Our parent company Rabobank has supported cycling internationally for many years.
It's a city famous for its lights, architecture, fashion and cuisine, but in July Paris is all about cycling. The Champs Elysees comes alive as the venue for the final sprint of the world’s most iconic road race - the Tour de France. It’s here that Kiwis Vaughan Hunt - an avid cyclist, and Sheryl Gates – a “BMX Mum” experienced “le Tour” in all its glory.
Vaughan and Sheryl won trips to Paris from RaboDirect through its sponsorship of BikeNZ. Together with their partners they were hosted as Rabobank VIPs on the Champs Elysees for the final race day.
They share with us their Tour de France experience, which unfolded before them just 80 metres from the official finish line...
Firstly, how did it feel to find out you’d won a trip to the Tour de France with RaboDirect?
Vaughan: It was an unexpected surprise that came out of the blue.
Sheryl: I was overwhelmed. The added bonus was that our son was competing at the BMX World Championships in Copenhagen at the same time, so we were able to add that onto the end of our trip as well.
Can you give me an overall summary of the trip?
Vaughan: The final race day that Rabobank organised was exceptional and neatly capped off two weeks of holiday we arranged for ourselves in France, intertwined with le Tour.
Sheryl: The trip was fabulous. I felt very privileged to be able to be a part of such a prestigious event and it was nice for my husband and I to have the experience together.
Was the Tour de France all that you imagined it to be?
Vaughan: The Tour itself was much more than I had imagined. I would definitely recommend it as a way to a make a European holiday unique, especially for keen followers of cycling.
Sheryl: Being involved mainly with BMX, I didn’t know quite what to expect. However, the final few laps of the race had all the same intensity and spectator enthusiasm as a BMX final which was awesome. It definitely exceeded my expectations.
What were the top two highlights of your trip?
Vaughan: The highlights for me were standing on the slopes of Alp d’Huez, and meeting the Rabobank team.
Sheryl: The VIP reception at Pavillon Ledoyen, and our stay at the 5-star Westin Hotel which was a lovely room and in central Paris - ‘the’ top location.
Did you get to meet any famous cyclists?
Vaughan: When we returned to the restaurant after the race, Rabobank rider Robert Gesink made a speech and then we were invited to mingle with the riders.
Sheryl: Yes, we were lucky enough to be introduced to members of the Rabobank team after the race, including Laurens ten Dam.
Can you tell us a little about the Rabobank VIP area?
Vaughan: Rabobank had reserved the entire Pavillon Ledoyen restaurant for 250 guests. There was champagne and cocktails, speeches from Rabobank senior executives and a four-course lunch.
Sheryl: As Rabobank’s guests we had exclusive access to a number of streets which were cordoned off from the public. The food and wine was incredible and the view from the grandstand on the Champs Elysees meant we didn’t miss a minute of the final.
How were the Rabobank hosts?
Vaughan: They were generous and courteous. On the final race day they had planned a whole day of activities for us.
Sheryl: They were brilliant. The whole day ran smoothly and we were made to feel so special.
Did everyone speak English?
Vaughan: Yes, the 250 guests were from all over the world (including one Aussie), so everyone spoke in English at the Rabobank race day lunch.
Sheryl: Yes, when we were meeting everyone on final race day they all asked our nationality first. They were all fluent in English and were so respectful and easy to talk to.
Has the trip made you even more passionate about cycling?
Vaughan: Definitely – and I was already a keen cyclist before the trip. Our seats on the grandstand were 80 metres from the finishing line. What a way to watch it happen! I am definitely more in awe of the sport now than I ever was before.
Sheryl: I definitely have more admiration for riders and the culture of the sport. It was great to learn more about cycling, and it was an added bonus to travel to Paris for the experience!
Is there anything you would like to say to RaboDirect here in New Zealand?
Vaughan: Thank you for your sponsorship of cycling here in New Zealand, which is both highly valued by BikeNZ and also provided a fantastic prize for my family and me.
Sheryl: Thank you for this wonderful lifetime opportunity. It was great to see and hear how passionate and committed Rabobank is across a range of cycling sports worldwide. In New Zealand, the cycling community is extremely fortunate to have the huge support of RaboDirect.