The leading cars are basically headquarters on four wheels with one essential job: to chauffeur around the Tour directors. This year, it’s Christian Prudhomme and, after a 33-year hiatus, also a Tour de France Femmes director, Marion Rousse. In 2020, ŠKODA, the Tour’s sponsor for nearly two decades, introduced the all-electric ŠKODA ENYAQ iV as the leading car, the model being fresh off the assembly line at the time. As a harbinger of change, the ENYAQ iV was not only the first all-electric vehicle to lead the Tour de France peloton, but also ŠKODA’s first model using the modular electrification toolkit (MEB) as a powertrain in a bid for sustainability. After the initial run proved successful, the ENYAQ iV replaced the traditional leading ŠKODA SUPERBs for good.
The manufacturing of the leading cars falls into the “top secret” category, but we were lucky enough to learn a few details last year. The cars’ transformation takes place near Mladá Boleslav, the Czech Republic, under the skilled hands of Mr. Martin Smutný and others at Best Modell, a small specialised workshop. The changes the vehicles undergo before gaining their honourable role aren’t just cosmetic, although the external add-ons – the ‘Velvet Red’ paint job, the banners and decals, the yellow attachment above the windscreen, the six antennas – are usually the details you notice first.
In the workshop, the cars are stripped to the bone, rewired, reupholstered and fitted with a panoramic, retractable sunroof, a two-way radio and a communication console found between the car’s front seats, along with a mini-fridge for two bottles of Champagne accompanied by unique 3D-printed glass holders, and extra batteries to power all this additional hardware. The sunroof, which the builders say is the trickiest part to make, is used by the directors, who stand and wave the starting flag at ‘Kilometre Zero’ and also observe the peloton.
Circling back to the built-in radio, it’s probably the most important piece of equipment that the cars carry. At an event of such massive proportions, communication is key. The race directors use the radio to receive race information and to communicate with their marshals (who also ride in ‘Velvet Red’ ENYAQ iVs), as well as neutral support cars, and the individual team cars to give orders, advice and, if needed, the permission to break rank. The last situation happens when a rider has mechanical issues, has been injured (or sometimes both) and needs swift assistance. Since the riders’ starting positions in each stage depend on the current points and running order of their teams, a low ranking might mean a team car very far away from a rider in trouble. If requested, the Tour directors can give team cars permission to speed ahead to the rescue.
Last but not least, the leading cars serve as the representative office where the Tour directors receive their esteemed VIP guests, including the French president. Thanks to the abovementioned Champagne fridge and holders, they can treat their lucky visitors to a one-of-a-kind sightseeing tour of the, well, Tour, accompanied by refreshments.
With the Tour de France (1–24 July) underway and the Tour de France Femmes (24–31 July) coming soon, we are elated to get twice as much action this year. We hope you’ll join us in the grandest celebration of our beloved sport!