It’s not been difficult to find the Skoda pavilion in the start village at this year’s Tour. Just look for the giant Yeti! A dirty rumor has circulated that it’s just a person in a suit, but there are still believers who think the big furry guy is the real deal.
I can also confirm that Skoda’s hostesses are charming, smart and gorgeous … as Laura Antoine from St Louis, Missouri, proved. I sat down to have a chat with her on my final day on the Tour, and this is her story.
PEZ: Hi Laura. How did you find your way to working with Skoda on the Tour?
Laura: I first came over to France in 2003 as a dancer. I worked on the Champs Elysees at the Lido de Paris in the show Bon Heur. Three of us American girls came over for the opening of that show and I danced for five years in Paris. Before that, I danced at the Jubilee in Las Vegas.
I’m a hostess now as well as a dancer and I’ve worked for companies such as L’Oreal and Wella. I’ve worked at the French Open tennis tournament and I also worked for Rolex at the Le Mans 24-Hour motor race.
I’d seen the Tour on TV, and I’d seen photos of the protocol (podium ceremonies) and I thought … ‘I’d love to be one of those girls!’
PEZ: And here you are…!
Laura: Yeah! I found the site on the Internet where I could register for the casting, and I got an interview, got through that…and I got the job! I found out in mid-May that I got the job, so it’s been really hectic since then.
PEZ: How are you finding the Tour experience?
Laura: It’s my first year on the Tour and it’s wonderful. We have a really good group of people here, everyone on the whole Tour gets on. From the start we’ve been using ‘tu’ and not the more formal ‘vous’. I’d love to come back again! Hopefully this is my first year, but not the last!
In fact, I can’t even say we have a friendly rivalry with the other brands in the starting village – it’s more just friendly! I love being part of this, part of a big group of people doing something so impressive, and publicizing the Skoda brand.
PEZ: So we’ll see you back in 2010?
Laura: Of course, I’d love to come back to Skoda, but I’m also a woman who likes to move a lot and learn new things. I want the experience of working with lots of new people. Next year, the group of Skoda could change and if I’m invited to come back it will be exciting to meet new colleagues.
PEZ: We’ve noticed you on the podium presenting the flowers to the best young rider in the white jersey…
Laura: I’m 182 cm tall, you can’t miss me in a crowd!
PEZ: Are the directions for what you have to do really specific? As a dancer, you’ll be used to taking stage directions and so on…
Laura: They’re not overly specific, but you have certain things to make sure of…that the sponsor’s brand is being prominently displayed when you’re giving the riders the flowers or the trophies. You also have to show a certain rapport with the riders, stand close to them, so that the photographs are taken correctly and look good.
PEZ: How do you feel about having millions of people seeing you on TV?
Laura: It’s a lot of fun, but a little bit stressful. You know that you’re going to go up there and whether it’s broadcast on TV or not, a lot of people are going to see you!
So you want to look your best if you want to be a good representation of Skoda, especially, and of the white jersey. You don’t want to trip on stage!
I think it’s an automatic thing for me being a dancer … stage right, stage left!
PEZ: Tell us a little about the podium ceremonies …
Laura: We’ve been presenting the jersey to Tony Martin for the last few days, he’s been really nice. Everything goes really quickly. We wait for about 10 to 20 minutes after the stage finishes so that the riders can get changed and for the ceremony to start. There’s not much time to talk to the riders.
The Tour is all about endurance and so the riders don’t want to stand around when they finish. We try to do our job and then give them their space. We talk to them when it’s appropriate.
PEZ: What sort of long-term ambitions do you have?
Laura: I still love to dance. But I’m also interested in marketing and merchandising, in brand management. I’d like to be involved in bringing American companies to Paris, because I think there are tremendous opportunities there.
PEZ: You’ve crammed a lot into your 29 years so far!
Laura: It’s funny you should say that, because I think there’s so much more to do! I’ve done a lot in the last six months in Paris, but I’m ready to keep going.
PEZ: How much do you travel to and from the States now?
Laura: I’m actually married to a Frenchman, I live in Paris now. It’s a wonderful, exciting city. It’s fun, busy…a little too busy at times, but that’s the life of a big city with so many people, so much business. It moves all the time. And I can finally say that I’m fully bilingual!
PEZ: Congratulations! When did you get married?
Laura: This year…I got married twice! How could you not? We had our first ceremony in Paris in April, then a second ‘wedding’ in St Louis in May!
PEZ: Are you a cyclist, or did you follow the Tour previous to this?
Laura: I’m not a cyclist, but I run with my husband, he’s a former rowing champion. We completed the Semi Marathon in March, which was great!
With the events where I’ve worked…tennis is not easy; driving a race car for 24 hours is not easy; and riding a bike up a mountain for 18kms…that’s not easy. For me, that’s something really impressive, and I want to be a part of it. I want to feel that I’m helping to make it happen.
Obviously, I’m not on a bike, but working for Skoda, to help publicize their brand especially here in France as part of the Tour…I just love it.
Laura and the rest of the girls on the Skoda team have a flat-out busy time in the start village speaking to guests and VIPs, and getting ready to race to the finish line to present the white jersey to the Tour’s best young rider. So we called a halt to our chat so we wouldn’t hold her back too long.
A big thanks to Laura for giving us her time, and congratulations on the wedding. Congratulations to Skoda, too, for choosing such a smart and talented representative.