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Brands are banking on the success of British riders such as Chris Froome (above) to elevate their campaigns during the UK league of the Tour de France.

The world’s biggest bike race is coming back to British roads this week (5 July) with the opening stages of the tour spanning Yorkshire to London. The notion of its return was perhaps unthinkable prior to 2012, but such was the success of the Olympics and the winning performances of British riders in the tours since, that public interest in the event is at an all time high.   

It presents an inexpensive sports marketing opportunity for brands to position themselves as the logical choice for people captivated by the race. Nearly a third (31 per cent) of all UK shoppers are interested in the Tour de France, according to shopper marketing agency, Savvy Marketing, while 77 per cent are set to follow it on TV.

McCain is using the sponsorship ties that its French division has to the event to exploit the interest. The chip maker is launching regional press and experiential activity along the UK route to quicken ongoing efforts to fit in with modern, healthier lifestyles. Creative will promote the Yorkshire roots of McCain’s potatoes alongside the provenance of its wider range.

Mark Hodge, marketing director for McCain, says the strategy is about deepening its ties to local communities nationwide and that mass-market appeal is not an objective. While engagement and sales opportunities are not on the scale of events like the on-going World Cup, there are niche opportunities of intense shopper interest in and around the route, he adds.

It is a thought not lost on Tour d France official sponsor Skoda, which is backing official UK Tour de France fan parks to facilitate more localised activations for its cycle range. Visitors to the fan parks can take part in a variety of onsite activities and competitions as well watch the race unfold on giant screens. For cycling fans unable to attend a stage of the race locally, Skoda has teamed up with road.cc to launch a nationwide ”Fantasy Tour de France” competition.

Heidi Cartledge, head of marketing at Skoda UK, says: “One of the main joys for us however is that whilst in the UK, the tour passes through many towns and cities, which gives our retailers in that area the opportunity to activate the global sponsorship at a local level, which has been encouraged by the brand.

”This ties in with the UK-specific activity we do around cycling which sees our Retailers host local ride outs, sponsor local sportives and get involved in their local cycling community where possible. The activity has built the brand a strong reputation amongst professional and amateur cyclists – consideration of Skoda amongst cycling fans is almost five-times higher than that of a general audience.”

Online retailers are also gearing up for the event in anticipation of a swathe of searches for cycling products.

Ebay searches for Rapha – the official manufacturer of the Team Sky jersey – jumped 200 per cent during the 2013 Tour de France compared to the previous month and the company expects demand to be higher this year. The auction site is working with several companies to target cycling enthusiasts through its advertising proposition. Cycling fans are to be served with listings related to their behavior on the site over the summer in order to drive sales from different categories.

By understanding what influences a shopper’s purchase decision – be it sports events or sunshine, Ebay hopes to use the race as a platform to demonstrate the targeting capabilities it now offers.

Ulrich Lacher, director of cycling insights at Repucom, says the event throws up a great opportunity to generate a quick return-on-investment so long as brands play to its regional strengths.

He adds: The problem with races like the Tour de France is that they are not perceived as international platforms. If you look at many of the Tour de France sponsors they are mainly French brands that tend to activate nationally rather than across Europe.

“That doesn’t mean it can’t work as a marketing platform. Because there is such high interest in cycling throughout the UK then brands can make lower-key investments along the [race] route to generate awareness and relevancy around the sport.