There’s already been a fair bit of chaos in this year’s Tour de France, with GC riders losing time, mass peloton pile-ups, and Álvaro and I cutting it a bit fine on a few occasions. Nonetheless, Stage 6 – finishing atop the Mûr-de-Bretagne – looked like it would shake up the general classification a little more still. For me, it was also a homecoming of sorts; the Mûr had featured in my very first Beardy’s Caravan, way back when in 2015. How time flies…
In 2018, however, the riders were facing two ascents of the wall, so we had to be there extra early. Rumours of the parking area being conveniently located 9km from the finish had spread like wildfire through the photographer whisper network, meaning a bus ride and a possibly all-day affair, adding to my nerves.
After Don Álvaro and I made our scheduled appearance at the start village – a free coffee for me, another helping of chicken and chips for him (seriously, the man’s a machine) – we headed off to our first location, shooting the riders as they passed the 1700-year-old Château de Brest in the neutral section. Then it was full gas to the first climb.
Surprisingly, given how close we’d been cutting it all Tour, we arrived at the third category Côte de Ploudiry with time to spare. I used my newfound breathing room to mingle with the spectators, and boy did I find some interesting characters! The Bretons are a proud people, and there were plenty of Gwen-ha-du flags held high.
Diplomatic duties fulfilled, I soon noticed a plume of multi-coloured smoke a bit further down the road, and set off to investigate. I’m a sucker for a flare and I wasn’t going to miss the chance of a killer shot.
By the time I found the troublemaker – appropriately wearing a T-shirt featuring Heisenberg from Breaking Bad – the breakaway had passed and the flare was out. Luckily, despite his feeble protests that the Gendarme had told him to put the last one out, he eventually took my advice (“people let flares off all time, you’ll be fine, just don’t burn the riders with it”). I channeled by inner Mister Burns ( “eeeexcellent” ) at the thought of the climb cloaked in colourful smoke – pure photographic gold.
From experience, spectators always let flares off too early so I told Heisenberg to wait until he could see the riders before letting it rip. I’m not sure if he had problems getting it started, but he was late off the mark and missed the first riders. The Gendarme didn’t look too impressed, but in true Breaking Bad style, he took it all in his stride, puffing up his chest and holding the flare steady like it was the most normal thing in the world – while the riders almost choked on the thick smoke.
This wasn’t the last bit of smoke the peloton would have to endure today. As we left the cat 3 climb, eagle-eyed Álvaro spotted a black cloud hovering on the horizon, and soon enough we reached the source.
Now, I can’t be sure if it was deliberate or not, but judging by the crowd of people hardly batting an eyelid at the towering inferno created by 10 burning hay bales, I think you can draw your own conclusions. Whether it was the work of a wayward flare or a local pyromaniac, the heat coming through the car window was so intense that I thought it was going to melt the tyres – it must have been horrible for the riders.