Pitch takes a ride with McCain in the Tour de France

Over the 5th, 6th  and 7th  July,  an estimated 3.5 million spectators lined the route of the Tour de France in Yorkshire and from Cambridge to London, for what was described as the ‘Grandest Grand Depart’  in the Tour’s 101 year history by race director Christian Prudhomme. The team at Pitch were fortunate enough to experience the event first hand, helping Yorkshire based company McCain Foods with its sponsorship activation as an official supplier of the Tour de France 2014.

The Tour de France is the most prestigious cycling race in the world, with 198 riders from 12 teams competing over 3,664 km for 21 days for the right to cross the iconic finish line on the Champs Elysees in Paris as the winner, and the chance to win one of the greatest prizes in sport, the Yellow Jersey.

As someone who is anything but a cycling fanatic and certainly not an expert on the Tour, I will admit that when I found out I would be working on the project, my immediate thoughts were of the huge number of cyclists who compete in the race, the iconic finish in Paris and of course the Yellow Jersey. But one huge aspect of the Tour which often goes unmentioned is the Tour de France’s promotional caravan, a huge convoy of sponsor’s vehicles which follows the route of each stage, consisting of extravagant and colourful floats, loud music and promotional staff who entertain the crowd and distribute free promotional goodies.

The caravan has been part of the race since 1930, when the tour organiser Henri Desgrange decided to abandon company sponsored teams (re-introduced later in 1962) in favour of teams representing their respective countries. As a result the cost of transporting, feeding and lodging the participating riders fell to the organisers rather than the sponsors. Desgrange’s solution was to introduce a procession of colourful decorated trucks and cars which would precede the Tour riders, with companies paying a fee for the right to have vehicles in the procession to advertise their products.

84 years on and the promotional caravan has become a key part of the Tour de France experience, preceding the tour riders by two hours, it stretches between 20 and 25km in length and takes approximately 40 minutes to pass any given location. It is a unique spectacle for anybody who has the chance to witness it and also serves as a great piece of entertainment to build the anticipation and excitement before the Tour riders pass by. For the official sponsors of the Tour it also represents a key opportunity to raise brand awareness and capitalise on the captive audience which lines the route waiting to cheer on the riders and more importantly for some, get hold of some free promotional goodies!

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to ride in one of McCain’s vehicles as part of the Tour de France promotional caravan along the 155km Stage 3 route from Cambridge to London. Riding in the caravan gave me the chance to experience firsthand the ‘Tour fever’ which had spread the nation, with crowds of people often up to 10 people deep lining the route, clapping, cheering and waving as the Caravan passed through.

For a British rider cycling the route, it really must have been something special, particularly the last 2km as the route passed by the Thames, Big Ben and finally finishing on the mall past Buckingham Palace, for what in my somewhat biased opinion was an equally if not more iconic finish than that of the Champs Elysees. It was an unbelievable experience and also very surreal, after all it’s not every day you get to travel into London greeted by cheering crowds, riding a vehicle resembling a giant chip packet accompanied by the song ‘oh happy days’!

The event once again showed the UK’s unrivalled ability to host international sporting events with crowds and atmosphere like no other and it is hardly surprising that the Tour organisers have already said it a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’ the Tour will return. One thing is for sure, next year’s host Utrecht has a tough act to follow!

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