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How GPS May Change The Way Cycling Is Watched

We look at how a new technology may benefit cycling fans around the world

2Jul

We are only 2 days away from the 102nd edition of the world’s most famous cycling race; The Tour de France.

With millions of fans from 190 countries tuning in to watch the race, the consistent theme for every one is the confusion that comes with the coverage and commentary of the race.

Unlike most other sports which take place on pitches and tracks, the Tour de France snakes over thousands of miles of public roads, making it difficult to track individual cyclists.

With the potential for splits in the peloton often being measured in miles, it has also been incredibly difficult for fans of specific cyclists to see how they are doing at any point. The TV cameras follow the leaders, the favourites and the peloton, whilst between those can often be dozens of other riders who aren’t tracked by cameras.

Following ASO (the organizers of the Tour) and Dimension Data’s partnership on the race, this may be a thing of the past.

Using GPS devices attached to the saddles of each bike, Dimension Data can plot the position and speed of each individual rider in real-time. This will be displayed on a website which allows fans, commentators and even rival teams to see how riders are performing at any time.

Executive Chairman, Jeremy Ord is keen to let people know that “The technology will allow cycling fans to follow the race in ways they’ve never been able to before”.

This kind of work sounds simple, but the reality is that to make this work in real-time, it takes a considerable infrastructure and powerful technology to be able to fully analyze, measure and display this data.

The 198 riders are expected to produce 42,000 heo-spatial points and 75 million GPS readings, which will be displayed on a website which is expected to be viewed 17 million times over the duration of the 3 week event. All of this information will be stored in the cloud and made accessible by cycling fans across the world.

However, it will not only be the fans who are logging onto the website who will be taking advantage of this information, as it will be available to everybody, including the commentators. Those familiar with watching cycling races will know that one of the most commonly used phrases that comes from commentators is ‘I’m not sure where they are’. The information that this technology will give to commentators will give them more insight into the race, which will then be conveyed to the audience at home, making them more informed.

This kind of information for broadcasters and their audiences will give a far more coherent view of a sport that has long been seen as too complex to follow due to inability to have a holistic view of everything that is happening at that moment. The power behind this work is also impressive simply due to its scope, being able to use real time analytics to accurately plot a cyclist’s location when there are hundreds around him is going to take pinpoint accuracy.

After testing in the Criterium Du Dauphine, the technology seems to have worked well, let’s hope it can perform on the biggest stage in world cycling. 

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