Yesterday we arrived in Rodez as planned to join the Le Tour de France 2011, picked up the hire car without any bother, and got ourselves, eventually, after getting lost a couple of times, to the hotel – one of these typical French ‘pod’ rooms, but it’s okay with it’s bunk beds and little shower room / toilet.
A drive up to the Permanence, aka the Press Headquarters, to pick up our race accreditation, and we’d be all set for a pretty cruisy Rest Day. Only, the Permanence happened to be over two hours drive away, and once there, we found that only Ed’s ‘creds’ were ready – mine hadn’t been “approved by Julia” (the head ASO cred issuer).
Can you come back ‘ere tomorrow morning, and then you will be able to collect your accreditation at the Permanence, which, despite the name, would be moving – to the stage finish each day, so that would mean heading to Carmaux.
Anyway, we decided against traipsing all the way back up to Aurillac to get my creds today, and when we realised that we were only an hour or so away from two of France’s Most Beautiful Villages (officially!), we thought that a little ‘tourisme’ was in order.
Up and away around 9ish, and one of the little pleasures when working on a Tour: staying in the same hotel tonight, which meant not having to pack up completely – although I did take my camera bag and new 75-300 lens, to get some practice in.
MBV number 1: Estaing. : This place was lovely, old cobbled streets, ancient bridges, and buildings with the lime plaster worn away to nothing, revealing the bare stones beneath.
I pottered the car to MBV #2, Conques, a medieval walled town high on the hillside near Decaxeville.
This place wasn’t too touristy, we just spotted a couple of postcard tabacs and a sandwich shop, but the remainder of the buildings were beautiful – hand worked round slate roofs everywhere, and red sandstone constructions, which reminded Ed of Fife a little.
We had three hours to go, before our scheduled rendezvous with the race on the third of four classified climbs, just outside the town of Villefranche de Rouergue, so we stopped in at an old cafe, to be greeted like long-lost friends by the comely landlady, who took a bit of a shine to Ed…
Four (4!) courses later, including wine, water, and coffee, and only 12 euros lighter in the pocket, we agreed that if it wasn’t for the pesky bike race, like would be pretty good spent right here.
Still, a bike race is what we were here for, so we stuck the creds onto the car windscreen and got going.
After finding our parking spot near the top of the 3rd Category climb, and paying an enterprising old fella 5 euros for two cans of pop, I got a text from Gillian to say where the race was: “only 30km from here, and there’s a break of six two minutes up on the bunch.”
In no time, the TV helicopters were buzzing overhead, and the break came up the hill towards us. It didn’t look to us like the pressure was on, maybe the guys were just riding to maintain their lead, and were keeping something in reserve for the last 20km.
The bunch were moving much faster up the hill, being powered by BMC, with Yellow Tommy and Yell For Cadel right next to each other near the front.
As I suspected, there were no stragglers – save for John Gadret of “a gee diz err” and SKY Pro Team’s Knees, so we hopped into the car and drove in towards the finish right behind the tail of the race and a swarm of now-unrequired motorbike cops – still on closed roads, mind, but that’s OK now the car had its creds on.
We spotted a bar with around 25km to go, and ditched the car outside someone’s house, to be able to watch the finish with a small local beer, and interested locals wanting to see our day’s pictures.
Getting to the Permanence once the roads were opened to the public took quite a while, but duly “creded up” we could head back to the hotel and : set about editing the hundreds of pictures we took, whilst Ed finished up his words.
“Bed by midnight” sounded possible, but is looking increasingly unlikely.