Follow the road until further instructed… Hurray, the satnav is working again!  We’re on our way to Prato Nevoso.

Ahh ! pardon, bonjour mes amis en Ecosse, bienvenu à le 15eme etape de la Tour de France avec l’equipe VeloVeritas.

Kilometre 52, four kilometres from the summit of the Col d’Agnel and Jean-Paul Loris of ASO leaps into the road ahead of us. Despite the fact that we’ve passed hundreds of police and officials, he’s spotted that our stickers are the wrong colour.

We plead, beg, bargain; “Non! You stop, here!

He drags a young policeman over to enforce the ban; Janitorial officialdom at it’s very best.

The day started well enough, the road up to start at Embrun was straight and fast, if a bit wet.

Getting the creds was a pain, it’s too sad to bore you with, but eventually we sorted it out – or not, as it transpired.

Prato Nevoso
Ah yes, car creds! Little did we know…

The early part of the stage wasn’t too savage, but the Agnel was a brute, especially at the top, where the weather was diabolic – freezing with a gale force wind and sleet blowing through.

Prato Nevoso
The Col Agnel. Brutal.

Old Jean-Paul stopped our charge before we got that far though and we breasted the summit behind the race.

Prato Nevoso
Robbie slides gracefully towards the cars. Bothered?

At four K to go to the King of the Mountains points, where we were stopped, there were four riders away by a yawning margin and the non climbers – including Robbie McEwen were starting to slide off the back of the bunch.

Prato Nevoso
The break. Go Simon!

The only plus point, if you were dropped, was that the descent went on for ever.

Prato Nevoso
Aw c’mon, let us go on mate…
Prato Nevoso
Ed captures the bunch.

Martin nipped in sharpish behind the broom wagon – with the permission of our gendarme friend, naturally – and we were offsky.

The descent was tricky early but as the altitude dropped so did the wind and precipitation.

The roads were dry and the sun was warm, when all of a sudden we had to slam on the anchors as we came into a right hand hairpin.

It was a crash, Oscar Pereiro, he’d hit a wooden fence, gone over the top and landed some five metres below on the road surface on the ‘return’ of the hairpin.

Prato Nevoso
“It’s a bad one” we thought. Oscar’s race ends here.

I thought he was dead and was initially reluctant to take pictures, but I thought; “it’s my job!” I snapped away, distressed by what I was doing and looking at.

But the pro snappers rattled off shots by the hundred, with completely impassive faces. I guess they’ve seen it all before, but I’m glad I get upset when I see something like that.

We followed the ambulance down off the climb and across the plains to Cuneo.

Sylvain Chavanel was dropped on the Agnel, we heard reports that he’d dropped his rain jacket and it had jammed in his derailleur and that was why he was off the back, or maybe it was just the fact that the climb was a pig?

Whatever the reason for his being dropped, he rode over the Agnel, down that tricky descent, across the plains, then up two cols, all on his own.

He was just ahead of us for much of the route, we could see him in front of the police cars and broom wagon which mark the end of the race.

At the end he was 42 minutes plus behind the leaders, but deserving a whole lot of admiration.

The final climb to Prato Nevoso was a toughie, the break held on and little Simon Gerrans of CA took the stage – that’s him guaranteed a job next year.

Andy Schleck took the jersey, Cadel was wasted, but Menchov was impressive – ’til he fell off. The race is still side open, with a week to go – great!

Because we had to stop and put diesel for the Volvo, we were caught in the nitemare that is a mountain top finish in Italy. The top guys are no sooner in than the fans begin to cascade down the mountain; many of them drunk and aggressive. Then the riders start to ride back down – it’s chaos, and extremely dangerous.

Prato Nevoso
Bruz shows signs of trouble coming down from Prato with all the fans.

But we got there, eventually.

It’s 10.10 pm and we’re driving off the mountain, not the day we planned, but plenty to write about nonetheless.

Time to head north, find the digs and get a shower. Bon nuit – no, sorry – we’re in Italia; ciao! ciao!