Everyone who has visited France to see one or more stages of the legendary cycle race Tour de France, will know that life as a spectator can be of immensly short pleasure. If all the riders pass the spot you have laboriously found in the crowd as one big peloton, then it is over in a matter of seconds. Luckily, the Tour offers another and more noisy spectator attraction: The Advertising Caravan – La Caravane Du Tour.
Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange had one major challenge with his life project – the world’s largest bike race – to make enough money for the operation of the enormous logistics task. During the 1920s, the interest for the Tour decreased because of agreements between the small number of powerful teams. Teams were sponsored by the bicycle manufacturers and the winner was not so important as long as he was riding the best bike! Added to that, between 1919 and 1929 only one Frenchman won the race, which gave French fans even less reason to follow the race. In fact some bike makers were too powerful with respect to the organizers. Instead, the aim was to retain the national or regional teams as it was in the races early days. Each rider had to be equipped with the same bike and these were all provided by the race organiser. But how to cover the costs? The solution became Desgrange’s revolutionary advertising caravan.
The big French brands quickly flocked to secure their place – or rather, a car – in the caravan, and ever since then it has been expensive but equally lucrative to participate. Not only did Desgrange create a brilliant way of financing his new race form, but at the same time he also established an important part of the modern tour – not least for the millions of people who faithfully took their place by the roadside day after day during the weeks when the race took place. Also in the modern tour, the caravan is an almost essential part as according to the official Le Tor website, 47% of the spectators come primarily to see the caravan.
Prior to each stage, the caravan parades through with its imaginatively rebuilt cars, vans and buses filled to the brim with cheerful men and women. From each of the vehicles, attention-grabbing entertainment is on offer and free samples of their products are thrown to the crowd. It has always been – and still is – so popular that children and adults voluntarily get hit by the free merchandise samples.
It’s a crazy sight, but still quite entertaining. Not least the vehicles taking part in the caravan where the colourful and creative modifications never cease to fascinate. In the old days, they were constricted using proper craftsmanship in metal and wood. Today, the ideas are mostly executed in plastic and fibreglass. Perhaps no longer quite as impressive, yet they still serve as the entertainment of many men, women and children along the route of the approximately 3,500km long bike race.
The various model car manufacturers have long since begun to produce models of the glorious advertising vehicles from La Caravane Du Tour. Do you currently lack a hobby or perhaps just a new theme for your existing model collection? Look no further…