However, a few Google searches, a few new pieces of knowledge and I completed the contest. Then I scrolled on and forgot about it. What a surprise it was then, when the email came. THE EMAIL. “You’ve just won a place on the Tour de France Hospitality Programme by Škoda!” I did what?! I yelled out and nearly toppled over my surgically precisely prepared coffee (3mg of caffeine per kg is what I do. How about you?)
I went on to read a few articles on the website to see what I would be up against. Luxury hotel? Backstage pass? A helicopter?! I started pacing around my living room and couldn’t tone down the enthusiasm. I switched my shirt for a jersey and went to work riding my vintage Colnago that day. My colleagues were excited as well, even more so after they persuaded me to shower. Then I exchanged a few emails with the lovely people from We Love Cycling. They arranged the hotels and flight tickets, and it was countdown time.
After I landed in France, a nice young gentleman picked me up and we talked about the Tour and how he was on his way to become a helicopter pilot. Maybe he will take you over the peloton one day. When we arrived at the hotel, the people from the hospitality programme were awaiting me and were extremely nice. I received a bag of goodies and a Škoda Green Jersey with my name on it. Then dinner came. I met the other contest winners and our VIP drivers who were to chauffer us around during the programme. All of them were ex-pros, all of them talkative and ready to answer any questions. I found out about Early Bird, the morning ride with all the ex-pros, including the Tour de France winner Andy Schleck. We went to sleep greatly excited about the day ahead of us.
The morning ride went splendidly. The ex-pros even listened to stories about my Colnago ride to work and didn’t just leave me in the dust. The Škoda carbon bikes we rode were cool as well. Never seen those before.
After breakfast it was time to leave for the start of the stage. The Škoda SUPERB iVs were waiting for us with our names decaled on the back. That made us feel like true VIPs. Since this all happened before the Covid pandemic, we were able to enjoy the VIP village at the starting line and even stroll around the team buses. Our drivers knew most of the riders, so the pros were happy to stop for a moment and chat. It was easily one of the top highlights of the whole trip.
Then we were driven up the route and given champagne to watch the peloton go by. As the riders went past, helicopters started to land, and in a few minutes we got on board. To watch the peloton from the air and take in the beautiful French countryside was indescribable. After we landed, we hurried to get in front of the peloton (you won’t get anywhere once they go past) and enjoyed a nice roadside picnic with some wonderful food. The Škoda SUPERB iVs then drove us towards the finish line. We were greeted and cheered on by all the fans lining up around the route. At the finish, we once again got a glass of champagne and watched the final sprint. Exhausted and filled with joy we finally headed back to the hotel to enjoy a great dinner and share our stories until late at night. The next morning, we were driven to the airport and we said our goodbyes.
I couldn’t stop talking when I got home. And then the same thing happened at work. And then with my friends. And then at the club’s outing. The Škoda Hospitality Programme is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Anyone lucky enough to go will not forget it. Trust me.