Tough test for car drivers as well as the riders of the Tour

Tough test for car drivers as well as the riders of the Tour

The Tour de France course teems with cars as well as the competing cyclists. The drivers are former cyclists who understand the riders’ behaviour. Take a look behind the scenes at their work.

15. 7. 2022 Lifestyle

ŠKODA has been the official main partner and car supplier for the famous Tour de France since 2004. It provides the organisers with a fleet of vehicles, this year only hybrid and electric cars. 

In addition to the cars for the race director – in recent years the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV – and other cars necessary for the Tour itself, several cars with guests in them drive in front of the cyclists, some among the cyclists, especially during breakaways. Thanks to ŠKODA, these guests enjoy a truly unprecedented and close-up perspective of the Tour de France. And it is the drivers of these cars who have now given an insight into their behind-the-scenes work at the Tour de France for ŠKODA Storyboard in collaboration with professional cyclist, influencer and cycling promoter Cameron Jeffers.

The ŠKODA ENYAQ iV again served as the mobile headquarters of race director Christian Prudhomme

The only option 

The job is surprisingly challenging. The cars in front of the contestants are driven by experienced accredited drivers, but you can’t sit just anyone behind the wheel of a guest-laden car driving among cyclists at full race pace. “The only option is to hire former professional cyclists. Only they know how the riders move and can pick up on changes in pace and read the cyclists’ reactions and intentions,” explains Jan Hejna from WeLoveCycling. In order to get behind the wheel on the race course, even those drivers must obtain a special permit from the International Cycling Union which they won’t get unless they have experience from lesser races. “It’s kind of a high-level driving licence,” explains Hejna.

Jan-Hejna_WLC-copy Jan Hejna

Winner’s trophy

ŠKODA has another unique privilege associated with the Tour de France. Its design team has been designing the trophy for the winner of the famous race since 2011. The trophies are always based on uniform basic shapes and every year brings a different take on the theme. The designers use the trophies as an opportunity to show off the art of Czech glassmakers. The trophies are produced by the Czech glassworks Lasvit and are precision, handmade creations. This year ŠKODA also provides trophy for Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

“For example, downhill speed is critical for people driving in front of the competitors, because on steep descents on difficult courses cyclists can go faster than a car,” Hejna says, giving an example of a situation that the average driver would not encounter. Even in these situations, the drivers praise the cars ŠKODA SUPERB iV and ENYAQ iV they use. “It adapts to every situation, and depending on what is needed at the time I can choose sport or comfort mode. Sometimes we have to go really fast,” explains Paul Moucheraud. The cars’ smooth handling and nimble reactions are praised by all their drivers on the Tour de France.

PG_6885-copy Paul Moucheraud

PGS0102 A ŠKODA SUPERB iV escorting this year’s Tour de France

A tough day’s work 

The car also makes their work easier. “By the end of the Tour we have about eight to nine thousand kilometres on the clock,” says Pedro Horrillo of the weeks spent behind the wheel. A significant portion of this is spent actually “inside the race”, i.e. on the route of the stages near the cyclists. When the riders at the front break away, the race director may allow some cars to slip past the main peloton and catch up with the breakaway riders. Of course, the ideal conditions for this must be in place: the breakaway must be far enough away from the peloton, for example. That’s why the drivers of the cars have radios in their cars, which they use to receive instructions from the race management, to monitor the overall situation and to communicate with each other.

PG_6887-copy Pedro Horrillo

A ŠKODA SUPERB iV cars at this year’s race

“I always tell our guests that they can’t get any closer to the racers than we can. It’s a really wonderful experience, even for me who did the Tour as a rider in the peloton. It always gives me goose pimples,” says Staf Scheirlinckx. All the drivers agree that the work is hugely demanding, with a lot of responsibility. They have to keep an eye on the riders while watching out for spectators and other cars on the route. “If you were involved in a crash with someone in the breakaway group, for example, you’d be on the news all over the world the next day. That’s something we definitely want to avoid,” Staf Scheirlinckx adds. Maurice Borghouts illustrates just how demanding the job is: “When I was a cyclist I didn’t really have to worry about anything here, everything was set up for us and my job was to focus on the leader and get a result for the team. Now it’s a completely different role,” he explains.

PGS8226-copy Maurice Borghouts

PGS1497 The work of drivers is hugely demanding, with a lot of responsibility. They have to keep an eye on the riders while watching out for spectators and other cars on the route.

“Drivers can’t let nerves and stress get the better of them. My take on it is that I’m still a guest here too and I’m trying to make the most of it. I then pass this mood on to my passenger in the car. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m working, just having fun. But doing it day in and day out throughout the Tour is sometimes challenging,” Pedro Horrillo admits.

Massive crowds lining the course

The driver’s job is not limited to the race route. They also have to get to the start of a stage and then back to their accommodation once it’s over, so they can cover hundreds of kilometres a day. “Sometimes we spend an hour and a half on the way to the stage, another five hours in the race, and then another hour and a half getting to the hotel,” Pedro Horrillo says. This year, in addition, the drivers had to drive more than 1,000 kilometres into northern France after the first three Danish stages of the race.

The first three stages were in Denmark.

And relax...

For all the drivers behind the wheel of a ŠKODA SUPERB iV or the ENYAQ iV at this year’s race, taking part in the Tour de France brings back memories of their racing careers. “It’s much more physically demanding when you’re on a bike. I don’t think I’d be fit enough to do it today," Paul Moucheraud replies when Cameron asks whether he would prefer to navigate the Tour by pedal power or if he’s happy in the comfort of the car. “If I had to choose, I’d probably sit here in the car,” he says. But there are some who would rather get onto a bike. “I like both, but honestly, I’d rather be here as a cyclist,” says Staf Scheirlinckx.

PGS8258-copyStaf Scheirlinckx

ŠKODA is more than just the Tour de France’s traditional partner: it also sponsors the green jersey for the best sprinter.

The drivers of the “guests’ cars” will probably get on a bike at some point during the Tour, though. That is during a day off. “When the opportunity arises, we definitely go for it. Driving a car is of course comfortable and pleasant, but none of us can resist the opportunity to reminisce about our time in the saddle,” they all agree.

Cameron Jeffers

Originally from Ballinderry in Northern Ireland, he currently lives in Wigan, a town between Manchester and Liverpool. The Saint Piran team rider has achieved fame with the daring cycling projects he posts on his YouTube channel. In the past he has documented trips where he bought the cheapest air ticket to a European destination and cycled home, or he cycled through three different countries in just one day. He collaborates with the WeLoveCycling platform run by ŠKODA. You can watch his videos and interviews from this year’s Tour de France HERE.

Related Stories Based on tags: 2022, Cycling, eMobility, Enyaq, iV, Superb, Tour de France