Meet the mascot: Tourli, the Tour de Suisse fox

We know what the fox says (because we spoke to him).

Israel – Premier Tech’s Jake Stewart (right) gives Tourli (left) a high five (centre).

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 11.06.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
More from Iain +

Like any sport worth its salt, cycling attracts its share of mascots. You can see them in VIP areas, in the promotional caravan, and sometimes, just wandering around with someone holding their hand to stop them from tripping over small children. There’s usually other stuff going on – bike races, mainly – so often the mascots get ignored. But if you play your cards right, sometimes you can hit them with annoying questions and really drill down into who is inside, what they’re doing here, and why. 

At the Tour de France, there was that time we met the Credit Lyonnais lion and Felix, the Skoda bobcat. At the Tour of Flanders, we met the European Championship deer. Those were glorious interactions in their own way, but there’s one mascot that I’ve had my eye on for much longer because of the joy and interactivity it brings to the table. Every June, if you browse the pictures from Tour de Suisse, you’ll see him. Can’t miss him, really: he’s the big orange fox in the yellow jersey, charming the riders and radiating joy.

Two years ago, I was On My Bullshit and wrote a story about the Tour de Suisse fox, erroneously blaming him for a COVID outbreak at that year’s race. Last year, I decided to depart the realm of fiction and actually make contact with the person inside. The Tour de Suisse media team were very obliging, but before I was able to get the story finished there were the tragic events of stage five; a silly story about a mascot suddenly seemed wildly inappropriate.  

A year later, I got back in contact with the nice people at the Tour de Suisse. The fox is a year older, a year wiser, and is back good-naturedly goofing around with the riders at the start and finish of each stage.

So who is inside the suit? Let’s meet the mascot!

Jacopo Guarnieri extends an intrigued hand.

Introducing Tourli

The Tour de Suisse has a long history, stretching back to 1933, and has been part of the UCI WorldTour since 2011. It sits in the calendar between the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, and along with the Critérium du Dauphiné is a key tune-up for the latter. But until 2016 it was missing something very important: a mascot to call its own. 

As a way of building interest for the Kids Zone – a new innovation at the arrival village of each stage of the 2016 edition – the event organisers found themselves looking for a furry friend. I don’t know what was on the longlist: maybe a big friendly cow with a bell around its neck, maybe something much stranger. What they landed on as a “Tour de Suisse exclusive”, however, was a fox called Tourli. Why a fox? According to a Tour de Suisse spokesperson, “‘cause the mascot moves and behaves as smart as a fox-smart rider in the peloton 🙂”. 

Tell us about your tractor, Yves Lampaert.

Mascots are often junior-level marketing interns, but for Tourli there was a more experienced operator. For the last seven years, there has been only one man in the suit – a ski salesman called Andy. A representative of his employer, Stöckli, told Escape Collective that “our Andy – the mysterial fox mascot – takes a few days off for this sport event and did do this job since a few years now in a row.” Among the Stöckli staff there are apparently “many many bike fans that exchange their skis to bikes in summer,” which perhaps explains their pride and excitement in Andy’s unusual extracurricular activities. 

Although a ski salesperson by day, the man inside Tourli is multifaceted – he didn’t just stumble into being a fox mascot, because he’d been a mascot already. Before Tourli existed, he spent four years in another suit: as the mascot of the Zurich Six Day track cycling event, a cartoonish freckled young man called ‘Theo’.

In terms of both look and overall vibe, I think it’s fair to say that Tourli is an upgrade.

The man behind the mask

So what is it like being a mascot? As Andy explains it, it’s a bit of a joy. “For the last six years I have had the pleasure of bringing the mascot to life and I work hard to have a sympathetic, positive and motivating effect on the riders and to create a relaxed atmosphere,” Andy told me via email. I love the evident pride in the work here: this is not a sulky teen sighing his way through the day but someone who understands the assignment, a man who knows how to push a big furry fox to the limit and get the most out of it.

So what do you say to the riders? “Every rider reacts differently to me, some of them I know personally, so spontaneous conversations arise that are more about moods, congratulations and my temperature in the costume,” Andy explained. The conversational gambit of costume temperature is a popular one; if the Tourli suit is anything like the Skoda bobcat there is no internal cooling, making it a warm day’s work. 

“The task is … to take a lot of photos that spread throughout Switzerland and advertise the TDS, but also motivate children to come to the TDS to meet the fox and support the race,” Andy told me. It’s rewarding work, by the sounds of it: he described his job’s purpose as “to bring joy to people in a simple way and to create a good, positive and motivating atmosphere … it is a great honour to be part of the TDS family.”

The Tour de Suisse organisation has been through a bit over the past year: soul searching in the wake of tragedy, while trying to make their race as good as it can be. Some things change; some things stay the same. As for Tourli, for the two-ish weeks that both the men’s and women’s Tour de Suisse are underway, there’s something reassuringly familiar about the fact that a big fox mascot is going to be there, clowning around, diligently trying to make peoples’ days just a little bit more cheerful.

What did you think of this story?