Monday, 28 July 2014

"I think I'll start ...

... heading for the village" said Tod, as the thunderclap hit directly overhead and the heavens opened.

So we considered Plans B, C and D, one of which at least was to stay at home and watch it all on TV. But it isn't often the Tour de France comes by, so in the end we packed waterproofs and I agreed to drive him as close as I could.

We forget just how empty this part of France is.  Imagining traffic jams up to road blocks, in fact we drove sedately down into the village and parked behind the half dozen other cars on the verge. We wandered across to the barriers along each side of the street with a stern gendarme forbidding passage to the other side, found a space and watched "the caravan" roll through.  Large garish floats alternated with fleets of cars from bureaucracy and the TV and radio stations. They had driven up from the foothills of the Pyrenees bringing the rain and thunder with them. Those on the back of open-topped vehicles were looking pinched and cold, struggling to keep their cheerful expressions as they flung their slightly suspect "goodies" at us.

For some reason the McCain float got one of the loudest cheers.

Still hankering after my lay-by where I thought I'd get the best views and knowing there was a good hour til the cyclists came through, I left Tod in the village and set out towards town, the road meandering between fields completely deserted except for the occasional small gathering of those fortunate to live on the route - a hay wagon set up for the best view, a family of three under an awning with their large television screen and satellite dish, a jolly late lunch party high on a terrace toasting me as I passed, a young gendarme, like a mother hen, fussing over her flock, telling me to get off the empty road and on to the verge, in case something came by.

I rounded the final bend and saw the lay-by in the distance, up on the crest of the hill.  A cyclist, lounging alone on the verge warned me - I would be stopped by the next gendarme. And sure enough, there he was, barely out of his teens, collecting a gaggle of passers-by, forbidding them to walk on or to turn back. The cyclists were due within half an hour and he could not risk it.  My lay-by with its sheltering trees was no more than five minutes walk up the hill; but to him I was obviously at least as old as his grandmother and too infirm to walk further.

So there I stood. And gradually the skies darkened and the rain drops fell. A battered van with an awning full of holes protected a family - grandmother and grandson playing snap while they waited.  She beckoned to me to come under the awning, which I did with gratitude, not least to shield my camera. Three Dutch tourists were also encouraged to come and join us. From time to time a phone rang with an update: "They are through Monheurt. Just left Villeton ..."

And suddenly there they were.. a blaze of headlights in the gloom, coming over the brow of the hill alongside the lay-by where I'd hoped to be, a cavalcade of motorcycles and cars and in the middle a small bunch of what five, six maybe, cyclists, heads low over the handlebars, legs pumping as the rain fell steadily.

From then on, it was all a blur, eye to the viewfinder, click, click, click, knowing in the appalling light I would be lucky to get even one decent shot.  Little time to think, no time to compose an image, just keep shooting and then they were gone. A rank of cars behind them topped with dozens of spare bikes.

A brief pause and then the peloton swept into view.  A riot of colours, turquoise, reds, greens, somewhere hidden in the melee the man in the yellow shirt - yesterday's and the eventual overall winner. Again, so little time to choose anything to focus on. Just keep pressing the shutter button and hope something comes out.

And then so quickly they too were gone.  We all hung around, reluctant to believe it was all over and then gradually started to drift away.  I wished the Dutch tourists better weather.  They said it was fine and, coming from Holland, they were used to it.

I started the long walk towards home knowing that Tod, down in the village, would be on his way through the back roads to meet me with the car.

And I think the young gendarme did me a service insisting I went no further.  With our little group under the awning, there was no-one and nothing to obstruct my view of the curving road up to the crest of the hill as the Tour de France came by.


The Leaders

The leader at this point, Martin Elmiger, being chased by Arnaud Gerard

One of the motorcycle camera men. They must be tough, with that weight of camera, holding that position, for 200 kilometers in the rain

Spare Bikes

The Peloton - somewhere tucked behind the turquoise group of Astana riders is the eventual winner Vicenzo Nibali

Sadly, no moody black and white close-ups of bike pedals, wheels and strong leg muscles.  In that gloom my camera was on 1,600 iso and the images are just too grainy to enlarge. Next time, maybe.


Tour de France 2014


  1. Brilliant post, Sue. You paint a very vivid picture of the day and your photos illustrate it well.

    1. Thank you Perpetua. I'm so glad we did it, despite the weather. And we watched the final stage in Paris with a little bit of understanding. Even though the overall winner was already known, it was very exciting! And lovely to have the views of central Paris. :)

  2. Hi Helen, just to say, got your message thanks in my email box. For some reason it's not appeared here. ???
    You're right about the bright colours, they positively glow against the grey sky.

  3. Hi Sue,
    We saw the Tour pass through Lavardac, got drenched as the heavens opened while the caravan passed, and also failed to spot Nibali when the cyclists passed. We had also watched Day 1 of Le Tour pass though Ripon, North Yorks, about 10 miles from where we live. Lucky timing that we were in the two places at the right time! The caravan was much bigger in France, though the poor weather meant many of the participants were cowering underneath their cagoules looking like drowned rats!
    Lynne H

    1. Hello Lynn, oh, lucky you to see the Yorkshire end as well. Not much fun being in the caravan on this stretch - I think they took the rain with them all the way.