Type 3 fun
Team Time Trials are the shortest, yet most intense days of the Tour de France, with all the action crammed into a frantic afternoon window. But for now the morning was mine, so I took the chance to get one last spin on my Giant TCR in. This was my 4th ride since arriving in La Roche-sur-Yon, which must be some kind of new record for Beardy’s Caravan – fingers crossed I can keep it up!
I felt a pang to be saying goodbye to our Air BnB, which we’d made our home away from home with a growing pile of decorative beer bottles (mostly Alvaro’s, I’m sure).
Today’s Stage 3 location, Cholet, takes its sport seriously. Cholet has been awarded ‘most sporting town’ on 3 occasions, and has hosted every type of Tour stage over the years: a team time trial in 1936, a road stage in 1998 and an individual time trial in 2008. They take their fenced off areas pretty seriously too…but more on that later.
Before the Stage start, I had an extra gig capturing some shots of the Movistar team for their sponsors. It was another scorcher, and ‘warm up’ seemed a misnomer, with sweat literally pouring off the riders – and off me - as they spun away in front of the team bus.
I made my way over to capture the first teams rolling down the starting ramp, and waiting in the yellow tent for their bikes to be checked for UCI regulation violations. The riders’ grim faces contrasted with the buzz from the crowd outside, anticipating the world of hurt that was about to come their way.
Time Trials are definitely Type 3 fun in my books (unless you’re a special kind of masochist) where Type 1 fun is, well, actually fun, Type 2 fun is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect, and Type 3 fun is not fun at all, not even in retrospect (see, Time Trials).
All the bikes passed inspection OK, so it was show time! I shot the first couple of teams before making the short walk to the finish, just before the first team rolled in.
Feeding time at the zoo
The finish was utter chaos as the riders blew straight past the support staff and out of the barricades. On the other side was no man's land, with no security to keep fans and media from swamping the riders.
As each team came speeding into the crowd, everyone scrambled to try and get a selfie with their favourite rider or capture the first interview. All this while the riders were gasping for breath and emptying bottle after bottle of water over their heads.
I managed to capture a couple of key riders before I got sick of the scrum and went in search of a footbridge over the course that I had spotted on Google maps.
I could see the bridge not too far away, with a bunch of people watching the race from above. After a bit of hunting, I found the entry point up a set of spiral stairs. The access was fenced off but I got a little help from some other adventurous individuals, who lifted up the metal barricade so I could slide underneath.
I only got two shots of the teams riding below before the Gendarme were on us (possibly following a suspicious bearded individual to the scene). The barricade provided temporary protection while they yelled at us from the other side. I ignored them for as long as I could, hoping a couple more teams might pass.
But the boys in blue were now on both sides of the bridge, and my fellow rule breakers were fleeing over the top of the fence. Not wanting to be the lone scapegoat, I joined them in jumping ship and disappearing into the safety of the bushes.