Stage 9: Arras Citadelle > Roubaix
Stage 9: Arras Citadelle > Roubaix
Sunday, 15th July 2018
Sunday, 15th July 2018

A sleepless night

“Sometimes, you’re just too keen” muttered Álvaro groggily from behind the wheel, as we waited for the publicity caravan to clear the Stage 9 start so we could park. “I could’ve slept for another 30 minutes”.

I was the one that needed sleep, after tossing and turning all night in anticipation of what would surely be an explosive stage. I’d spent hours mapping out every possible option to maximize our cobble time, but was a little worried. If we missed just one spot, the entire plan could come crashing down.

There were a lot of unknowns waiting for us today. Stage 9 was one of le Tour’s best spectator stages, but just how crowded would it be? And would we run into another round of the route-rupturing road blocks that bamboozled us yesterday?

I tried to relax and enjoy Arras’ publicity caravan festivities in the meantime. No one could feel stressed for too long around my favourite little Madeline-shaped dune buggy – he’s the best! Until I started imagining having to drive him for the 800km transfer to Annecy tonight… I’ll stick to the ŠKODA, thanks.

I’m not sure whose birthday it was (although the Tour de France is 115 years old this year!) but there was an enormous cake in French blue, white and red which Álvaro mumbled was “très bon” with his mouth full. I would’ve rather had one of the beers they were handing out to calm my nerves, but that would have to wait until later.

Straight to hell

Our first stop in true ‘Hell of the North’ territory was d’Eswars à Paillencourt. It was baking hot, and dusty as hell. I was coated in it and the race hadn’t even passed yet.

When the peloton did thunder through, it was insane! Dust exploded into my eyes, my mouth, down the back of my throat – and – far worse – all over my camera. The riders must be hacking it up out of their lungs for days afterward.

As soon as the last rider was through, I tried to get back to the car, but the convoy of team cars completely filled the road. I had to wait it out while being blanketed in more dust.

I could see Álvaro consider refusing to let me and my dust dipped beard back inside the ŠKODA, but with some dire-sounding muttering he relented and we were on the chase again.

The cobbles weren’t just hell for the riders. We still had to bounce along the remaining sector, trying to avoid the drunken mobs of spectators now spilling out onto the road. The Don’s driving (and parking) skills are only surpassed by his horn skills – I’ve never heard such an enthusiastic use of it.

A bunch of team cars were pushing to get out the same exit as us, which was blocked by a truck. The pressure built up like a cork in a champagne bottle, and eventually – POP! – we somehow got through, miraculously with both wing mirrors still intact.

Full gazoil

To reach the next spot, it was full gazoil on the back roads towards the highway. The riders were doing close to 50 km/h so this would be our only way to get ahead (as not even Álvaro can swing over 50 on the narrow country roads).

We could see the colourful race route weaving back and forth under the highway as we drove.

Fortunately, our exit was open, and we took a small dirt road directly to the cobbles. More enthusiastic use of the horn was required to clear our way through the spectators. Some of them took a decidedly dim view of being beeped at as they calmly walked to watch a bike race... I can’t imagine why.

Trek Supafriendo

I made it to a perfect cobbled corner just before the riders came into sight. As I was snapping away, two members of Trek Segafredo made a bike change directly in front of me – photographic gold!

But despite nailing my 2 out of 2 spots so far, there was no time to slow down and smell the sunflowers. As soon as the GC guys had passed, it was time to bust a move before the crowd started to leave, blocking the narrow road.


My last spot of the day was actually a 3-for-the-price-of-1 bargain bonanza, with 3 spots all spaced closely together. The riders would be covering 3.5km while I could run 450m and see them twice. It was going to be a mad dash, but with all the running training I’d been doing at first the Tour de Suisse, and now the Tour de France, I backed my legs to make it.

We weren’t the only people with this plan, however, and after snapping the first guys it was a free for all as people ran, rode or drove to try and see the riders again. At one point I was running as fast as I could through a waist-high wheat field, leaving a path of destruction in my wake. I hope the farmer wasn’t watching!

I just made it in time to catch the yellow jersey group, then it was back in the ŠKODA again for the wildest 2km of the Caravan ever. We only had 7 minutes to make the next spot, and the ‘road’ consisted of busted up cobblestones and rocks. Álvaro was behind the wheel giving it everything he had, and next minute the car was going completely sideways.

I was sure we were going straight into the field to destroy more of farmer Joe’s crop but he slid it back the other way correcting the car perfectly. Wooooohooooo! I was chewing my beard in a mixture of sheer terror and excitement, this was as good as race chasing gets.

We skidded in front of a line of parked cars and I leaped out and ran, making it mere seconds before the first riders came into sight. We’d managed 5 cobbled sectors, with the last 3 shots within a 15-minute window. What a day, what a stage!

The only thing that dampened my high was hearing about Richie Porte’s crash and abandonment. As a fellow Aussie and a good mate, I was really hoping to see him step up on the podium in Paris.

As for us, now we really had earned a rest day. If only we didn’t have an 800km transfer ahead of us...
Stage 9: Arras Citadelle > Roubaix
Teams Presentation
Stage 1: Noirmoutier-en-l'Île > Fontenay-le-Comte
Stage 2: Mouilleron-Saint-Germain > La Roche-sur-Yon
Stage 3, Team Time Trial: Cholet > Cholet
Stage 4: La Baule > Sarzeau
Stage 5: Lorient > Quimper


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