Created in 1903 by a struggling French newspaper to try to sell more copies, the Tour de France is a race within a race. The overall final winner gets to wear the famed yellow jersey (le maillot jaune). But racers also fight for the daily stage victories, intermediate sprints for the green points jersey, plus the mountain points for the stand-out red polka-dot climber’s jersey. The white jersey is awarded to the best rider under 25, while the last placed rider overall becomes the winner of the lanterne rouge, the red light at the rear of the peloton. The arrival of the Tour on the Champs-Elysées in Paris is always a massive cheering event gathering thousands on an usually sunny Sunday.
The Tour de France’s support vehicles have not always been in the news in a positive light in recent years. The roads around the racers seem to be getting busier and busier with motorbikes and cars. All vehicles on the course fulfil very specific duties however. Without all of these support vehicles on the road the Tour de France would not be the commercial success that it is and the continuity of the race in terms of mechanical support, rider security and communications could not be maintained. Below is a look at what the various cars are actually there for.
The Red Car
The director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, travels in the red car up the front. Mr Prudhomme will have some VIP guests in the car with him every day. They have the job of waving a flag at the end of the neutralised section at at Kilometre Zero to signal the official start of the timed racing of that day. where the race officially begins each day. As the ASO who are the Tour de France organisers also own the Vuelta a Espana, you will see a red car on the Vuelta as well. See the 2 pics below.
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The first year that Mavic provided a neutral service during a professional cycling race was at the 1973 Paris-Nice race. Up until then, whenever a rider had a mechanical they were left, wheel in hand, waiting for their team vehicle. It happens frequently that in a situation where the roads are tight and packed with spectators, the team vehicle is far away from the riders. Mavic provided its neutral service for the first time at the 1977 Tour de France. During Paris-Roubaix team cars are not allowed on the cobbled sections and punctures and other mechanicals are common on those roads.
When you see how close these cars get to the riders then you will understand that you need a driver who is able to anticipate what’s going to come next in terms of the route and where it is going next but also the likely actions of the riders. Most drivers are ex-pro cyclists for these reasons.
The Tour de France caravan and sideshow stars
The support vehicles are not the only vehicles on the road and the cyclists are not the only superstars, the Tour de France publicity caravan is famous for the spectacle it brings and you will know the ‘Diablo’. Read more below.