Kris Meeke scales new peaks on Tour de France
It was 'stages' of a different kind for Kris Meeke over the weekend as he got a close-up view of the Tour de France cycle race.
The Dungannon driver was guest of the Russian-owned Tinkoff team, sharing their race director's car with owner Oleg Tinkoff for the 115-mile ninth stage which took the riders up through the Pyrenees from Vielha in northern Spain to the ski resort of Arcalis in Andorra.
And the Rally of Portugal winner had a ringside seat for one of the dramatic early moments of Le Tour when two-time winner Alberto Contador dropped back to the director's Citroen to tell the team he was abandoning because of illness.
A cycling enthusiast, Meeke has been known to ride some of the Tour de France mountain stages on his favoured Specialised bikes "just for fun" but this time he was on the inside to see how a top team operates on one of the world's biggest sporting challenges.
"I have nothing but admiration for these guys," said Meeke. "To see them climb over the mountains in 34 degree heat and then having to ride through a hail and lightning storm towards the finish in Acralis shows what they are made of. I take my hat off to them."
He finished off his memorable weekend with a ride out with World road race champion Peter Sagan and the rest of the Tinkoff team during Monday's rest day.
Meeke has not competed since his win in Portugal back in May, concentrating instead on the development of Citroen's new C3 car designed for the new rules which come into forced in 2017. But he will be back for Rally Finland at the end of the month where he will be joined in the Abu Dhabi team by Circuit of Ireland winner Craig Breen.