Gonzo GoPro: Joining the Action In Le Tour

06/10/2016 10:03

'Would you like to ride in the Tour de France?'


'The Tour de France. Would you like to ride in it?'

'But don't you have to be like, you know, a cyclist? Fit and thin, and, well, you know, hairless?'


'Oh. Okay. Sure.'

And so, I flew to Toulouse.

It was the day after France were beaten in the European Football Championships, losing to Portugal in the final. There were no red, white and blue flags in Arrivals, no national celebration. In fact, there wasn't an advertisement, even, for the Tour de France - the world's most prestigious race - which would be passing through the region the following day.


I won't detail all of the race preamble, you're not interested in that, however, I can say that there was considerable introductions, briefings and bike mountings. And wine, as one would expect from France. Yes, lots of wine. Lots of wine despite me having to ride Stage 10 (Escaldes-Engordany to Revel) and 197km of "Le Tour" the following day.

On the day itself, there was a lot of lycra and well-padded arses. Clip-in shoes and cameras mounted to helmets. More cameras were provided for the handlebars and underneath the saddle; small, square GoPro HERO4 Session cameras. Light and convenient, they would feature on all riders from all teams participating, mounted to the body and the bikes. This provided cycling fans with exciting angles from the world's toughest race.


The landscape of southern France is big and expandable, like a fold-out book. It rolls away across fields and paddocks. Long and stretching roads that dip over the horizon. And with poppy and sunflower fields, bleached in the pastoral, you can't help but turn your head sideways - perfect for capturing footage.

It's romantic, for sure, and peaceful, too. Until the lycra brigade rumble through and a thousand tyres spin across the countryside so fast that you can't distinguish the flashes of colour or who is who, apart from which cyclists wear the yellow and the green jerseys - which I suppose is the whole point.


The invitation came from GoPro who are a sponsor of the Tour de France. It all seemed straightforward: cycle a stage and document it. Pretty tame for GoPro enthusiasts. I wasn't bungee-jumping from the Caucasus peaks or having lunch with sharks. All that extreme activity. You know, proper boundary-pushing stuff. This seemed tame. But then, I'm not a cyclist and the last time I was fit was in 2007.

Stage 10 sees the cyclists leave Andorra and the mountainous region, heading into the south of France and Canillo, up through Ax-les-Thermes and Castelnaudary. This is the so-called 'flatter' part of the tour, with cyclists leaving behind the inclines and mountain passes of Andorra. However, Stage 10 still presents L'Alpe d'Huez (1,850m), Col du Glandon (1,924m) and Col de la Madeleine (2,000m). The Col de la Madeleine is one of the hardest climbs in the Alps, described as "beautiful, but heartbreaking" by The Telegraph newspaper.


Thankfully, I wasn't cycling the whole route. I just couldn't. I'd tackle around 50km, starting in Castelnaudary and joining the champagne-swilling promenade at the finish in Revel. To ride 197km in one day is beyond me. It's beyond most. These cyclists are superhuman. A 3,529km race. Just think about that for a second. Miles after miles... after miles. The falls and the bumps. The scrapes and the knocks. The lactic acid. The physical demand. The mental demand. The ability to endure pain.

I began to struggle around 10km. My shoulders tightened and although my pumping legs felt strong, as the urge to break away from the peloton increased, the burning in my thighs grew until I was jelly-legged and useless. I attempted to distract myself and move my mind away from the pain, looking at the farmhouses in the distance and imagining the people who lived in them. I smiled as other cyclists passed, hiding the pain beneath a grin.

This is one hell of a race. A privilege to experience, even if it was only a few painful kilometres, but I think I'll leave it to the professionals. It doesn't matter how much training I put in, it's supposed to be punishing. These guys were back out on the road the next day for another 162.5km. And only then would they be halfway; 2,129km down with another 1,400 remaining. I'm definitely more of a spectator than a participant. Pass me the wine...


All photographs and video content were taken by David J Constable using the GoPro HERO4 Session

Tour de France 2016 stage 10, Andorra - Revel (197km)

1. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange in 4-22-38
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing
5. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Ag2r at same time
6. Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-BikeExchange at 2 secs
7. Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange at 1-10
8. Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing at 3-01
9. Gorka Izaguirre (Esp) Movistar at 3-10
10. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal at same time