“You’ve just won a place on the Tour de France Hospitality Programme by ŠKODA!” That’s a sentence every avid La Grande Boucle fan craves to find in their e-mail inbox after taking part in one of the contests. A lot has been written about the experience from the point of the lucky participants – the joy of winning, the breathtaking helicopter flyover of all stages, the roadside BBQ, the morning group ride with Andy Schleck, a former pro cyclist and a road racing legend. But this time, we wanted to turn the narrative inwards.
We ventured behind the organizational scenes of one of the greatest experiences a cycling aficionado can have and got in touch with Simona Kašpárková, ŠKODA’s Hospitality Programme Manager, to ask her how her team gets things done in all that month’s madness.
How long does the Hospitality Programme exist and how long have you been a part of it?
In 2004, ŠKODA became a partner of Le Tour and, together with A.S.O., they organized a small event focused on making the Tour accessible to our best clients and the general public – especially cycling enthusiasts. This first attempt evolved for four years and eventually became the official Hospitality Programme in 2008. I’ve been a part of it since 2015.
How did the whole concept come to life?
Well, as a sponsor, ŠKODA naturally reaps some of the contractual benefits, which we wanted to use to their full potential. This resulted in the idea of inviting importers, dealers, journalists and other visitors from the public to get closer to the Tour. From another point of view, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience in three days.
Is the Hospitality Programme organized by the same team each year? Could you say you’re a bit of a backstage Tour de France family?
We absolutely are. There’s one team member who’s with us for the 13th time and the rest spans between 5-10 years of attendance. Still, we refresh the team on a regular basis because not everyone is able to take a month-long leave from work and sacrifice their holiday. But some do and they do it each year. We make changes to approximately 20 % of the team, there’s always a hostess or a driver who can’t make it this time.
Your team is crucial for making the VIP visitors and winners feel right at home. Do you have any special strategies?
It all starts with picking the members for the team, of course. We try to work with people we already know or who were recommended to us and, most importantly, who already are cycling fans or have been an active part of the cycling world, so we can really work together as a family, without a hitch.
Concerning the team, do you look forward to seeing each other every year? Are you in contact outside the Hospitality Programme?
Yes, we are and it’s amazing. It’s truly like you’ve found another kind of family. You spend a hectic month working really close to one another and you need to be efficient so that ties you together well.
What is the most rewarding experience when organizing such an event for you personally?
It’s definitely getting to places not many people have access to and meeting the riders, which could normally probably never happen. Namely, it was thrilling to meet our Czech leading cyclists Zdeněk Štybar, Roman Kreuziger or Jan Bárta and the world-famous stars of the likes of Quintana, Froome, Sagan… You’re simply a part of the Tour de France and it’s amazing.
Our last question concerns the lucky contest winners, any particular reaction or story that got stuck in your memory?
Some years ago, we had two Hospitality Programme winners from the UK and, until the very last moment, they didn’t believe that someone wasn’t playing a joke of some sort. Even when standing at the gate at the airport, they still expected to be ambushed with a “secret camera” kind of prank. Finally, they flew off happily and had a blast at the Tour. Over the course of five years, I’ve met many enthusiastic fans like those and heard a number of amazing stories.
Thank you Mrs Kašpárková and we wish you many fantastic encounters and experiences of the Tour de France to come!