• Country

Tour de France Hospitality Programme by Škoda: Meet Two VIP Drivers

By WeLoveCycling

This year, two of you will get the taste of the real Le Tour atmosphere through the exclusive Hospitality Programme, created and curated by Škoda AUTO and the We Love Cycling magazine. The indescribable excitement, the helicopter ride, the champagne, the Škoda cars with your name printed on them. Now, pretty much anyone can imagine how awesome it is to enjoy all these things and more as one of the fortunate winners.

You get to see all Le Grande Boucle heroes in all their glory and you do so in an ultimate comfort with a cohort of people taking care of your every need. Which brings us to one particular group of the Hospitality crew – the VIP drivers. These guys are responsible for transporting you along one carefully selected stage of the race and to your hotel and they offer you Le Tour quips, wisdoms, memories, and little curiosities while doing so. But who they really are and how big of a part does the whole experience play in their lives?

Pedro Horillo raises his arms in victory on the podium of the Paris-Nice cycling race’s second stage, 08 March 2004 in Montargis. © Profimedia, AFP

We’re glad that two of the drivers made time in their super busy pre-Tour schedule to clear some things up for us. First, let us introduce them to you.

You might have heard the name of Pedro Horrillo under rather unfortunate circumstances. Pedro used to be a top pro racer for teams of no smaller names than Mapei, Quick-Step, and Rabobank. He retired from pro cycling after encountering a horror accident while riding the 2009 Giro d’Italia, during which he crashed over the roadside barrier while descending and fell nearly 80 meters down a ravine. Miraculously, he suffered no nerve damage and made a full recovery but, according to him, was unable to get back on his pre-crash racing level. Now, driving the Hospitality Programme car is one way how to keep close to his beloved sport.

Now, the other one, Tim Harris, is a former British pro road race champion. Besides driving the official Škodas for the Tour of Britain and the Tour de France for several years now, he and his life partner Jos have founded an unofficial cycling academy in their house in Belgium; a kind of freelance refuge for an extraordinary community of cyclists, drawn from across the globe. But it’s not just any old draughty house. Names of the likes of Cavendish, Dowsett, Yates, McLay and even Gaviria have dwelt and pondered their racing chances within these walls and trained on the holy grail of Belgian kermesse races.

When we asked those two what do they think the guests of the Programme enjoy the most, their answers largely overlap with those of the winners. “I think what they enjoy the most is the opportunity to ride the helicopter and oversee the race from the air,” ponders Horrillo. “See the riders pass clearly, see the action that they’ve only imagined until then or were told by us, and see the evolution of the race from the air, enjoying the wonders of the landscape.”

Riding with Stephen Roche? The very best way to start a day, indeed.

The most unique thing about the Hospitality Programme, according to both, is the closeness the guests reach with both the sport and its stars. They feel a part of a VIP group, starting when they go for a morning ride with the Triple Crown winner Stephen Roche, dressed head to toe, and ending with the intense drama that unfolds on the racetrack during the day. “And they fall in love with a sport that, in some cases, was totally alien to them,” adds Horrillo.

How about all the praise for the Hospitality Programme? Is it really so different from getting to watch Le Tour as a regular fan and bystander? The two VIP drivers both fiercely agree that the difference is immense. “Basically everything is different,” says Harris. “You get close to the riders at the start with access to their buses and get to watch the finish on the finish line, which is impossible if you are a normal fan.” But then he expands: “But to be honest, the whole thing depends on where the guest is coming from psychologically. If he is just a guest and not a massive fan of cycling, then the hotel, the food, and the whole day, in general, is all fun for them. But if they’re real cycling fans, they’ll love everything – getting close, riding the joint early-bird ride, speaking with Stephen, and all the other things,” Harris concludes.