Tank half full
I tried not to dwell on the official media roadbook’s description of the local gastronomic specialties on offer for stage 4: bar en croûte de sel de Guérande (sea bass with salt crust), fondant baulois (chocolate cake with caramel and salted butter) and niniches (soft and fragrant lollipops).
Perhaps a slightly odd breakfast combination, but one I would have swapped for in a heartbeat. If you are what you eat, we would soon be resembling a couple of feathered potatoes.
Looking at the fuel gauge as we got in the ŠKODA, Álvaro and I decided to think of it as ‘a fuel tank quarter full’ rather than ‘a fuel tank nearly empty’. We had racked up 1500 kms and over 24 hours tour-chasing already.
Bearing our tank level in mind, Don Álvaro shifted gears from ‘rally car driver’ to ‘Grandma out for a Sunday drive’. All was going fine as we toddled along behind the peloton, the ŠKODA sipping frugally at the gazoil - until we ground to a complete halt. Apparently there’d been an accident and the highway ahead was closed to traffic.
I did some emergency investigation and found a sneaky backroad. It was going to be close to catch back up to the riders, but Álvaro rose to the challenge, unleashing his rally driving alter ego. We made it, however our fuel level was now depleted, in all likelihood, beyond the power of positive thinking.
Running on fumes
It seemed we had struck a fuel station black hole, with the closest one 28 km away, and the ŠKODA reading 30 km till empty. ‘Easy!’ said Álvaro, but I couldn’t help thinking that, with the way things had gone so far today, it was cutting it way too fine.
Sure enough, we hit a roadblock on our way to the fuel station. We got around by a little bit of creative curb hopping, but shortly found a second one – this time patrolled by the Gendarme.
After waggling my beard in the friendliest fashion I could muster, they begrudgingly let us past. We finally coasted into the petrol station in neutral, crossing our fingers and toes, and vowing not to let things get that close again!
Not happy Jan
With a full tank of gas I felt back on top of things and ready to tackle the rest of the stage. We had the option of shooting a small category 4 climb first, or heading directly to the finish in Sarzeau.
The climb was a little risky as the break had a large gap, and we would have to wait until the last rider had passed before making our finish line dash.
After our recent fuel tank experience, I decided to play it safe and head straight to the finish. But I soon kicked myself when I saw other photographers had taken the gamble and managed the two spots. I would be handing back my tin foil cup afterall.
Being early did have its advantages though, as I managed to snag a good spot not only for the sprint, but to make a quick exit to capture the winner’s celebrations.
The Vittel pro wrestling squad (aka race officials) were in good form again, knocking photographers and TV cameras out the way as they ushered Gaviria to the podium.
In the chaos, someone knocked Mark Cavendish and – BANG – his tyre exploded (like being beaten in the sprint wasn’t bad enough). Not happy Jan!
Denied their prey, the mob of press who had been panting after Gaviria surged towards Simon Clarke instead. Poor Clarkey put up his hands in a futile effort to shield himself, before being gobbled up and spat out the other side. I would love to say I had nothing to do with it, but I was in there trying to get my shot too. Sorry mate!
Tour-chasing finished for the day, wish me luck as I search out the roadbook’s promised Sarzeau oysters and tome de Rhuys cheese for tea. Failing that, there’s always chicken and chips.