As the 106th Tour de France prepares for a riproaring last week before the race ends in Paris this weekend, millions of cycling fans across the world will be glued to their televisions, laptops or mobile devices for the latest news.
Although initially slow to embrace some areas of modern technology, the sport of cycling has seen a major uptake of analytics and data insight systems in the last few years, providing a wealth of information for viewers, analysts, and even the teams themselves.
So with the Tour de France 2019 just days away, what can fans expect from this year’s race when it comes to technology?
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Leading the charge is NTT, which has been an official technology partner with the ASO, the race’s governing body, for five years now.
Initially working on implementing better tracking systems for individual riders to benefit television coverage, the company is this year introducing a number of other new services to make this year’s race more interactive and hopefully more enjoyable.
The bulk of NTT’s work can be found on the ASO’s official Race Centre website, which provides live updates and coverage on each stage of the Tour de France, giving fans a variety of tools concerning the unfolding day’s events.
As Tim Wade, NTT’s senior director of sports tells TechRadar Pro, there is a lot more to enjoy and experience for the 2019 race.
The company has brought a number of new services for the Tour, many of which were tested at the Critérium du Dauphiné event in June, which typically acts as a proving ground for the race favourites.
Top of the list is the new Le Buzz feature, which looks to measure the feelings within the 190-strong peloton to spot when the action could be about to unfold. It measures a variety of data points to aim to predict when key events such as breakaways, attacks or even crashes are about to occur.
Also included this year is the live “stage favourite” tool, based on a new machine learning model which attempts to predict the winner of the day’s stage before the riders set off. This crunches a wide range of data on form, history, the stage profile and much more - and was even able to spot a few of the surprise winners thrown up at the Dauphine.
The race catch feature, which attempts to call when a breakaway will be caught (if at all) has also been given a machine learning boost, which Wade says should add even more excitement for viewers.
For broadcasters, NTT will also be providing new tracking data from 3D maps showing the different rider groups positions in the race and what’s coming up. This will give commentators and analysts greater insight into the action of the day, but also allow fans to benefit from their own insight as well.
NTT's work appears to be paying dividends for the ASO and Race CenteR website itself. The ASO reported that its social media fanbase grew from 2.7 million in 2014 to 7 million in 2018, with a 14 percent growth in traffic on the Race Center website from 2016 to 2018 and video views increasing by more than 1000 percent (from 6 million to 70 million).
“If you break it down to what it is you're trying to achieve, it's in essence, trying to tell a better story, and let people have a more a better understanding of what's actually going on in the event,” Wade says.
“And as we create more layers upon layers of different data sets, it does become a really interesting proposition around how to tell that race situation.”
So it looks like the 2019 Tour de France will be one of the most engaging yet for fans - hopefully British fans will be celebrating another big winner by the end of July.
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