A digital chain reaction
South African IT solutions provider Dimension Data is establishing a digital information stronghold for the world’s premier cycling events.
cycling fans want to know the nittygritty of the race as it unfolds. How fast the sprinters are going. Who is doing the least amount of work in the breakaway. Or whether wind on the route is likely to split the peloton. And they want to know it in real time, especially when it comes to the world’s most legendary cycling race, the epic Tour de France.
The Tour de France, considered the biggest annual sporting event on the global calendar, has impressive numbers to prove its status as a sporting phenomenon. Broadcast to 190 countries over three weeks of the gruelling stage race, it boasts TV viewers in the billions, 10m to 12m roadside spectators and 397m live action viewers.
The digital age
Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) identified the challenge that a digital era represented, recognising that the paradigm of how they were reaching their cycling audience would need to change and expand if they were to remain relevant as well as reach a new audience.
The digital era challenged the hold that race organisers, rights owners and TV networks have had on broadcasting content for decades.
So in 2015 ASO reached out to homegrown IT solutions and services provider Dimension Data to accelerate its capability in the digital world, revolutionise the viewing experience, and cater to a growing and engaged audience.
And it had to be delivered in time for that year’s Tour de France.
“This represented a tremendous challenge to us,” says Stephen Green, Dimension Data’s chief technology officer for the Middle East and Africa. “To get from nothing to being ready for a major showcase on a world scale within six months is a massive achievement.”
Dimension Data signed a five-year partnership as ASO’s official technology partner for cycling events.
It then took a global Dimension Data team spread across 11 cities and five continents to develop and deliver a solution in time for the race.
Tracking the cyclists
Dimension Data’s digital solution starts with a transponder fitted behind the cyclists’ saddles. From here data is relayed to team vehicles, then to the helicopters that cover the race. It is then streamed to Dimension Data’s Big Data truck, the mobile data centre that accompanies the race, where it is captured and analysed using an advanced digital analytics platform before being uploaded to the Dimension Data cloud.
New viewer experience
The viewer’s experience includes live GoPro broadcasts from riders in the race, race data in the form of new TV graphics and a live tracking website showing speed and position of each rider and distance between riders within the peloton.
Tour de France data, which is also shared on social media channels, easily goes viral. A single tweet posted in 2015 (about a particularly spectacular crash in the peloton) resulted in 31 801 engagements, doubling followers on @letourdata.
The data also creates conversations among contenders, teams and fans and provides richer information than TV broadcasters are able to use for their live commentary.
Dimension Data has formulated new ways of capturing, creating, analysing, displaying and publishing race data, thereby providing new insights into race tactics and unleashing a strong digital platform for the world’s premier cycling events like the Tour as well as the Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix tours.
And it continues to set the stage for even greater story telling.
“We are putting a lot of effort into machine learning and artificial intelligence to enable us to do predictive analysis,” says Green about the road ahead.