If you are aware of ŠKODA’s history, you know it has been inseparably tied to cycling since the company’s founding in 1895 as a little bicycle workshop named Laurin & Klement. Today, about 250 vehicles bearing the distinctive winged-arrow logo can be found at the Tour de France front lines. This has been the case since 2004, when the car manufacturer became the race’s official vehicle partner. With each rider facing nearly 3,000 km in the saddle and the immense annual visitor numbers, a strong and agile support structure is essential to the grand race’s success. ŠKODA cars represent a big piece in that organisational puzzle.
The 2021 edition of the Tour started on 26th June in Brest in France’s northwest and finishes, of course, at the Champs Élysées in Paris on 18th July. There is a good chance that if you are watching, you are about to witness a piece of road-cycling history, as new records are broken every year. But while the main focus is (justifiably) on the riders, the sheer numbers of support, assistance, team and crew humans and vehicles involved are almost hard to comprehend. The ŠKODA cars, mostly ŠKODA SUPERB models, are manned by some 300 drivers and 60 technicians. Besides providing vehicles, ŠKODA’s cycling support also extends to sponsoring the Tour’s Green Jersey points classifications since 2015.
Now, let’s look at the specific roles ŠKODA cars will play in this travelling grand show in 2021 – as they did multiple years before.
The race director’s Leading Car
Let’s start from the top of the vehicular Tour de France “hierarchy” since the director’s striking red ride is probably the first one you’ll notice as it launches and accompanies each stage. When you see the distinct decals and the cap visor-like yellow attachment above the windscreen anywhere near the starting line, you hold your breath as you watch the panoramic glass roof slide open to allow Mr. Christian Prudhomme, the A.S.O. and Tour director, to stand up in his car and wave the white flag at “Kilometre Zero”. And then it’s on.
The velvet-red ŠKODA SUPERB iV plug-in hybrid made its debut as the Leading Car last year and will continue to accompany Mr. Prudhomme in 2021 since it proved to be a quiet, efficient and comfortable partner. For certain stages, it will be switching places with the recently introduced ŠKODA ENYAQ iV, also bearing the distinctive red paint, as was the case last year. While the cars might resemble typical ŠKODAs on the outside, were you to take off all the add-ons and six antennas, the inside is also extraordinary as both models have been extensively adjusted. First, you notice a control panel located between the front seats, which contains a built-in radio. Mr. Prudhomme sits in the back and uses the radio to connect with his race marshals in three other ŠKODA cars, and to communicate with each individual team car to give orders, advice and, if needed, the permission to break rank. Then, besides other custom-made communication equipment, there’s also a cooler for refreshments and foldable champagne-flute holders so Mr. Prudhomme can treat his VIP guests, such as the French president.
To once again quote Mr. Prudhomme himself: “ŠKODA is an essential partner for the Tour de France as well as for the races that we organise. During the Tour de France, the red number 1 ŠKODA is more than just a car, it is a control tower, an office, and a valued and trusted friend. We are thrilled to extend this cooperation with an efficient, reliable and dynamic partner.”
If you want to take a peek into the Red SUPERB iV’s unique interior, check out the first-hand exclusive experience of one of our writers from last year.
Neutral support cars
We’ve all got used to equating assistance with the cheery yellow shade of Mavic cars and it’s no wonder – they made their Tour debut in 1977 – but this year will be different. The Japanese component giant Shimano has cut a deal with A.S.O. to take on the noble mantle of neutral support cars. The whole fleet’s colour will switch to electric blue, but the ŠKODA SUPERB iV model will stay.
What will not change, though, is the professional approach and readiness to help any struggling rider. The Mavic cars used to carry spare tyres, chains, cranksets, complete bicycles and even accessories like raincoats alongside a fully equipped mobile bicycle workshop and, naturally, a mechanic in the back. There’s no doubt that Shimano will ensure all that and more. As tradition and foresight dictate, one support car always stays near Christian Prudhomme’s Leading Car with three bikes specially adjusted for the top three general-classification contenders, ready to save the day if needed.
We are sure many will remember the yellow life-savers fondly because they’ve been, throughout the years, indispensable for the success and safety of some big names such as Jens Voigt and Rigoberto Urán. Nonetheless, Shimano’s vividly blue fleet will certainly be a worthy successor.
🇪🇸🛠 @shimanoes, asistencia neutra en La Vuelta hasta 2024
🇬🇧🛠 @ShimanoROAD, renews agreement with Unipublic for neutral assistance at La Vuelta until 2024
— La Vuelta (@lavuelta) April 9, 2021
Nearly every team car is driven by a former cycling pro or someone with similar experience—and the reason is simple. Not only do the cars need to tightly follow the progress their riders are making, but when something unexpected occurs, such as an accident, the car needs to speed up and seamlessly weave through swaths of other vehicles, motorbikes, cyclists and spectators to get to the affected riders as quickly as possible. For that, you need to have an intimate knowledge of the Tour, the peloton and their rhythm.
Furthermore, the driving order of the team cars – mostly ŠKODA OCTAVIAs and ŠKODA SUPERB models – is subjected to a strict order based on the ranking of the team’s lead rider, which is updated before each stage. The better your team is doing point-wise, the closer your team car is to the nose of the peloton, which means a shorter distance and fewer seconds lost when reaching your riders. And mere seconds often mean victory at the Tour. As mentioned, the only authority able to permit the team cars to break rank is Christian Prudhomme via the two-way radio in his Leading Car. All team cars have a direct communication line to him. Without this mutual trust, support and Mr. Prudhomme’s speedy evaluations of any situation, the sprawling spectacle that is the Tour de France would be much more chaotic indeed.
And if the team OCTAVIAs and SUPERBs are unable to assist their riders on time, Shimano’s neutral support cars are always at the ready.
The cars of the VIP ŠKODA Tour de France Hospitality Programme
The winners of the ŠKODA Hospitality Programme will get the chance to ride around in ŠKODA SUPERB iV.
They may be a small portion of the Tour’s vehicle fleet, but they mean everything to the winners of the VIP ŠKODA Hospitality Programme. Of course we’re talking about the ŠKODA ENYAQ iVs and ŠKODA SUPERB iVs that chauffeur them around for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The lucky few who win through our annual contest enjoy three days of the closest proximity to the ‘Mother of All Bicycle Races’, all expenses paid, including a car ride in front of the peloton and a helicopter flyover over the riders and the stunning French landscape. The designated cars even have decals with the winners’ names – what’s not to like?
After one virtual Tour and one with restrictions last year, 2021 is poised to bring back the Tour de France we all remember – the beautiful circus full of sweat, grit, determination and joy. So, whether you’ll be watching from the sidelines or at home in front of a screen, be sure to take in all the effort and immense dedication of those women, men and vehicles behind the scenes.