Sometimes even a magic sticker isn’t quite magic enough.
Each day the official Tour guide lists the route of the Tour (them) and then a separate route which is described as the Off Race Itinerary (us). Once the Tour has left Le Depart we all jump in our vehicles and gas-it down the ORI to the end of the race. If we’re lucky the ORI will take us close enough to the riders’ route that we can grab one or even two looks at the Tour. Mostly the race travels on B roads and the ORI travels on the autoroute so, presumably, even HAR-V can out-run the peloton.
This being a Saturday and in the height of the holiday season the autoroute was packed and somewhere around the Peage in Aix-en-Provence I sensed we had a race on our hands.
As we reached L’Arrivee at Digne-Les-Bains we saw the familiar face of Fabian up ahead – one of the red-T-shirted organisation dudes who directs us to a parking spot at day’s end every day – and his face told the whole story: we were 1.5 km shy of the finishing line and we weren’t getting any closer.
I grabbed the camera my spex and my camera bag and started running.
As I reached the final roundabout of the day’s course I was still in the lead. I grabbed a quick shot of the Flamme Rouge (the red flag hanging above the road that marks the 1km-to-go-point) and hit the afterburners. Undeterred by the narrowness of the pathway and the density of the fans beside the course I ploughed on.
It was somewhere around the 800m to go flag that I knew my own personal breakaway was doomed: I could hear the helicopters and the crowd was starting to cheer – unfairly it seemed that one man of a certain vintage with bag, camera and a lot of determmination was simply no match for a bunch of twenty-something world class athletes riding a lot of carbon-fibre bikes.
I had no choice but to slow down, push through to the fence and point the camera at the sprinters racing for the line. I’d missed the end of the race but perhaps there was still time for that all important post-race interview with our man Julian Dean – I heard them announcing he’d come in 4th behind Freire, Zabel and one other.
I raced and pushed through the crowd but around the 100m mark it was clear I had to take drastic action.
I turned hard left, scrambled down the bank and onto the rock-strewn shore of the Bleone river, behind me I could hear other desperate camp-followers coming after me. I forded a small stream (only one sock wet) came around behind the finish-line and scrambled my way back up to street level. Now it was a clear 300m shot to where the team’s bus lay in the distance.
Unsurprisingly the whole team was already safe inside the large blue whale and I’d missed the boat. Which only goes to show that over 180kms on a sunny Satuurday in France a bike is faster than a motorhome.
Postscript: Julian kindly granted me an interview – which was about the time I found I’d lost my spex. I later found them on the river-bank bent, battered but, mercifully, not broken.