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Le Tour de France 2007 – Day 3: Stage 14, Mazamet – Plateau-de-Beille

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The sun is high in the sky as we head south to the Pyrennes and Plateau-de-Beille from Toulouse. The French are making a real fist of out-doing the Italians as the worst drivers on the planet; we stopped at a cross-road in Toulouse last night and the guy behind us had a fit, horn, wild arm movements and a challenge to a square-go.

Plateau-de-Beille
Our vital bits of plastic – the creds.

We got his registration and will be back down after the Tour to visit him with a young-team from Ballingry. The game-plan today is to spend a full day on a mountain, just watching it all happen.

We’re going to Port de Pailheres, not the finish-climb at Plateau de Beille, which is 39 K from the press room; getting away from that summit will be a nightmare.

The road we are on just now is running pan-flat, like a ten course, through the fields of the Departement Ariege; hard to imagine that some of Europe’s toughest climbs are only an hour away.

In the space of one kilometre the flat-land ends and we’re driving through massive cuttings, blasted out of the rock. Welcome to the Pyrennes.

Foix – a nice road-side cafe-stop; two cafè: au laits plus a cognac pour mois, c’ést bon!

Plateau-de-Beille
Maps, cafè au laits and cognac. Perfect, let’s plan.

The main reason for the stop though, is to do the final journey-plan into the race route – quite complicated, because we need to do a loop to bring us back round and onto the course.

It’s green here, not unlike the country around Dunkeld. We join the race route at Quillan and pump some much-needed diesel into the Clio.

Quilan is the feeding station and from there the road begins to climb, not steeply at first, but up, up, up.

Plateau-de-Beille
Fellow Scots.

Axat – high in the Pyrennes, there’s a saltire, far from home – a family from Galashiels. Mertin takes a snap as I fret about us needing to “get us up the mountain, son!”

Plateau-de-Beille
We watch the caravan’s ascent before the race reaches us.

Plateau-de-Beille
The cops really enjoy being a part of the race. Note the absence of gloves, kneesliders…

Mijanes is a cute little place around the half way point on the Port de Pailheres, which is Hors Categorie – too hard to rate; having now been over the thing, I would actually rate it, IH. InHuman.

Plateau-de-Beille
Eventually, the main group struggle past.

After the race passed, we tried to get mobile as soon as possible and tail the race – slim chance, and gridlock ensued.

We followed the race route over the pass and as Martin steered us around suicidal cyclo-tourists, camper vans and self-appointed directors of traffic, we couldn’t help but find ourselves once again in awe of professional cyclists.

The climb is savage, a never-ending series of steep ramps and hairpins. The views from the top are stunning, but it’s freezing up there.

Plateau-de-Beille
Coke adds life.

Over the summit we took another complicated loop through the beautiful valleys and plateaus of the Pyrennes to get us back to Foix, where the press room is for today.

I do most of my copy (this included) on the BlackBerry, as we drive, but the pictures have to be down-loaded into the laptop, edited and emailed. We’re on the outskirts now and just hoping that the other press locusts haven’t completely picked the buffet clean.

Plateau-de-Beille
Our stash from the caravan throw-aways.

It’s 8.30 pm, the copy is away and so are my pics. Mertin took the race pics today and he’s sending them at the moment.

As expected, we missed the best of the buffet, but a little bread, cheese and water should see us through to Toulouse.

Rasmussen just keeps coming-up with surprises, doesn’t he? We hope all the surprises will be pleasant ones.

Contador looks like a star of the future – but time will tell.

Plateau-de-Beille
Millar worked hard for the climbers in his team.

Tomorrow is another Pyrennes job, with two second, two first and one hors categorie climbs – nice!

The game plan tomorrow is to drive the route in advance of the publicity caravan, stopping to take pictures and interview fans as we go.

We’ll have to bolt in advance of the publicity caravan, so we might not get too much chance for pre-race pics and interviews. You have to be careful not to try and do too much and end-up with nothing done properly.

Plateau-de-Beille
Quite a day, some very hard mountains.

Place de la Capitole in Toulouse, 11.00pm, we’ve got a large Peroni in front of us and the calzone is en route. Thus ends another day on the Tour.

Ed Hood and Martin Williamson
Ed and Martin, our top team! They try to do the local Time Trials, the Grand Tours and the Classics together to get the great stories written, the quality photos taken, the driving done and the wifi wrestled with.

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