The RoadBook

Maps, routes, time tables, sponsor info, and all the other behind the scenes info about chasing bike races with a camera.

Behind the Scenes: The Big Plan

With the Tour starting in less than a week, and my arrival in exactly 2 weeks, it's probably time to start actually planning for arrival. And oh, the planning!

Ignoring "minor" points like picking up a French SIM card upon arrival, driving 9hrs from Paris to Andorra, or figuring out where to stay each night, the real fun begins at planning actual stage logistics. Check it out - here's the map of just Stage 10, the first road stage I'll see:


And here's its profile:


You'd totally try to photograph riders on the Port d'Envalira, right? Of course you would, it's gorgeous:

But what to do after that is where things get interesting. You see, your Grahams Watson, Tims De Waele, Marks Gunter - these photographers will be following the tour on a moto with in-race privileges. While they're at the mercy of the vehicle regulator, piping directives over race radio, they can shoot in race, they can zip ahead, set up and shoot, then filter back through the caravan to do it all again. The Tour hands out relatively few of these in-race credentials to photographers. The rest of us credentialed photographers will be leapfrogging the race, going around and ahead, but never through. And this has some interesting implications with respect to covering as much of each stage as possible...

For example, after the Port d'Envalira, you'd drive to the next photo spot. Unfortunately, the only way to any other spot begins with following the race route. After the pack has passed, you'll be forced to follow the back of the caravan until you can find a way around, all the way to Ax-les-Thermes, and that's only if Ax-les-Thermes fits with your plan for the day. After that? You'll have to follow the caravan all the way to Foix.

Lets say you opt to divert at Ax-les-Thermes. A good place to pick up the race route again might be Lavelanet. Google maps suggests a 1hr 7min transit, driving. The race timetable suggests ~1hr 15min gap until the riders arrive. And that's from the FRONT of the race, not counting that you'll be at the BACK of the race as it passes through Ax-les-Thermes. 

You'll play this game a lot. You'll investigate alternative routes, or other points to pick up or ditch the race. You'll definitely account for some light speeding. You'll hypothesize for heavy speeding. You'll try to check Google Earth to see if the faintest lines on the map are in fact passable farm roads. You'll have browser tabs. Lots and lots and LOTS of browser tabs. You'll aggressively street view where available to look for decent vantage points. You'll learn fun facts: Switzerland doesn't have street view at all. Yeah, right? Whole country: no street view.

Several stages have rather early 'points of no return,' too - you can shoot the finish, or you can shoot a feature on stage, but it will be impossible to do both while still going around the race. What stages will you stake the whole day on getting action? What stages will you aim for finish shots and rider reactions? 

And this doesn't account for any of the things that can go wrong: What about bad weather? What about travel delays? What if you find a particularly unfriendly member of the police that won't let you pass through a road block?

After you plan everything out once, you can plan the backup plan. And after that, assume your plans will change again. Oh, and it's basically like this for every stage. 

The best laid plans of mice and men and photographers often go awry. But as long as things work out at least a little bit, I'll probably be fine:

see you there

See you there!