The RoadBook

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

Stage 14 – Montélimar to Villar-les-Dombes

 Sorry for the delay in posting this. Some telecom issues had arisen last night, but I believe they're solved for now. Enjoy!

In today’s notes of the TdF roadbook, a keen eye might observe a litte note on the side of the page, under the directions for the off-course route. “Risque de circulation très dense sur l'A7 et l'A46.” Heavy traffic.

Très dense is très an understatement. This was unfathomable traffic with respect to the region we’re in, its population density, or the 3-lane, 130 kph autoroute that otherwise functions just fine everywhere else I’ve been on the Tour. Maybe this is like the Bermuda Triangle of France or something weird like that? L’Octagon Lyonnais, perhaps? The whole day, anywhere along the off-course route (useful for getting from photo spot to photo spot) was spent at a crawl.

To make matters worse, the stage was subject to a fierce headwind for much of the day, to the extent that the organizers even bumped the start up by 15 minutes to account for a slower pace. Between the abysmal traffic and early departure, I didn’t even make it to the start in time to dip onto the route ahead of the riders. Total bummer.

However, once finally on course, I would say the situation improved quite a bit: sunflowers!

 

And after the lavender fields yesterday? I was chuffed, to say the least.


Meanwhile, about that headwind... 

From listening to the race radio, I knew that the break took a while to establish itself. Seems like nobody really wanted to burn themselves out in the wind in the first place, and the peloton definitely was taking it easy after they let it go.

So you can imagine my surprise when the pack finally rolled by:

 

Virtually the whole peloton strung out! But... they weren’t chasing? Were they? In fact, they were going... slow? Weird. Either it was the slowest chase hampered by the headwind, or it was every man for themselves to find shelter. Neither would have surprised me.

Back in Le Jeep, and it was off to the next spot: the feedzone. Obviously, at the feedzone there are going to be soigneurs. Perhaps not obviously: soigneurs are chill af. 

When it comes time to feed the riders, the chill is maintained. Totally calm, hand off, hand off, hand off, hand off, hustle back to the car.


Speaking of “back in the car,” it was back in Le Jeep again for me, as I made my way to the finish as fast as traffic would allow. And wouldn’t you know? Mark Cavendish won! Again!

 

Tomorrow is a mountain stage from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz. It looks challenging to say the least – virtually all up, or all down.


Stage 13: Bourg-Saint-Andéol to La Caverne du Pont d’Arc (ITT)

 

Time trials are the most underappreciated aspect of pro bicycle racing. Full stop.

Now, before you go firing off snarky tweets about what could possibly be more underappreciated in cycling, think to yourself: when is the last time you were seriously excited for a TT stage? Like, really excited? Excited enough to wake up early/stay up late (depending on your region of the world)/otherwise prioritize your day around following the stage’s events? Excited like you’d be for a mountain queen stage, or the finish on the Champs-Élysées? I rest my case. I get it, though. Airing a time trial on TV, announcing it, and making it seem truly thrilling (or at the very least, interesting enough to keep viewers from changing the channel) is hard – at least the way that time trials are currently broadcast.

However you might feel about time trials, as a fan of the sport you should remember: a time trial stage is almost everything in cycling, all at once, all day. All stage, somewhere, a rider is warming up, a mechanic is mechanic-ing, a rider is breathing final deep breaths before setting off, a rider is pushing tempo just to complete the stage, and somewhere on course, a rider is dying the proverbial 1000 deaths trying to actually beat the clock. All day, from the first across the line to the last, one rider is winning and another rider is losing.

So let’s take a moment to appreciate the time trial.

 For Nice.  

 

Stage 12 - Montpellier to Mont Ventoux

A late arrival at the press room due to stage circumstances, and an early start at tomorrow’s TT mean that I don’t quite have the time to wax poetic on the stage like I normally would. But to re-cap: Ventoux was cut short due to unsafe conditions, Chris Froome had an unfortunate encounter with the back of a motorbike, damaging his bike and forcing him to run part of the course, general pandemonium ensued, and the race jury acknowledged the incident and called GC time from where Froome was unjustly crashed out. So with the photo gallery for the stage, I would simply like to point out this:

 

 

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At the start in Montpellier, there was a delightful set of miniatures depicting the 1958 Tour de France


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Rider. Climb. Motorcycle. Foreshadowing.  

 

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Stage 11 - Carcassonne to Montpellier

New day, new start village, and new problems. But we’ll get to those later…

After the obligatory breakfast of Tour snacks and sub-par coffee, I had a wander through the Village Départ before the teams arrived. As I encountered last year, stage starts can get a little…monotonous. There’s fans, there’s team bikes/cars/busses/gear, riders sign in, someone is wearing a jersey. Each day is different, in the ‘variations on a theme’ sense. Still nice, though:

 

 

 

Not 10 minutes before this picture was taken, Peter Sagan was interviewed and asked “what’s the plan for today?” His response? “Plan? There is no plan.” This looks like some straight up planning to me…

 “Yeah, ok, so, you do you, I’ll do me, and at like 10k to go we’ll go HAM?” “Oh, word, can G come too? “ “Ok, but only if I get to bring Bodnar, too, I don’t want to be… how you say, three wheel?” “Yeah, Bodnar’s cool! … is what they  probably  said.

“Yeah, ok, so, you do you, I’ll do me, and at like 10k to go we’ll go HAM?” “Oh, word, can G come too? “ “Ok, but only if I get to bring Bodnar, too, I don’t want to be… how you say, three wheel?” “Yeah, Bodnar’s cool! … is what they probably said.

Out on the course, I made a quick stop just past Kilometer 0 in hopes of catching the breakaway forming. Alas, no breakaway yet, but the pack was moving, helped along by a bit of a tailwind, and Team Sky's motoring on the front to keep Froome safe.

With no breakaway shots, it was on to the next photo stop: the Category 4 Côte de Villespassans. Along the way, some things transpired:

  1. Received message from AirBnB host: hey, you need to pick up your keys before 5pm, we won’t be around after then. THE STAGE IS SCHEDULED TO FINISH AT 5:20 ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
  2. Jeep things. The Jeep story is slightly too long for right here, but it was harrowing indeed. See below for bonus Jeep story! Spoiler alert: almost wrecked from a stand still. Yes, that’s correct. Managed not to!

At the Côte, business as usual. Vichot and Howard off the front, cruising steadily, and the peloton barely riding tempo – casual enough to ride ~10-wide across the road.

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With no time to spare, it was back into the Jeep with a course plotted for the finish, with a begrudging detour to collect my keys from the ChateuBnB. I got the keys while navigating a horribly laid out apartment complex, and headed back toward the course. Upon arrival at the course entry point, I was met with a headshake from the ASO staffer manning the point. “The race is 7 minutes away, you can’t enter now. Désolé – I’m sorry.” Despite my pleading with the marshal, I was stuck another day without a proper finish line shot. Might as well make the best of it, though.

At 6k to go, there was a fun little S-curve through some roundabout road furniture, which I thought would still be decent to see sprint trains barrel through.

 

A twist! Froome and Sagan executed their ‘plan’ perfectly with the assistance of Bodnar and Thomas – a rare sight to see both yellow and green jerseys off the front in the closing k’s of the race, and rarer for the peloton to let a move like that escape.

Wasn’t all bad today, though: I scored a badge to drive on the TT course in two days, and tomorrow is the stage to Ventoux. On Bastille day. It’s going to be bananas. Whether I shoot from the finish, or along the climb, I think I’ve worked out most of the kinks; I’ll be shooting on my terms, and I don’t care how many Jeeps I have to flip to do so!

Bonus Jeep Story: Upon arriving at the Côte de Villespassans, I pulled my car off the road and down onto the embankment. My rental car, mind you, is a Jeep Renegade. It’s huge and totally inappropriate for most European driving, but it's all the rental spot had. It has allowed me to be slightly more cavalier with what I choose to roll over, which had until this point been a nice perk. It’s also top heavy compared to your standard motorcar. I think you can see where this might be going…

I very quickly realized the embankment in question was too steep for this Jeep. From a stop, I gingerly tried to coax the jeep back to the road, which onlookers casually notified me that my two left wheels were starting to lift from the ground. Uh oh. By some mix of steely nerves, white knuckles, and frankly, no other options, I was able to safely monster-truck my way down the embankment into the field just below, and circle back onto the road from a shallower spot. Happy to say I've done that, I guess, but I'd be even happier to not have to do that again. 😅 

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