Tour de France, big data and a new way to watch it all?

3 Jul 2015

As an avid cycling fan, a common gripe I’ve had for years is the lack of information made available to Grand Tours viewers. No more, perhaps.

The world’s most significant and revered cycle race, the Tour de France, has embraced big data, it seems, partnering with Dimension Data to provide watchers with “real-time information” for the first time ever.

Until now, chumps like me have been forced to rely on the handy, but hardly telling, readings that scroll across the bottom of the TV screen.

This information is limited to the gap between leaders and the Peleton with, perhaps, the odd name or two thrown in.

For a while now different websites have provided better information than live TV feeds, detailing maps and positions to a relatively accurate level. (Yahoo’s Eurosport partnership has been the best at this over the years.)

‘This top notch technological development will enable a better analysis of the race, and also everyone’s role within the team’

But now live trackers will be under the saddle of all 198 riders, allowing viewers to track the speed of each cyclist, exactly where he’s positioned in the race in relation to other cyclists, and the distance between each rider online. The 198 riders in 22 teams will generate 42,000 geospatial points and 75m GPS readings – putting the big in big data.

Dimension Data's Tour de France tracker

Dimension Data’s Tour de France tracker

Given the growth in smartphone use, this could prove popular, as you can choose cyclists who you want to track and monitor them on your phone “through a responsive design beta website”.

It’s actually incredible that something like this hasn’t happened before, and it’s something that’s driven home every year when the motorcycle camerapeople track a breakaway cyclist and pan from his bike towards the support car, showing its speedometer at some ridiculously high number.

There’s no context, no way of knowing how long said cyclist has been achieving these incredible speeds. It’s also very rare that it happens. What’s infinitely more common is all this information coming up at the end of the race, when you want it least.

“This top-notch technological development will enable a better analysis of the race, highlight the race tactics, and also show how essential in this sport is each rider’s role within his team,” said the director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme.

“It will now be possible to understand how to prepare for a sprint finish in the last few kilometres of a stage, feel the wind’s impact on the rider’s speed, and so much more. Our efforts combined with those of Dimension Data will permanently change the way we follow cycling and the Tour de France.”

Given the fact that the sport is one of the most technologically – and scientifically – advanced around, it’s about time us amateur enthusiasts get our big data fix.

Main Tour de France image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic