Let’s take it from the top. Almost without exception, two cars per team follow the peloton each year. Just to clarify, to “follow the peloton” is not as simple as it might sound. As a driver, you have not only to keep your eyes peeled for the seemingly endless, tightly packed procession of other vehicles, motorbikes, spectators and, of course, cyclists, but your position within this hectic display is subjected to a strict hierarchy. The ranking of your team’s leading rider determines the team’s car position within the peloton, and the only person with the authority to give team cars (and any Tour car for that matter) the permission to break rank is none other than Tour director Christian Prudhomme.
Circling back to the cars’ drivers, the vast majority of them are former cycling professionals and sometimes even legends of the sport such as Stephen Roche. Not only because they still love cycling but also because their assessment skills are invaluable. As they experienced the atmosphere and rhythm of the peloton first-hand, they are able to anticipate its movements and weave through it smoothly in order to reach a rider in need, as it could be literally seconds that make the win-lose difference.
Being a team car’s driver is a hard drill – but one fuelled by love for the sport and full of thrill. Furthermore, at races of such magnitude as the Tour de France, the driving coach isn’t the only person present in the vehicle. Usually, it’s manned by three people: the head coach, the second coach, and a mechanic. They all have to work in perfect unison with each other and their vehicle, which has been specially tweaked for the occasion.
Regarding equipment, a team car at the Tour is packed to the brim. ŠKODA SUPERB iVs feature heavily in the designated team cars, and if you look at their compact build, versatile use and thought-out equipment, it’s not hard to guess why. Each square centimetre of both the car’s interior and exterior has been utilized. The roof racks of the two team cars usually carry eight spare bikes (every rider has two or three spares) and several extra wheels. In the boot and strewn across the floor and seats of the team cars, you usually find the mechanic’s toolbox, about 50 full bidons, 40 pieces of energy gels and bars, one bag with spare clothes and shoes for each rider, and many other essentials. Furthermore, the car also features one in-built and three additional radios so the crew can communicate between cars, with the race organizers or the aforementioned Mr Prudhomme himself.
With each passing year, the Tour preparations get more rigorous for the crews of the team cars but the riders can always put their full confidence in them and focus on their performance. And in our experience interviewing, watching and rooting for the crews for years, they wouldn’t change it for the world. So when you see these behind-the-scenes heroes on the road behind your favourite cyclists, give them credit!