Driving along a narrow, winding mountain road on the way back to my accommodation last night, I came face-to-face with a 1970s Lamborghini. There I was, in the middle of the Swiss Alps, surrounded by chateaus and castles, and then this beautiful automobile (in stunning condition). It was all a bit glamorous, I must say, so I backed up to where the road was a little wider and gazed longingly as he purred past.
My host welcomed me to his establishment and we shared a beer together. He filled me in on the local Gstaad gossip, introducing it as one of the wealthiest mountain towns in Switzerland and home to some of the most expensive Swiss hotels (that all seem to look a lot like a castle).
My room was only roughly 3 square meters, but still managed to fit a shower, toilet, washbasins and 2 beds. It was an amazingly well-organised little room, and a sensible conclusion to my chaotic day.
When I awoke the next morning, the Lamborghini was parked out the front. It soon roared to life and I left my stage 5 planning to go and check it out. I managed to get some photos before the owner drove away - but not before he had bemoaned how much it leaked in the rain and how the windscreen wipers didn’t work.
Me, myself am dry
After yesterday’s lack of preparation, I went to great lengths to plan for today’s stage. With a bit of careful driving, and a little luck, it looked like I could tick off all three of the categorised climbs. This was a rare opportunity indeed.
The sign-on area was flooded with puddles of water, with the riders forced to ride through in their fresh, dry kits, on their way to the signature board. The reflections in the water had mesmerised the media, with photographers flocking like seagulls to left-overs, squawking away with their cameras.
As for me, I had spent quite some time drying my shoes with the hair drier last night and wasn’t keen on another day of wet feet. So I shot from a respectable distance.
I set off early to invest a little extra time into my climbing day trifecta. The first climb was the Col du Pillon and I had decided to shoot the descent. I mistakenly drove straight past the spot, but, with time up my sleeve, I had the luxury of continuing along a little further to see if anything else caught my fancy. It didn’t, so I turned back. This is usually impossible under racing conditions, but with such short, rolling road closures, there is a little more flexibility.
After much deliberation, I settled on a shot that saw me pressed against a wall mid-corner. It was a rather dangerous position; if a rider crashed in the corner, they were going to end up taking me out as well. The sound of carbon brakes squealing and the smell of burning brake pads as the riders flew past my shoulder only heightened the sense of danger. I turned my focus the task at hand - trying to capture the riders flying past, whilst avoiding getting hit.
Needless for speed
The second climb to Montana was going to be much tighter timewise, so I found a spot low on the hill with a private getaway road nearby. With my trifecta on the line I wasn’t going to let any dropped riders slow me down! Rather than having to wait for the stragglers to pass, and the road to reopen, I could slip off down my private getaway road and be heading towards the final climb.
The race was still relatively compact when it reached me, which was a little disappointing, given the amount of effort I had put into my escape planning. Accordingly, I hopped into the Skoda and hit the bricks before the last rider had arrived - because I could.
I was another white knuckle ride down the hill, half navigating and half paying attention to the road, but after my needlessly speedy get away, I wanted to make sure I would make the final climb. My mind was soon put at ease as I merged onto the race route - and put the foot down towards my last stop for the day.
My wandering eye
As I made my way up the final climb I noticed a fellow photographer coming back the opposite way. This didn’t fill me with much confidence in the quality of shot I was likely to get at the finish line. With that in mind, I kept an eye out for good alternatives. When I saw the barricades at the 1km-to-go mark I knew I had to turn the car around, otherwise I would locked-in to the finish line shot.
There was a tunnel at the 2 km mark with a view back down into the valley. After my successful tunnel mission on stage 3 this seemed the best bet.
I made it back with plenty of time to spare, capturing the first riders with a view of the valley, then heading into the tunnel for the rest of the bunch.