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 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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
Originally from Ballinderry Northern Ireland, he currently lives in Wigan, The Saint Piran team rider has achieved fame with the daring cycling projects he posts on his YouTube channel. In the past he documented trips where he bought the cheapest air ticker 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 SKODA. you can watch his videos and interviews from this years Tour de France Here