The Tour has witnessed more than a few decisive turning points in its history. One in particular in 1930 was amongst those that changed its face. The initial decision taken by the director at the time, Henri Desgrange, was received like a revolution. Irritated by the jockeying by the teams run by cycling brands, he decided to completely change the rules to break up their grip on the race. His ideas bore fruit: the event was to be raced by national teams and all the riders were to be equipped with the same bicycles, supplied by the organisers. The plan was appealing but costly. Rarely short of ideas, Desgrange found a financial solution to assist his reform. By calling on France’s major brands to take part in a publicity caravan, he filled the coffers of the Tour. Yet also, he gave rise to a unique spectacle which transformed the nature of the event. From then on, spectators did not just come to watch the Tour simply to see the riders.
The formula’s success, with a parade of originally decorated vehicles “advertising their wares” by giving away gifts, was immediate. The first advertisers, like Vache qui rit (the Laughing Cow) won a place in the hearts of the public, who willingly joined in the fun. Almost eighty years later, the publicity caravan has become an integral part of the event that is the Tour de France. It goes hand in hand with the race that it precedes, with the multi-shaped and multi-coloured procession lasting more than 45 minutes. Young and old alike at the roadside marvel at the inventiveness of the floats and vehicles and clamour to grab the gifts… In total, a survey carried out amongst people who come to watch the Tour reveals that 39% of spectators come first and foremost to see the publicity caravan.