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As big data hits the Tour de France, cycling will never be the same again

John E Dunn | July 3, 2015
Dimension Data website will track riders' positions, speeds and proximity to rivals in real time.

Fans and journalists alike will also get access to a historical view of each rider's performance over the three-week Tour the better to settle arguments about who has been pulling their weight, sometimes literally - or not.

Big data has been used for some time to analyse the basic sporting performance in sports such as football but this has never been offered to the public in real time with no mediation.

Cycling is probably the most complex sport ever conceived when it comes to understanding what is going on. Tour de France stages often exceed 200 kilometres each, across high mountains, through bad weather, with even the race cameras mounted on motorbikes and helicopters getting only a letterbox view on the action.

"This top notch technological development will enable a better analysis of the race, highlight the race tactics, and also show how essential in this sport is each rider's role within his team," said Tour de France director, Christian Prudhomme, who has always been keen to promote innovations to expand cycling's horizons beyond narrow tradition.

"It will now be possible to understand how to prepare for a sprint finish in the last few kilometres of a stage, feel the wind's impact on the rider's speed, and so much more. Our efforts combined with those of Dimension Data will permanently change the way we follow cycling and the Tour de France."

The technology behind the new system had a test run-out on the bike of 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali at the recent warm-up competition, the Critrium du Dauphin.

"We analysed one cyclist cycling at an astounding 104 kilometres per hour," noted Dimension Data's Ord, a reference to the dangerous downhill speeds riders often attain in an effort to keep up. "This type of data has not been available in the past."

Dimension Data will publish the Tour de France website link later this week but in the meantime fans have to make do with a lovely video advertising what's coming.

What would 1950's Italian icon of global cycling Fausto Coppi have thought about all of this? Most likely he'd have rejoiced loudly as long as the system said arch rival Gino Bartali was behind him.


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