When booking accommodation for the Tour de France, I always spend the most time choosing our Rest Day locations. It’s the only chance I get to actually spend some time in an area without being madly on the go, and, if I’m lucky, I get a ride in too.
With that in mind, I found a B&B with a great rating just near the Pic de Nore. Our hosts Remi and Catherine welcomed us with open arms – and, even more wonderfully, open beer bottles.
The next morning I set off to ride up Pic de Nore. The road started climbing right from the door all the way to the summit 30 km later. There’s nothing like riding the odd section of the course to really appreciate just what the riders are going through each day. A relaxed 2.5 hour loop for me was just a fraction of yesterday’s (decidedly un-relaxed) 181.5km stage. And they get up and do it again and again, the whole way through.
By the time I got back it was 11.30, perfect timing for a European breakfast. Álvaro had made it out of bed (just) and cranked up the jacuzzi. While we soaked up the serenity with a beer in hand, Remi asked if we would be happy with a barbecue for dinner. After multiple nights of dire accommodation, had we died and gone to heaven? Almost, but not quite, or I would have been soaking in the tub with the delightful Mrs McBeardy rather than the dastardly Don.
A shot in the dark
We were finally in sunflower country, our chance to tick off one of the classic Tour shots. The first couple of fields had an infestation of large black creatures with blocky protuberances (of the photographer genus), so we kept driving until we found one that was slightly less populated. Yellow sunflowers in the foreground, colourful peloton rushing through and a church steeple in the background. A scene I’ll never get sick of shooting.
En-route to our next climbside location, we suddenly found ourselves plunged into darkness driving through a cave. I had no idea that today’s course went through here, and had to reassess our plans on the spot. It would be a very difficult place to shoot due to the low light, but might give some incredible shots…if we could pull it off. Stopping here would also mean giving up one of our other sure-fire locations. Was it worth the risk?
It was just too unique not to try. So I pushed the boundaries of my equipment ramping up the ISO and shooting on an OLYMPUS f1.2 lens for maximum light. When the police motorbikes leading the race came through, I had no trouble getting them in focus. But when the riders pedalled past with no lights on them, it was a different story. I just shot like crazy and hoped at least one of them would be in focus! Back in daylight again, I flicked through the images in the car and was relieved to find a couple of sharp shots. #winning!
While we were stopped in the cave a bunch of other photographers decided to do the same. We were now number one in the convoy, making it my responsibility to map out a good diversion to get us back in front of the race. Still - we weren’t about to give into professional peer pressure - this was our time to shine! There were no main roads, and the GPS kept wanting us to go on the race route. So I had to freestyle it, calling out directions to Álvaro as I traced the almost non-existent road on the map like a boss.
To add to the fun, there were 3 speed cameras to avoid along the route, one nicely placed just after the overtaking lane started. I finally got us all back to the highway, with grateful toots from our following convoy for the helping hand. I now knew what a mother canard feels like leading her string of canetons behind her.
To Alvaro’s delight we had now crossed over into Spain, the Don’s domain. He excitedly pointed out the Basque, Catalan and Spanish flags on display, waving, tooting the horn and shouting “Hola!” out the window (thankfully somehow managing to stay on the road at the same time).
Col du Portillon rose up before us. Forming a natural border between Spain and France, it was the last climb of the day. It was also a descent from the sommet all the way to the finish, so the riders would be pushing hard to be first over the top. Adam Yates took the lead on the climb, but unfortunately the fast descent got the best of him on the way back down – ouch! Julian Alaphilippe took over to win the first Pyrenean stage, while Geraint Thomas retained the yellow.
I had strategically picked a hotel on the Spanish side, looking forward to trying some new cuisine after 2 weeks of French food. ¡Buen provecho!