Driving Pavé

© Mike Powell

Mick Hodgson is following the Tour de France with photographer Mike Powell. Here he describes the intensity of driving the course on Stage 3 from Wanze to Arenberg.

Two motorbikes fly by, throwing up huge dust clouds. Four riders (or was it three?) hammer past. How can they ride that fast on pavé? I’m crouched down shooting low so all I see is cobblestones, legs, wheels and dust. There’s lots of dust. The crowds yell and then more madness. The peloton.

Now the riders are two or three abreast, some trying to ride the gutter as it’s smoother. Which is all relative. It’s a rutted farm track with pavé that’s been pushed into the earth by years of tractor wheels.

Lance comes by, preceded by a car, followed by a photographer on a motorbike, and then another car. He’s flying, they’re all flying. More riders, there are big gaps now. As expected the cobbled sectors have seprated the peloton into several groups.We run back to the car. More riders appear, some in clusters, some solo.

As the last rider passes we wait for the Fin de Course van, we’re allowed to jump in behind that and follow it back to the finish. More vehicles roll past, then all the team cars. There’s a huge crowd and the narrow farm track is already filling with fans who have waited for hours to catch a dust-filtered glimpse of the riders.

I jump in when Mike tells me and suddenly we are flying down the last sector, trying not to “gap it”. It’s stop and start driving, fast down the pavé with people on either side, the adrenalin rushes. Suddenly we’re on normal tarmac, the speed picks up and we’re driving the course, closed to traffic. We’re waved on by the gendarmerie. Roundabouts, sudden turns, passing more fans as they begin to disperse. A quick right hand turn, a left and it’s the final sprint line. We pull off to the left and traffic stops. I catch my breath and can relax. We pull in. We’re done, for today at least.