For a cycling nut, it was the experience of a lifetime – flying high above the Tour de France in a helicopter, making small talk with former winner Stephen Roche. That was where Michael Harris found himself last month thanks to Skoda and BikeRadar.
And he didn't even enter the competition that won him a VIP trip to the Alps – Michael and a friend, Brian Pearse, tagged onto their mate Robin Radford’s winning ticket. After mingling in the VIP area at the stage 18 start line in Pinerolo, near Turin, the trio were driven in Skoda race cars, just a few minutes in front of the peloton.
After the half-hour detour circling the race by air – Michael says Roche was "delightful company, and just as excited about the helicopter ride as the three of us” – they were back in the car, being driven by John Robertson, former pro racer and founder of the Barloworld team. Next stop was the Flamme Rouge near the summit of the Col du Galibier, where an estimated half-a-million fans were gathered.
Stood in the VIP area at 1km to go, Michael was roadside to see eventual runner-up Andy Schleck tear up the road in the lead, in what the Leopard Trek rider would later describe as his finest moment on a bike. “When he rode past, he was so close I could have reached out and touched him”, says Michael. “I’ll never forget the smile on his face as he realised he only had 1km to go and would claim the stage. Watching the Tour from a helicopter was an experience I'll never forget, but the high point overall was the crowd's excitement as he sped past to take the win."
As a veteran of six final-day stages in Paris, Michael knows what he’s talking about when it comes to watching the Tour. But he claimed none of those previous visits came close to his experience this year. “The Champs-Élysées is very exciting, but not as thrilling as riding in a team car. Driving through crowds of expectant fans was a fantastic experience. The car was tuned into race radio, so we were getting a commentary on what was happening in the race just a few kilometres behind us".
So, next time you're pondering whether to enter a competition, think of this story and get your details in – or you could just hope you have a good enough friend to take you as a plus-one!
Michael Harris (far left) with Brian Pearse, Robin Radford and Stephen Roche boarding the race helicopter