Back to Nice again with a car that knew it’s own way now and cameras that would recognise familiar faces. There was a slight air of when Ferris Bueller drops off the Ferrari at an inner city parking lot about my arriving at the underground car park of the riviera hotel that would be home for a week, but less excitement of potential joyrides and more embarrassment of where to hide this one from view among the celebrities’ rides. In the same way I imagined The Belgian and I might be arrested that time in Monaco just for dressing the way we did, I wasn’t sure my basic van like Citroen wouldn’t be taken to a field somewhere and put out to grass for the week in case it gave all the Bentleys and Porsches something they didn’t want. This was a vehicle from the other side of France and another side of life. In the way a Bentley stuck out like a sore thumb when some motoring journalist friends visited our tiny rural village, my tin can of tricolor was a reminder of a more dented France best forgotten over here.
My visit was to coincide with the people in yellow doing business here. That meant taking a narrow window of opportunity to bunk off for a couple of hours with a couple of their pro cyclists and a boot full of prototypes to paint pictures of cycling in paradise while others did the hard work on telephones indoors before anybody noticed we’d borrowed the crown jewels.
And following one of those hotel breakfasts one needs a lie down after, the morning’s scene couldn’t have looked much more French if it tried – unless it was closed or at lunch. We were off to the seafront before pedals were turned, for a sequel wake up and a shake down into the stripes of Frenchness.
Time to go meant time for me to ride in the yellow taxi again and these chaps to call on that caffeine to ascend with them.
Up above the streets and houses tricolour climbing high – the Maritime Alps are an incredible way for a magnificent mountain range to end it’s spine and fall into the sea. They just reach the edge of the land and stop without tailing off. Visually they’re unparalleled in this part of the world, financially they’re gold card holders. The mansions dotted about on their own little pinnacles kept away from the hubbub and overlooking beauty must be almost priceless. Or helpfully out of reach to keep them exclusive at least. They are also dream like to cycle. Every turn a breathtaking view and camber or pitch to make one feel pedal-heroic.
The nice part about photographing shoes is partly that these days such fast shutter speeds are possible it doesn’t matter so much how fast they’re pedaling, but also that one doesn’t have to worry about appearing reflected in a pair of mirrored sunglasses for a head shot, sticking one’s head out of a car boot and ruining everything.
Lying in the back of a van as it leans round corners, knowing the cyclists a few meters behind you while you have no control over the brakes or accelerator but in front of your lens are professionals, but knowing even professionals have brake cables fail occasionally is always slightly surreal. When one wheelies into your boot it takes that feeling to lunch.
A brief interlude to the other badge carrying red white and blue jersey of Frenchness we had in the boot facilitated a coffee in a nearby village. My enduring memory of this outfit isn’t actually watching ace descender Nicolas Roux carving ridiculous angles in front of my lens as it is of when I wore it myself out on a ride one day and the villagers of my hamlet of 25 people, sitting on the communal benches in the street saw the La France up my back and all cheered the deluded Englishman.
Back into the stripes, a morning of winding round heaven in the sun and calling it a job turned for the final ascent before a spin down to the seafront and round three with knock out caffeine. The ascending skills of photographic balance in a car boot being photocopied on 400% for descents.
Feeling like a local after just a day sipping coffee on the seafront of the celebrity I realised I was the only one of this bunch not wearing red white and blue. That and carrying two cameras I suddenly felt every bit the tourist. But I did have the local’s car, all be it not local to here. On French plates it may have been but not from around here was written all over it.
And characteristically when all’s said and shot and the packing up and the pizza bookings were underway, the pros clipped in and went for a proper ride. One where a bloke in a car boot didn’t say just one more like that please…