Stage nine was billed as the crashing finale to week one of this parched and nervous Tour and it did not disappoint.
I had a young Parisian Etienne Garnier on the back of my Suzuki, and our job was to take photos of crashes, punctures and dropped riders as the race piled into 15 cobbled sectors notorious from Paris-Roubaix.
There were many small crashes on the cobbles but not as many as expected and the most serious one, which took out the luckless Richie Porte, occurred on Tarmac.
Being French and linked to the race we have a privileged position behind or next to the TV motorbike directly behind the main group. When there is a crash I slam on the brakes (helmets bashing and lenses swinging, it’s not pretty) and if it’s a big one the photographer jumps off for photos.
In the following seconds I have to get around the crash to allow team cars and medics access to the fallen riders. Best to pull off the road if possible as crashed riders get going and dropped riders come flying through.
We were under strict instructions to get any Bardet or Froome action at the back. So after the Porte crash, and a few others, Etienne ran back to the bike and we nailed it back up the main group, hoping that we had not missed anything.
Well Bardet had a shocker, but we got to Roubaix with most of his punctures and bike changes snapped. Froome had a spectacular crash but he was near the front of the group. And he is very good at getting back on his bike at lightning speed.
There were some boos for Froome at the signing-on but they are a bit half hearted and I hope they stay that way over the stages in the Alps.
Many scoff at the idea that a super athlete like he can suffer from asthma. But just this week we have ridden through clouds of dust and wheat thrown up by the low flying helicopters, a flaming hay bale billowing smoke into the bunch and of course the fumes from race vehicles on stuffy climbs.
They are harvesting too, it’s been so dry and warm the fields have a late summer hue to them. Throw in a day in the choking dust of the pavé and pro cycling is far removed from our country bike rides.
Luke Edwardes-Evans is working as a motorcycle rider with a team of photographers from L’Equipe, the French daily sports paper, in this year’s Tour de France.