panoramic view. Was I going to have to settle for finish line photos again?!
Just as I started chewing my beard in earnest, the trees parted with a flourish, exposing a glorious expanse of blue sky. There was even a TV tower reminiscent of the iconic Mont Ventoux view. I swear I could hear angelic trumpets blowing in the distance. Grâce à Dieu!