Ranked: the best and worst vehicles of the Tour de France promotional caravan
We went to the bad place.
We went to the bad place.
The Tour de France is fine, I guess, but the real star of the show in the eyes of the spectating public is the promotional caravan. This armada of floats and cars and motorbikes travels a couple of hours ahead of the day’s racing, blasting vacuous Europop and throwing branded trinkets at the people waiting on the roadside. An inelegant scrum follows, with elderly people and children elbowed out of the way in pursuit of pouches of Haribo.
In 2019, I spent a couple of weeks trying to gather as many items as possible. I was left with minor injuries, a suitcase full of shame, and an abiding professional interest in the caravan.
This year, bad Skoda bucket hats snatched from children were not going to cut it. I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to understand the promotional caravan on a visceral level.
Most particularly, I wanted to carefully consider the best and, more to the point, worst vehicles of the convoy – the ones that I’d least like to be standing, sitting, riding in the searing heat of this French summer.
In Rodez, the promotional caravan lay in wait, its promo people mingling hornily in a carpark. While they were preoccupied dancing to terrible music, we had free rein to wander amongst the promo vehicles, absorbing the sights, the smells, the sensations of each of their vehicles.
Here is our unbiased, objective assessment of the 2022 Tour de France promotional caravan.
One of the first vehicles on the road, the LCL float consists of a big yellow man with indistinct features on a truck. It is fine, I suppose, but we can do better. In the vehicle immediately behind, in fact.
On the road from Mende to a small hotel in the middle of nowhere, we had the distinct pleasure of driving behind this magnificent creature. From this unique vantage point, we could observe its hair flapping in the breeze. We could also observe what an absolute terror it is when hit by crosswinds, wobbling across the entire lane and occasionally into the neighbouring one.
It would, I imagine, be an invigorating driving experience, and absorb water like a sponge in the rain. I give it a ranking of ‘fine’.
Tourtel is a new sponsor since I last cast a withering eye on the Tour de France caravan, and they drive six floats covered with fake grass and big bottles of their produce.
That produce is allegedly a non-alcoholic beer, a characterisation that I would forcefully push back on, seeing as it contains neither hops nor barley, and just enough malt to stain the liquid brown. In flavour it is like a fruit-flavoured mineral water. It’s not bad, all things considered. The lemon one is much better than the raspberry one, disappearing from the Press Room fridge much more quickly.
It is not beer, no matter what Tourtel would have you believe.
The Czech car brand has weaseled its way into the hearts and minds of the cycling world, displacing Fiat 19 years ago as the Tour’s vehicle sponsor and steadily becoming a car you might actually want to own ever since.
For the Tour de France, they sponsor the maillot vert (green jersey) and have a float with a roary green man on it. In front of him is a single bike on which a spin instructor barks instructions at the four cyclists behind. Those ones have three-point harnesses and a proper seat. The instructor is on the cusp of sliding off his bike and under the wheels of the float at any moment, which livens things up, if nothing else.
The French national lottery, FDJ has been a long-term sponsor of professional cycling under the banner of the team Groupama FDJ. At the front of the convoy is a big blue motortrike with glistening chrome and a warm leather seat. I know about the warmth of that seat because its driver said that I could sit on it as a treat, like a little boy on his uncle’s Yamaha.
Trailing behind the trike are two boring floats (although there is a sort of dream canopy on one, which is a bonus) and five boring Skodas. They would love for the people of France to gamble up a storm to continue funding David Gaudu’s fledgling career and Thibaut Pinot’s menagerie.
Cast your eyes away from the sinister-ness of this truck’s black denim covered cab for a second, and instead focus on the gigantic brown-gloved hand resting atop. Will it reach out and grab you? Smother you into a never-ending sleep?
Nope. Not the ride for me thank you very much.
Plus: A giant white-jersey man towers over you, meaning that when the sun is behind the vehicle you are giving some respite from the sun gently burning you to a crisp over 21 stages. Minus: you better get on with your partner squished into the seat very closely next to you. Maybe, you’ll come to loathe the giant white-jersey figure looming behind and taking up all of the space.
As for the other floats in the celebration of all things Krys, an optician (and hearing aid manufacturer), just think how nice that fake grass will feel when you are on your 17th consecutive Tour caravan party hangover.
First, an admission. Walking through the caravan before the start of the stage I saw the man inside the melon smothering his sweaty chebs in suncream, which has forever removed any objectivity from how I feel about the giant melon and the human custodian sitting inside the oversized fruit.
Will I see the suncreaned melon man every time I close my eyes until the time the 2023 Tour rolls around? I hope not, but I fear so.
The most boisterous promotional squad of the race, Cochonou offers up big checked bucket hats and small sausage nuggets. They drive the route in ancient Citroën 2CVs, blasting music at indecent volume from speakers on the front. One of them has a mini kitchen in the back with railings from which looped sweaty meats flop back and forth. They are probably the most beloved promotional partner of the caravan.
Smelly, disgusting, with a slight tinge of eroticism, this is the hardest of passes from me.
Everyone’s happy to see the Haribo people. They distribute little pouches of gummies to the children lining the road, and they wisely leave the sugar-free variants at home lest everyone extravagantly shit themselves.
Do not be swayed by the popularity of the produce, though. They are just Isuzu four wheel drives with big plastic lollies on top of them, quite lacking in imagination and therefore docked points for not trying hard enough. Skewer one looks like it’d be pretty handy at impaling an LCL lion, though.
You have no idea how badly I wanted these floats to throw portions of raw, salmonella-laced chicken onto the dusty roadsides of France. I dreamed of tenderloins slapping against gutters, thigh fillets smooshing beneath espadrilles, roadside dogs being driven into a foaming frenzy.
I was sadly disappointed to learn this was not what they threw. They had magnets this year, I think.
While I would very much not like to be in or on one of these floats, I’ll give them this: six big chickens gliding up an Alpine pass is an extremely potent hallucinogen that you can’t get arrested for. The perfect crime.
There is one thing you need to know about the tractor in the Tour caravan and that’s that the big tractor wheels don’t actually move.
Also, when I walked past, it was emitting a bad buzzing sound.
You want oils? These guys have got oils. Olive oil! Sunflower oil! Vegetable oil! Flavoured garlicky oils!
In fact, there’s so much oil that there’s barely enough space for an oily man amongst the oils to throw his oils at you, the oil-craving roadside spectator of the Tour de France. Look at him, perched on the railing, scratching his nose, just waiting for an opportunity to be anywhere else. Tell me he looks happy about his lot in life and I’ll tell you you’re a goddamn liar.
This has been a mostly dry Tour de France, with barely a hint of rain since the soggy stage 1 time trial in distant Denmark. The good people of the Logis float are probably quite relieved about that, seeing as the driver and his passenger are dangerously exposed to the elements.
These guys have a cartoonish pair of figurines on the back of their vehicles – a guy with a pillow, and a chef winking seductively while carefully placing nothing behind a little cake. I don’t care for what they bring to the table.
AG2R is the first in what will be a series of French cycling teams that also represent themselves in the Tour caravan, presumably because their marketing departments don’t think they’ve wasted enough money yet this Tour.
Out of all of them, the AG2R float is the most accurate – the team has thoughtfully decided to shed riders until there are just three left, just like the float. That’s truth in advertising. That’s integrity.
One of the few caravan entries that give you something practical, XTRA is a detergent company that does dish soap and laundry detergent. The CyclingTips press contingent has washed its clothing in nothing else for the duration of July.
Leading the charge for XTRA in the Tour is a big bottle of detergent constructed around a quad bike. Not only is the centre of balance completely off, it would also be a total sweatbox. For this reason and several others, I would not like to be an XTRA ambassador on the Tour de France.
Into the bin with your garbage keyrings, Century 21. But at least there’s a comfy place to sit on the float.
The Tour sponsor that is most “under investigation for defrauding the Swiss government of millions of Euros in COVID subsidies (allegedly),” Lastminute.com had pink floats with cutout flamingos and a pink motortrike with an English driver who was very happy to hear some non-French voices after three weeks of being in the caravan. He also let our social editor Mikey sit on his bike, which is a big win for Mikey.
I don’t think they gave anything out besides vibes, and a thousand euro voucher to Caleb Ewan.
They are a ‘take it or leave it’ proposition (unless ‘it’ is COVID subsidies, in which case they’ll take it [allegedly]).
I have a childhood nostalgia for Asterix cartoons, so it brings me absolutely no joy to inform you that I find the Parc Asterix contingent of the caravan to be a bit of a flop.
They have four small red cars with characters on the roof – Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, and Mrs Geriatrix (because why should she have agency outside of her existence as the wife of the Indomitable Village’s most decrepit man) – and they drive around throwing promotional leaflets at people. No thanks.
A region of southwestern France near the Pyrenees with Pau as capital, the Bearn caravan envoys are led by King Henri IV, a man that I had the pleasure of interviewing at Mende altiport an eternity ago.
There is a diversity of promotional products expressed – the king’s castle, a tourist train, a pot full of sauce with a lady inside it. There is no single concise mission statement, but I like Pau and I liked talking to King Henri IV so I’ll give them a thumbs up, despite them not actually giving anything to people.
The Cofidis float has not bothered to update itself to match the team’s new (and much better) kit. There are also bad Cofidis emojis on the side of it. I do not care for either choice.
Does what it says on the tin. Definitely agricultural. Tractor and everything. Line drawing of cow on the side. Not into it.
The next of the French ProTeams to have representation in the caravan, Arkea-Samsic is advertising the cycling team itself rather than the banking company and HR company that gives them their name. There are also enormous playing cards of the riders on the side of the truck.
I don’t know what they distribute, but I think there might be branded hats in the mix, based on a man I saw at a small town hotel with a Warren Barguil-specific, Arkea-Samsic branded baseball hat. I think it looks like a comfortable enough place to spend a day.
The Domitys floats are an advertisement for graceful ageing, advertising a chain of 160 retirement homes. One of the floats has a senior with her feet up trying to remember how to get onto the Internet, another has a husband and wife duo riding bikes together.
I am not the target demographic but it makes me hopeful that it’s not all a slow descent toward death and for that, I am grateful.
French ProTeam TotalEnergies is best known as the home team of Mathieu Burgadeau, the peloton’s most successful/only Julian Alaphilippe tribute act. They did very little in this year’s race, and did it wearing a kit that looks like an explosion in a crayon factory. I am vaguely aware of the existence of TotalEnergies t-shirts from the caravan, but did not receive one – their promo folks just gave a LowEnergie wave as they went past.
A supermarket chain that also sponsors the KOM classification, E Leclerc has a series of big hampers full of produce, along with some small cars with people on the roof. On KOM points throughout the race they also pass out many thousands of spotty t-shirts constructed of extremely thin cotton, all of them size L. This is the iconic E Leclerc giveaway so whatever they’re offering from the Big Hampers on Wheels is bound to be a disappointment.
The poor man’s melon.
Best (a very generous use of ‘best’):
Worst (I mean, besides all of them, obviously):
Jonny Long contributed reporting. He is the melon man of my soul.