Friday the 13th
After yesterday’s action-packed stage, Stage 7 wasn’t exactly the most thrilling of affairs. The longest of this year’s Tour at 231km, and with a largely flat parcours to cover, it was all shaping up to be another day for the sprinters. I found out later that the average speed for the stage was just 38km/h – it would’ve been nice to pin a number on myself and join the bunch for a sunny roll through the French countryside.
Our first stop on the route was unplanned, with the local Citroen 2CV Club out in force to watch the peloton pass by. It made for a nice shot, but I somehow managed to snap the accreditation card off my lanyard in the process of getting in and out of the car. More of an annoyance than a real issue, I stowed it in the ŠKODA for safekeeping. Little did I know, my bad luck on Friday the 13th had only just begun.
From bad to worse
Things kind of went downhill from then on in – almost as if my accreditation card, like a lucky charm, was the only thing protecting me from bad luck.
What seemed to be a simple diversion to get back in front of the the peloton soon became an ordeal, with the first exit road inexplicably closed by barriers. The second road looked open, but a huge tractor only a few meters along halted our progress, and we – along with 4 other press cars – had to perform a extremely tight three-point turn to escape.
The next exit was thankfully open, and our newly formed press convoy raced along the back road in pursuit of the race. Following the GPS, we somehow ended up in farmer’s driveway. The guys following behind didn’t look all that impressed as we completed another three-point turn and headed back the way we came. After another close call featuring an inconveniently parked garbage truck, we eventually made it back onto the race route.
At the next location, on a picture-postcard bridge with the Mayenne Cathedral in the background, one of the Italian photographers asked me what had happened to my accreditation. I told him I had it in the car. “Lucky you didn’t lose it,” he said...
Lo and behold, back in the car on the way to our next spot, I couldn’t for the life of me find the stupid thing. I turned the car pretty much inside-out looking for it, but it had simply vanished into thin air. This was bad news, as I wouldn’t be able to shoot the finish without it.
Álvaro the rally driver
We still had two locations to shoot, but I weighed up my options and decided getting to the finish in Chartres ASAP to organise a new accreditation was the go. If we were going to skip half a stage, today was the day to do it – even the riders were falling asleep, their progress along the race route 40 minutes behind schedule.
I’d been stuck behind the publicity caravan in a previous Tour, so this year I had specifically asked for a blue and pink car sticker that allowed us to overtake it. It turned out be useful today as were soon amongst the chaos of the caravan, dodging the floats, freebies and the greedy outstretched hands of the French public, who are a little too eager for a free hat and a pack of lollies.
It didn’t take Álvaro long to start threading the needle tighter and tighter between each of the floats. Judging by the manic grin which soon spread across his face, the Don was enjoying himself, while I sat there digging my nails into my palms as flashbacks of Stuntman Mike at the Giro washed over me.
It turned out to be pretty easy fixing my accreditation situation; a fresh card was in my hand within 10 minutes, and with the riders still 50km out from the finish, it was the perfect time to see what local delights were on offer at the press buffet. To my dismay, Friday the 13th had even left its mark on the food offering of Stage 7, which left a lot to be desired, so I wandered off to find Álvaro.
He was already waiting at the finish line along with all of the other photographers, and judging by how many of them were there before me, it looked like nearly everyone had only made one stop on this very uneventful stage.
I’m not sure of the significance of stage winner Dylan Groenewegen’s victory salute but the media scrum afterwards was particularly bad, with one photographer and an official almost trading blows. I still managed to swoop in at just the right moment and capture an image of the winner – mission accomplished.