Technology, Data and Connected Cycling Teams at the Tour de France

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Capturing the hundreds of individual stories and updates throughout the Tour de France is impossible through cameras alone, which is why digital transformation and emerging technologies are pivotal in bringing to life every captivating moment of the race’s 105th edition. And it’s not just the impassioned fans of the race who benefit from this wealth of information: businesses can take many lessons from this unique event.

Data collection

The complicated challenge of real-time race tracking starts with each bicycle at the Tour de France being fitted with a simple device that captures a GPS positioning point every second.

This location data is then relayed alongside live TV images and immediately analyzed by experts – who use it to calculate real-time insight such as rider speed and relative distance – merging this with third party data allows for even more granular analysis to reflect on gradient and elevation gain, weather impact and visually enhanced 3D mapping.

What can businesses learn?

Customers want to consume content on their own terms, in their own time, and on their platform of choice. The days of drip-feeding your prospects tantalizing snippets of information in an attempt to keep them engaged for longer are long gone.

By the end of this year’s Tour de France, over 150 million data points will have been captured, collected, processed and transformed into compelling stories for fans to enjoy across mobile, social, digital and broadcast. This is achieved through a powerful real-time, big data analytics platform that sucks in all those data points, cleanses, enriches and enhances the data, and then ultimately produces a shiny set of insights that is used to tell captivating stories. Machine Learning algorithms have also been applied to make highly accurate race predictions.

A lot of successful businesses know the importance of making their customers’ experience as easy and enjoyable as possible, and the stories being told at the Tour de France allow this particular set of customers (the fans) to effortlessly immerse themselves in the race. Successful businesses also need to utilize their own data-sets to drive better predictions around inventory management and consumer behavior.

The big data truck squadron

Connected cycling wouldn’t work without the people behind the technology, and the thousands of staff members working day and night behind the scenes of the Tour de France represent a fairly accurate microcosm of a successful business.

Over 100 trucks containing the latest tech and brightest minds faithfully follow the race through wind and rain across every corner of France. Each day they set up camp at the respective race’s finish line, creating a living breathing hive of data innovation. All the race data flows through this technological bazaar: broadcasters, digital solution providers, the event organizers and partners, the 22 cycling teams… they all come together on this epic 21-day journey.

Proactivity is the best reactivity

A day in the life of a Dimension Data employee on the road during the Tour de France is literally non-stop. After snatching a precious few hours of sleep, the team are up early and immediately on the move, travelling to the finish line for the day’s stage.

The big data truck will have moved overnight from the previous stage, and pre-race checks are being conducted to ensure all the cables that enable network integration between the various technology partners are working. Video feeds are being established to visualize all the live data being collected from each individual rider’s bicycle, and teams are preparing themselves for the day ahead.

Once the race starts, the real work begins; with teams monitoring digital and television networks, ensuring the data being generated correlates with the broadcast visuals and the stories being told are as accurate and interesting as possible.

Post-race is a time for reflection and analysis of the day. Every day the team will gather for a debrief to evaluate how the race went: what they learned during the stage, what needs to be focused on tomorrow, and what should be addressed for the remaining stages in the Tour. This attention to detail and constant analysis of people and process means the team are constantly innovating, making sure that if something goes wrong, there’s someone ready to fix it immediately.

Tracker being fitted

Flexible Working: Remote and ready to roll with the punches

France is big. And travelling huge distances every day, often through remote mountainous terrain, can sometimes result in loss of connectivity and other such logistical issues resulting from a sophisticated technology hub that’s constantly on the move.

Over time, the world’s leading cycling teams and those working behind the scenes at the Tour de France have moved to a model whereby much of the technical solution, operations and support is carried out by remote support teams around the world – from South Africa to the UK, and the USA to Australia. This ability to react with agility and draw upon a global base of skills is an asset to any business, not just a cycling team or event partner managing a multi-layered technological solution.

Failsafe and Future-Proof technology

Teams must painstakingly prepare for all manner of incidents that can take place while on the road, even down to running a very cut-down version of the Tour’s technical solution via some back-up laptops, in the case of an emergency.

Businesses need to be able to identify instances where they can use flexible technology to create teams that are wholly prepared to roll with the punches, adapting to different situations, while remaining focused on efficiently delivering a specific outcome.

Each year at the Tour de France, new elements are added to TV broadcasts and graphics to tell stories more effectively; constant enhancements are being made to digital websites; analytics platforms are enjoying continuous upgrades to keep pace with the demand of an ever-increasing audience across TV and digital. And machine learning algorithms are becoming even smarter, not just making background operations more efficient and robust, but providing the Tour’s end customer (the fans) with a truly unrivaled viewing experience.

About the Author

Scott Gibson is Group Executive, Digital Practice at Dimension Data. In his role, Scott is responsible for Dimension Data’s global digital and application competence, ranging from digital advisory, cloud application services, application implementations, application outsourcing, enterprise mobility, and application support. Scott holds a CA (SA) from the University of Cape Town, South Africa.



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