We Love Cycling sat down behind the wheel of the Tour de France director’s ŠKODA Superb.
I jump in the car, shut the door, fasten the seat belt and push the ignition button. The engine growls decently as I enter the Parisian Boulevard de Grenelle. It feels almost like a regular ŠKODA Superb but it’s not. Obviously, I’m not the only one who notices it. People turn their heads when I’m passing by with the red roof light on. I can’t help myself but greet them with the signature honking of the Tour, which can be changed from a common horn by a small change-over switch placed just next to the steering wheel.
I came from Prague to Paris for no other reason than to have a test ride in the car of the Tour de France’s director Christian Prudhomme. I’m glad that I was given the privilege of travelling in it and being able to try out its features both from the front and rear seats.
The car has been sprayed with the noticeable ‘Corrida Red’, especially to serve as the ‘Red Car’ belonging to the event’s director. All over the bodywork, there are scattered logos of the Tour and ŠKODA as its official partner. On the bonnet, there sits a distinct plastic label bearing the numbers of French TV channels France 2 and 3, which will be broadcasting live streaming from the upcoming race.
Just a few days before the Grand Départ, the Tour’s flagship causes a considerable uproar in the busy streets of the French capital. However, the characteristic design doesn’t help me to circle in the crazy morning congestion around the Arc de Triomphe on the Place Charles de Gaulle in less than five minutes. I see a lot of drivers swearing and gesticulating fiercely to each other when the traffic gets stuck.
As soon as the Tour begins, the car turns out to be a technologically modified mobile command centre, from which the Tour Director manages the race. Every morning Christian Prudhomme settles himself into the back seat of this specially modified Superb. In anticipation of the day’s race stage, he stretches his 190 cm frame in the spacious interior and helps himself to a drink from the small refrigerator next to his command console. He radios his race marshals, checks in with race headquarters. Then, with everything in place, he waves a white flag from the roof window to start the day’s stage, leading the peloton as it surges ahead.
The modified car features an impressive range of technical equipment, including six radio antennas on the roof, several microphones, and four radio channels installed on a console placed in between the front seats. It’s from here that Prudhomme transmits and receives orders and information, organises traffic movement around the peloton, and stays in constant contact with race marshals and other Tour cars.
While Prudhomme sits behind the driver, the right rear seat is reserved for dignitaries such as the French President François Hollande, who will be invited as the director’s very important guest. There will be a chilled Champaign ready from the minibar for him, just as it is, at the moment, served to us. One last moment to wave from the retractable glass roof for a photo and then I already have to return the car back to the hands of the Škoda dealership in France. After such an experience, I can’t wait to see the car at the start in Mont-Saint-Michel on July the 2nd.