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Money Makes The Tour Go Round

By We Love Cycling

There were times when riders used to ride for a bowl of soup.

Later on, those at the front were able to grab bars of chocolate that came flying their way. Nowadays they can hardly go to the toilet without sponsors hanging over their backs.

Carte du premier Tour de France 1903
(Front page of French paper “L’auto” with a map of the itinerary of the 1st Tour in 1903. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

As the First World War was finishing, France had six million dead to mourn, famine was raging in northern Germany and Belgium was a sea of ashes. The Director of the Tour Henri Desgrange announced, “France wants to have fun again, the Tour must go on.” In order to encourage the riders decimated by the war, he resorted to an unprecedented type of sponsorship. The magazine L’Auto paid for all the food for all riders. The riders were not exactly living the life of luxury, but it was the first major sponsorship deal for “the Big Loop”.

(Racers grabbing refreshments off the sponsor truck during  the 1964 Tour. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

Then in 1919 Eugène Christophe broke the fork on his bike and Peugeot were hardly going to hold their hands up and admit poor-quality workmanship and refused responsibility for the defect. They claimed it was the result of colliding with a car. They dropped Christophe as he fell behind the leaders and began to lavish patronage for that year’s winner (riding the same model of bike), Firmin Lambot, who was given a sponsorship contract and a monthly stipend of 300 francs. The public was outraged by Peugeot’s approach and started a collection for Christophe, which eventually raised a sum of 13,100 francs.

(A member of the publicity caravan waves at the spectators during the fourth stage of the 92nd Tour, a team-time-trial between Tours and Blois, July 5th 2005. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

The factory teams dominated the race and their tactics allowed anyone they chose to win the Tour. This started to play a toll on Degrange, as the French were doing badly in the Tour and circulation of the magazine L’Auto was dropping. Then in 1930, Tour managers Desgrange and Goddet announced a great revolution, which replaced factory teams with national teams. Riders had to hand in their saddles and handlebars 48 hours before the start of the race and were issued identical yellow frames, with no branding or advertising. Who would make up for the lost profit, other than an advertising caravan?

(Another advertising caravan vehicle is pictured prior to the beginning of the second stage of the 2012 Tour. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

A van from the Menier chocolate factory, full of voluptuous beauties throwing bars of chocolate at the spectators, was driving ahead of the peloton. In total, they would lob out a ton of chocolate that year. In subsequent years Menier would be joined by giants such as Perrier, Pernod and Martini and the circus surrounding the Tour had spawned a new attraction, advertising cars.

Advertising caravan of the Tour de France makes the show - Lyon
(The Škoda advertising caravan showing off one of their new models. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

The situation changed again in the early 1960s, when bike manufacturers were moaning that the three-week advertising blackout was killing off the cycling industry. Money from other sponsors was also dwindling, so in 1962 race management returned to factory teams and the wheels of advertising went into overdrive. Since then the Tour has never looked back and currently the Tour is now amongst the world’s most-watched sporting events after the Olympics and the World Cup.

Without sponsors, the Tour de France would not be where it is today and for the last 10 years SKODA Auto has been a proud main sponsor.