Having the stomach for it...
Most stages of a multi-stage race are point-to-point. Regular readers will know that this means I can usually squeeze in 3-4 locations to shoot from - if I’m lucky. Pushing that envelope has seen me flirt with disaster in various forms - from risking arrest to missing the finish of an important stage.
Today was a little different, with the riders completing a large circuit loop around Frauenfeld four times (including a climb to Kalchrain). This meant I would be able to shoot from at least four spots without breaking a sweat. Add a little careful route planning and some much-less-careful driving, and I was a chance to set a new Beardy’s Caravan record. The current bar sits at a magnificent seven (the 2016 Paris Roubaix with the help of my ASO driver Pascal).
Funnily enough, I haven’t driven in race conditions all that often myself. This is usually the numero uno role of my trusty sidekick, while I navigate and keep an eye on the race. However, with the Skoda Octavia RS purring nicely, I was looking forward to brushing up on my rally driving skills almost as much as shooting the stage itself. I worked out each of the diversions and carefully entered them in the GPS; without a navigator there would be no room for error.
The sign-on was a case of déjà vu - being held in the same location as stage 1. Still, this meant I knew exactly where the media buffet was, meaning I could munch whilst mingling amongst the riders and fans. As I commented yesterday, the access to the riders and teams is substantially better at the Tour de Suisse than at the larger races. This was working out particularly well for the Sagan fans who were able to get a signature, a photo and even a chat with their hero - something unthinkable at, say, the Tour de France. I even saw a portly Italian gentleman stop Sagan in his tracks, lift up his shirt and ask for a signature right on his gut! Sagan, himself having a strong sense of theatre, happily obliged. And so his legend, and rockstar status, grows.
What goes up...
After BMC had been presented up on stage, holding almost all the jerseys, I hit the road for my first spot; a long shot of the riders coming across a bridge in the distance. As usual, the initial location wasn’t quite what I was looking for, so I had to get creative. Inevitably, this meant scaling a nearby stone wall.
The Swiss police didn’t seem to get as much of a kick out of my rock climbing as their Spanish counterparts had last year when I scaled a road sign in front of them. These Swiss police also looked considerably meaner - and like they took their job quite seriously - which unnerved me a little. I decided I could deal with the disapproving looks, just so long as a couple of tree-trunk arms didn’t reach up and try to pull me down.
On the fry
Arriving ahead of the breakaway, I found time to snap a couple of locals sitting outside their house, while another fried a large sausage over a charcoal grill.
Rinse and repeat
As it turned out, I managed to get to four spots on the first lap; the last of which featured the breakaway descending amongst the apple trees.
Now that I had my route sorted, the remaining three laps would be a relatively simple case of rinse-and-repeat, with some slight variations thrown in for good measure.
I found myself captivated by the skies. As it wasn’t a stage of high mountains, I used the sky as much as possible - along with the rolling green fields. In one instance I found a paddock filled with peas in ripe, juicy pods. I was tempted to munch on one while I waited for the riders but, after smelling the fowl mixture of manure that was getting sprayed about, I decided to give it a miss.
My last shot before heading to the finish line was at the top of the hill. I could see where I wanted to be, but there was a fence in the way. I put my hand to the top wire only to recoil in shock - it was electrified. Lucky I tested it with my hand before trying to straddle it - or I could have ended up with a much worse electric shock, if you know what I mean...
A small victory
With an extra burst of ‘energy’ I headed to the finish and lined up on the front row. I was really starting to enjoy this race and not having to fight for position. Sagan powered to the sprint victory, much to the delight of the large crowd lining the street.
I scored a small victory of my own, setting a new record for the most locations shot from in a single stage. With some crafty driving I had cracked double-digits, covering 10 spots in total.