Tour de France’s big data experiment is… getting there

6 Jul 2015

This year’s Tour de France was supposed to be different, with greater access to the teams, greater flows of big data info on riders and greater ways to watch the race unfold. But there have been some teething issues, understandably.

Last week we reported on Dimension Data’s deal with the Tour, which promised fans immense arrays of information to follow their favourite riders and teams. We were told that we could follow any of our preferred cyclists (198 in total), measure gaps between groups, find real-time speeds etc…

What has transpired has fallen a little shy of that so far. The data provided in the Twitter feed has been good, as have the wrap-up emails at the end of each stage. There’s just not a whole lot to them.

That’s because the beta website, the flagship tool for viewers, is not quite ready for the public.

After a week’s testing at the Critérium du Dauphiné race last month, Dimension Data was fine-tuning its offering, with the team behind the data transmission currently putting the finishing touches on the upgrades.

Until then, no dice.

“I have a team of people in 11 cities around the world working around the clock to get this up and available as soon as possible,” explained Adam Foster, group executive for the communications business unit at Dimension Data.

A keen cyclist himself, Foster’s pretty happy with how his company’s project is going so far.

At the moment all the teams are receiving their fill of cyclist information, as is Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO, the Tour de France organiser), with the Twitter handle @letourdata rifling out information to the public all the time.

‘I’ve done less cycling since we agreed to work on the Tour de France than ever before!’

There’s a short video infographic wrap of each day’s stage (above), with the previously mentioned emails also serving a decent purpose, to tide us over until the site goes live.

But there’s more to come, too, as Dimension Data’s dealings with TV companies will soon show.

“As soon as the data is ready you’ll see different inlays that you haven’t seen before on TV,” explained Foster. “They’re ready to go, we just have to make sure we’re populating it with good information.”

It’s not just Dimension Data helping to make the Tour a more digital-friendly event. Velon – a consortium of some of the top teams competing – and ASO have partnered with GoPro to produce added video of this year’s Tour.

Footage from team cars, mechanics, bikes, and more will be available viewers.

But it’s Dimension Data’s site that we’re all waiting on, something Foster and his team are working extensively to fix.

An avid cyclist, competing in triathalons and the likes himself, Foster’s own life has been thrown upside down since his company partnered with ASO.

“I’ve done less cycling since the agreement then I’ve ever done before,” he said.“This has been a massive time commitment and the Dimension Data team has been unbelievable.

“It’s been a monumental undertaking,” he explained, before saying that, when live, Twitter users will be asked for feedback, to improve a service which he feels can be spread across other sports.

“We’ve had significant interest from other sports on the back of this,” he said. “But all of our focus and attention is on making this event as successful as possible.”

That’s something that can’t be determined until we get to play around with that site, though.

*Update – Friday July 10*

Dimension Data reached out to us with the beta site, which is now live here. We haven’t had a chance to play around with it properly but early signs are it’s quite cool.

Main image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic