For Jo Helsen, a Tour de France road trip is a working holiday. He packs up his lovingly refurbished vintage Volkswagen buses and drives up to 6,000 kilometers across France in six weeks. He has accompanied the Tour with his mobile bar, Café Welkom on Wheels, every year since 2009, except for 2020. For him, it’s not only the best way to experience the Tour, but also an opportunity to share that experience with spectators from all over the world: “We have music, we have a fantastic atmosphere and of course we meet a lot of people,” he summarizes, “The whole world is at our bar, from Australians to Americans, to German and Danish people. They come from all over the world to see the Tour de France.” The bar has also seen its fair share of VIPs, he adds, “the peloton, especially the Belgian teams know us. They come by with their guests and even their riders on rest days.” However, rubbing shoulders with world-famous riders isn’t necessarily the most important social aspect of the Tour. It’s the other passionate supporters and the people behind the scenes that hold a special place in Helsen’s heart. After trading beer for miniature sausages with the Cochonou promotion team during a caravan breakdown in 2010, they connected on social media and arranged to meet en route every following year. When COVID prevented Café Welkom on Wheels from joining last year’s Tour, they exchanged presents by mail. “Now that I am talking about it I have a big smile on my face,” Helsen remembers fondly.
Although he admits that neither he nor his unusual fleet were quite prepared for the ambitious undertaking when he first hit the road, they are now seasoned pros. The non-profit he set up, which goes by the name of Les Amis Du Tour De France, now has “sponsors supporting us and a crew of ten people travelling with us. We go with three caravans and a big truck with all our supplies. It’s a big circus when we go up the mountain. I have four or five televisions, so when you’re in my bar, you can double up – see the race on television and live.”