The RoadBook

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

Stage 17 – Bern to Finhaut-Emosson

Woof. This stage was HARD on everyone, not just the riders. A tricky parcours made following the race difficult, with very limited options for leapfrogging from one part on course to the next. Oh, AND the riders were FLYING for the first hour, putting them well ahead of scheduled pace. AND it was a summit finish with super limited parking, further complicating things.

Things started off well enough, with bits of bikes, bike checks, and Switzerland lookin’ real nice.

But after the landscape shot is where things started to go sideways. See those riders dangling off the front? That was a breakaway attempt. Normal enough. Apparently, such attempts happened all morning, and it took ~70km for the break to finally stick. Less normal.  All that hammering put the pack a full 10 minutes ahead of even the fastest time. Which meant that my but doable transfer back to the course was just out of reach. I arrived to the course in time to see the leaders pass… great.

Unable to get ahead of the course to shoot at the next exit point, I hung onto the back of the caravan until my exit, then it was straight off to the climb to Emosson. Organization warned us of narrow roads and very limited parking at the Emosson dam, and that if we were to arrive solo by car, we would not be allowed up the climb. So, no go for me and Le Jeep. Luckily shuttles would be provided. Unluckily, they would only run up the climb until 3pm, when the race was scheduled to finish around 5pm.

Luckily, despite time setbacks, my trajectory put me at the designated parking before 3pm! Unluckily, that trajectory overlapped with the publicity caravan, and stuck me behind it.

I was not, in fact, going to make the shuttle.

I parked and ran back to the course, desperately scanning for any other journalists who were carpooling that I could beg for a ride. Just cars of officials, team cars, sponsor cars already filled with people: nobody that could help me.

I should have probably just stayed put – parking was even near a downhill hairpin. I could have made that work. I could have walked a little to the first block of fans I encountered and shot there. No. That would be a reasonable way to cut losses. Not for me. Somehow, “walk up the 10k climb with all your gear, in blazing heat and direct sun, for as long as you can until the riders get to you” seemed like a good idea.

Spoiler alert: not a good idea.

TdF2016-Stage17-5.jpg

I marched up the climb, intermittently checking the time, and checking with fans to see if they knew how far until the summit,or how far until the riders arrived. With each time I asked, it felt as though the time interval was longer, but the distance covered got shorter.

At one point, I asked “how many k until the summit?”
“6”
A moment later, I asked another fan.
“7?”
Maybe they were mis-informed? Maybe I was just delirious? Maybe I was in the twilight zone?

I ran out of water. I marched on.

I made it until ~4k to go until the riders caught me. Nowhere in particular, no real background, no real planning in composition, I shot the best I could with the awful conditions I had put myself in. Most of these guys looked how I felt.

After the riders passed, I finally saw a glimmer of hope: the broom wagon! Thankfully, they stopped to let me in and were super cool about it. Thanks, broom wagon. After a moment, though, I realized the odd gravity of the broom wagon: this is where you go when you’re out of other options. I certainly was.

The only difference is that I can ride in the broom wagon, and still continue on tomorrow…

Tomorrow: More TT action, on a very climby 17km course from Sallanches to Mègeve.