The publicity caravan is the first key event of each stage of the Tour de France, and is an integral part of the race’s folklore – one whose popularity is stronger than ever. Each day, the parade of floats is eagerly awaited by thousands of spectators lining the route of the Tour de France, hoping to catch the goodies thrown out by hosts and hostesses onboard the 33 caravans. Saturday July 14, 2012 was my day of total immersion in the Tour de France publicity caravan, alongside the Bic team. Here’s what happened, as seen from the inside.
I got on the Bic car shaped like a pencil case, along with Manon the driver and Gwen, whose job that day was to throw goodies from the back of the car. Along with the L’Equipe newspaper caravan, it’s one of only two all-female caravans. As such, they are held in affection by the other publicity caravan teams, who nickname them the “Biquettes!”
Profile of a Biquette
The organizers receive dozens of applications every day from people who want to work on one of the caravans. Manon, 22, is studying for a Masters in architectural and urban civil engineering; she found this student job thanks to a promotions agency she has worked for on a few occasions. Gwen (short for her full forename, Gwendoline) is 25 and a nursing student from Lille. Miss Ternois and the 1st attendant of Miss Flanders 2010, she was contacted directly by the organization, and this is her second year working on the Bic caravan. They receive a salary of €1,350 net for the duration of the Tour and to take the wheel in a caravan vehicle, you need have held a full driver’s license for at least 3 years.
The Bic caravan team
Bic Boy and his Biquettes are taking part in the publicity caravan of the Tour de France for the second consecutive year. In addition to the truck, the pencil-case car, the lighter car and the BicPhone car, a total of 18 people make up the team:
- 11 on the caravan: 3 in the truck and 2 in each car They are all connected by earpiece to the caravan leader at the head of the parade who gives them instructions, information and incident warnings.
- 1 person who meets up with the caravan every night in the day’s finish town to re-stock the vehicles with goodies.
- 2 people in charge of public relations
- 1 person to manage logistics
- 1 person at the start line to provide entertainment
- 2 people at the finish line including one mascot to provide entertainment
Every day, the Bic caravan distributes:
- 2,250 pencil cases
- 4,800 Bic Boy lanyards
- 5,000 Bic Phone key rings
- 4,400 pocket ashtrays
- The day’s itinerary
In the morning, the Biquettes are up very early, often before 6 a.m. to go to the publicity caravan’s parking area in the day’s start town. Once there, they wash and clean their cars and the truck. When the procession is underway, they turn on the loudspeaker that plays 4 songs on a loop, interspersed with advertisements for the brand. The Biquettes giving out goodies have their heads in the wind all day, sometimes in very adverse weather conditions, since the Tour de France is not always held in glorious sunshine. They stop just once to heed nature’s call (in a ‘natural’ setting, of course!) and eat onboard the vehicle when they can. Once they arrive in the day’s finish town, they do not hang around, heading straight to their hotel, where they fill up their vehicles for the following day’s distribution. After dinner, wiped out, they go to their rooms for a little well-earned rest before doing it all again for the following stage.
A few rules
The Bic caravan is always in the 23rd position in the procession. It must always retain this position, and if it takes a break, it must return to its position as quickly as possible. If it does not, then the hostesses must stop distributing goodies. This is also the case if the road is not closed off, as was the case on Saturday. For over 30 km, none of the caravans were allowed to distribute their goodies. For safety reasons, distribution is also forbidden when the caravan is at a standstill, or if a spectator crosses the road, since it is very dangerous and an accident could quickly happen. Did you know that a caravan driver’s biggest fear is to see someone crossing the road in front of them? So if you notice that the caravans are not distributing anything, then there is a good reason for it.
Every vehicle must keep a certain distance away from the one in front, to allow cars to pass (official vehicles, journalists’ vehicles, medical care vehicles, etc.) The caravans’ route is set out for drivers on boards set up every morning by the signposting team. In such situations, the Tour de France code takes precedence over the Highway Code, to allow the race to flow smoothly, and to allow all spectators to make the most of it, whether they are on the left or right side of the road. On the Tour road, a vehicle may therefore take a roundabout on the left, as they do in England.
As a result, there’s no time for relaxing! But whatever happens, all participants keep smiling, are good-humored and enthusiastic. They never tire of saying hello, of getting you to put your arms in the air, of starting a Mexican wave or of giving you thousands of small gifts on a daily basis. So if you are lucky enough to catch this unique show, do smile back at them, be friendly and make the most of the procession – in the grand scheme of things, the goodies are rather insignificant compared to so much human generosity and floats that become more creative and more outlandish every year.
Moreover, here are the results of the publicity caravan competition:
- Best goodie: St Michel madeleines (cupcakes)
- Best decoration: Courtepaille
- Best entertainment: Nesquik
- Web prize: L’Equipe
- Caravan Grand Prix: Ibis Budget
Below is a slideshow dedicated to the publicity caravan:
As a bonus, here is the video of the official dance routine for members of the publicity caravan, organized every morning by the Alcatel team to motivate the troops for a hard day’s distribution: