ŠKODA, formerly Laurin and Klement, took its baby steps in a small bicycle workshop in 1895 in then Austria-Hungary, today’s Czech Republic, so it’s only natural that two-wheelers feature heavily in the brand’s present-day activities. In 2004, ŠKODA became the Tour de France’s official vehicle partner, and its cars have ensured the spectacular race’s smooth course ever since. About 250 ŠKODA OCTAVIAs and ŠKODA SUPERBs set off each year to aid in writing yet another Le Tour success story. Let’s zero in on the roles of each individual vehicle group, sorted by function.
First, some impressive numbers. A single ŠKODA car covers a distance of approx. 10,000-12,000 kilometres every year, the grand total of the whole ŠKODA fleet is close to 2.8 million kilometres, and the cars are manned by some 300 drivers and 60 technicians. These figures will help us to get the importance of the Tour’s support vehicles into perspective.
The race director’s Leading Car
The morning Tour de France routine of Christian Prudhomme, Le Tour and A.S.O. cycling director, always involves settling into the back seat of a specially-modified ŠKODA SUPERB that functions as a mobile captain’s bridge governing each stage. This year, the honour will fall upon the ŠKODA’s brand new plug-in hybrid, ŠKODA SUPERB iV. As in the case of its predecessors, its signature ‘Corrida Red’ shade will catch the eyes of millions of spectators around the globe, as the ‘Red Car’ became one of the Tour’s most distinctive visual symbols, on par with the Arc de Triomphe. Its presence is indispensable to the grand race’s success.
Inside, we will find the command and communication console with a two-way radio placed between the front seats, broadcasting via six antennas mounted on the roof. Mr Prudhomme uses it to contact his race marshals, to check in with the race’s headquarters, to receive requests and inquiries from the team cars and to give orders about the stage’s course. The car’s custom-made retractable glass sunroof isn’t just a style statement – the race’s director uses it to wave a white flag at the starting kilometre of each stage, setting the peloton into motion and leading it as it surges ahead. Besides these essential organizational add-ons, the car features one lovely detail – the horn’s tune has been altered to sound like this and its sound is the heaven’s choir to any die-hard Tour fan. The Leading Car No. 1 also enjoys a special dose of spotlight as the only car allowed to cross the finish line at Champs Élyseés before the riders.
Only a few lucky mortals have had the honour to experience the Red SUPERB No. 1 from the inside – including French presidents and one of our writers who summed up the unique experience in this article.
The team cars
Each team has a fleet of support cars at their disposal, carrying mechanics, medics, food, drinks, spare bikes and all imaginable components, and one cannot fail to notice that especially ŠKODA OCTAVIAs are particularly popular among those. The driving order of the team cars is a subject to a strict hierarchy determined by the race organizers based on the ranking of the team’s lead rider, which is updated at the start of each stage. The convoy’s order is not just a pedantic play with numbers and seconds gained and lost – the closer the car is to the nose of the peloton, the faster it can get to the team’s rider if he gets in trouble. It is said that the cobbled and mountainous parts of stages are critical as they’re most likely to break up the peloton, and team cars have to make difficult decisions about which riders need their support the most.
That’s also the reason nearly all drivers are former cycling pros. When a team car is called to action, it needs to ask Christian Prudhomme’s permission through radio feed to break the assigned rank and accelerate towards a rider in need. Which is easier said than done with swarms of other cars, motorbikes, cyclists and spectators surrounding you. That’s why you want to have someone intimately familiar with the peloton’s rhythm and behaviour behind the wheel to avoid accidents. But if the team cars are unable to intervene quickly enough or at all for any reason, the stranded cyclist can still count on the Mavic neutral fleet.
The Mavic support fleet
Jens Voigt in 2010, Chris Froome in 2016, Rigoberto Urán in 2017 – all these racers (and a portion of their ranking) were saved by a yellow-clad angel. That descriptor applies to both the Mavic support cars and the crewmembers driving them. All three found themselves in a similar pickle: their bikes damaged, the team cars far away or stuck behind, the finish line nearby and their inclination to give up strong. Enter the Mavic neutral support vehicle. Bikes were exchanged, sprockets straightened and stages finished.
The Mavic fleet consists of ŠKODA SUPERBs, each stacked with six bikes of different brands, sizes and pedals. The cars are bicycle workshops on wheels, carrying an array of cranksets, seat posts, chains, puncture kits and so on, and each component can be swapped quickly by a skilled mechanic riding in the back. One of the cars always stays near Christian Prudhomme’s Leading Car with three bikes specially adjusted for the top three general-classification contenders, ready to be deployed to save the day if needed.
The VIP ŠKODA Tour de France Hospitality Programme vehicles
Just like the Leading Car, the Hospitality Programme fleet this year also comprises of ŠKODA SUPERBs iV, one of the brand’s first-ever two new hybrid cars recently introduced. You can find these interspersed throughout the peloton on certain days, carrying the lucky, wide-eyed winners of our VIP ŠKODA Hospitality Programme contest, in which you too can take part. Driven by former cycling pros, these speciality cars with custom decals snake through the stages to provide an unforgettable experience to a selected few.
Watch out for the ŠKODA cars at the Tour de France from 29th August to 20th September anywhere between Nice and Paris – we might have got used to their presence at the race to the point of taking them for granted, but now you have a better insight into the great deal of work they and their crews get done each year so let them enjoy a little recognition.