July 14, 2016 — Watching the Tour de France on TV is unlike any other major sporting event. Instead of seeing all the competitors on the field or court at a glance, the 200 or so TDF cyclists may ride in multiple groups separated by miles or they may wind around a narrow road in single file up a peak in the Pyrenees. The broadcasters call the race based on what they hear over race radio and what the French cameramen on motorcycles and in helicopters allow them to see. Calling the race is more of an art than a science.
Beginning last year, a company called Dimension Data began to change all that, transforming the amount of race data that is available and the way it is delivered to broadcast and social media, fans, and cycling experts. Lots of information can now be accessed about the individual riders, including their location, the distance between riders and the composition of groups, as well as the bike speed, wind speed, temperature, the road gradient and distance to the finish line. Simply, it allows people to closely follow the race as never before.
It all begins with a new transponder attached below the bicycle seat, which transmits a wide range of data. A mesh network was deployed to receive that data and relay it through several gateways. The data is then bounced off of an aircraft to a “big data” truck parked at the finish line.
A cloud-based computer infrastructure provides the specific data requested by each entity. Each broadcaster purchases different amounts and types of data. A website dedicated to tracking paticipants and social media site have their own specific data needs, as well. Not to mention the volume of detailed information that is probably required by each cycling team.
As well as providing information for instantaneous consumption, DD stores all the data online for post-race analysis.
After stage 11, riders had logged 1,691 miles in the saddle during 43.5 hours on the road. Race data processed on Wednesday totaled 6.3 million records and the total data processed during the race so far was 72.2 million records.
While keeping the broadcasters informed is important, fueling social media outlets with enhanced data has become a crucial component of improving the fan experience. The race is only half way over, and there have already been more than a million engagements with fans on social media, including 100s of thousands of visitors to the live tracking site. That’s a lot more people than you can crowd on the top of Mont Ventoux!
Beyond making the most important race in professional cycling more enjoyable to watch, the TDF case study shows how telematics, innovative backhaul, a low-latency network and cloud computing can solve a particularly difficult logistical and communications challenge.
Article by J. Sharpe Smith, senior editor, eDigest