When a cycling fan watches the Tour de France, they might not understand why there are the Mavic’s yellow ŠKODA SUPERBs in the peloton. After all, the teams have their own support vehicles. So, how much action can a neutral service car get? Well, to put it simply, a lot. There are 8 riders in each team, but each team only gets two support cars. So more often than not, the pros’ own mechanics are too far away. And then it’s up to Mavic’s ŠKODA SUPERBs to deliver the support. As it has been for a very long time.
Mavic is a French cycling company with a great reputation. They’re most famous for their wheels and over the years they started to make their own tyres, clothes, shoes, helmets and accessories. However, their yellow ŠKODA SUPERB neutral cars are what the fans know best. Mavic invented the neutral service cars back in 1973. And since 1985 they appear at amateur events as well. So they have plenty of experience. And it reflects in their preparation.
Three ŠKODA SUPERBs are ready for each stage. Distributed evenly among the pros, one usually follows the breakaway, one the GC riders and one hangs at the back. Each of the cars have four bicycles on the roof with adjustable seatposts and various pedals to suit any rider in the peloton. They carry wheels in the back of the car, changed every day according to the stage and any choice the teams might have made that day. Together with the full toolbox they even carry a selection of shoes. Because you never know. In the car with them there is a list of all the riders and their gear. So once they see a pro on the side of the road, they know which spares to grab.
Mavic definitely has the experience the pros need. And their yellow ŠKODA SUPERBs have been there more than once to save the day.
In the 2010 Tour, Jens Voigt crashed his bike so hard the frame snapped like a twig. Left stranded on the descent of the Col de Peyresourde, with no team cars in sight, it looked like it was all over for the beloved German. The driver of the broom wagon offered him a ride and Voigt was a hair’s breadth away from abandoning. Then a yellow ŠKODA SUPERB appeared. Mavic’s technicians offered him one of their yellow bikes and Voigt finished the stage. Jens “shut up legs” Voigt is a funny guy, and the media relayed his joke about finishing the stage on a “child’s bike”. The reality is Mavic carry as wide a range of bikes as possible to suit as many riders as possible. Remember, Dumoulin is under 5 foot 3 whereas Voigt is over a foot taller.
Fast forward to 2016, and Chris Froome is in trouble. After an attack on the legendary Mt. Ventoux climb, Froome, Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema rode into the back of a television motorbike. The rivals flew past them in a matter of seconds. Mollema got up quickly and rode on. However, Chris Froome’s bicycle was done for. Being the gentleman he is, he didn’t throw it away, but gently placed it against the barriers. And then he ran for it. Team Sky’s car was blocked in the chaos, but Mavic’s ŠKODA SUPERB was there to help. Froome grabbed one of the yellow bikes and rode on. Unfortunately, it was a wrong size and he eventually swapped it for one from the team car. He then managed to cross the finishing line, shaking his head in disbelief. The four-time Tour winner initially slipped down to sixth place. However, officials revised the results and gave Froome and Porte the same finishing time as Mollema, meaning Froome stayed in yellow.
In 2017 it was Rigoberto Urán who needed help. He was doing well in the GC when a crash on the descent of Mont du Chat happened. It damaged his derailleur and left him with only a single gear. Being in the breakaway, his team cars were out of reach. So he pulled alongside the yellow ŠKODA SUPERB. Mavic’s technician leaned out of the window and adjusted the derailleur, popping the chain onto the 11 sprockets. This gave Urán the choice of a high 53/11 gear and a medium 39/11 gear – enough for him to not only stay in the race, but end ahead of Froome, beating Barguil and Fuglsang in a sprint finish.
While we hope no one will need serious help from Mavic neutral cars this year, it is good to know that the yellow ŠKODA SUPERBs are there.