Tour de France threatened with cancellation to keep fans off the side of the road with in-depth data

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The 107th edition of the Tour de France starts in the city of Nice on the Côte d’Azur on August 29, two months later than initially planned. The three-week professional cycling race should have started – and ended – in July, but, like most other sporting events, it was derailed by COVID-19.

The fact that this is starting is a surprise to many, especially since France has recorded 6,111 new confirmed coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, just behind the high of 7,578 reached on March 30 at the height of the pandemic.

However, keeping the Tour de France on the road is a “sign that we can continue to live,” said French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

The Tour is the world’s largest annual sporting event, notable for the closeness that fans can usually get to the action. The mountainsides en route are often filled with thousands of spectators, eager to get a glimpse – and maybe even steal a touch – of their sporting heroes as they battle gravity on public roads closed for the day. .

This year, the need for social distancing and fears that team runners or support staff could contract the disease means the traveling circus will be much smaller, with fewer officials, photographers, journalists and staff. Support.

Race owner Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) also recommends fans watch from the comfort of their own homes rather than cheering by the side of the road.

To keep fans hooked, there is an enhanced suite of online information and viewing platforms provided by ASO’s technology partner, NTT.

Data-rich superfans and new viewers wanting to keep up with what may be an extended biker field, will be able to follow the action online with a new design. “Race center”, a live tracking platform featuring key race data, live runner telemetry and other information, including race predictions and race commentary.

5,000 VIP racing enthusiasts will also test an augmented reality application that could be rolled out generally next year. The app features live racing footage and pilot positions plotted on 3D landscape views mimicking the view of a racing helicopter.

Seventy telework NTT employees will operate from five continents to support the race, which in theory ends on September 20.

“This is not just a first for the Tour de France, but a first for the sport,” said Ruth Rowan, NTT’s marketing director, “anything we would have done physically before has been moved to a remote environment . ”

She added, “Fans will see the race in a different way, really get closer to the action, and more people than ever before can safely enjoy it. ”

Speaking to me via Zoom from his home in the north of England, Tim Wade, vice president of NTT’s sport-focused advanced technology group, said: “I would normally be here in France in the technical area. , but that can’t happen this year. so I will work remotely like the rest of the team. ”

Technical equipment will be monitored by ASO staff members and, if there are any technical issues, Wade or one of his team will guide remotely.

“We have first-person augmented reality headsets on site, so if we start having issues we call the designated ASO people to help us and they’ll put on a headset so we can see what they’re seeing then. guide them through troubleshooting. ”

For the past five years, the bikes used in the Tour de France have been equipped with telematics devices that transmit latitude, longitude and speed, and this data is transmitted to race commentators and available on a dedicated @letourdata Twitter thread.

“Real-time analytics allow us to better understand what is happening during the race,” said Wade.

It can be “things as simple as grouping positions, distance from start to finish, elevation, slope, that sort of thing,” he added.

To keep @letourdata up-to-date, NTT employs a cycling journalist, data scientist and social media update. Race data is also provided to the official Tour de France Fantasy game with machine learning predictions provided by NTT’s bespoke algorithm.

“There are risks of going to the Tour by the side of the road,” said Wade, “so people can look to digital channels to help them enjoy the race from a distance and safely. “

Confinement

The French government recently imposed stricter lockdown rules in several regions of France, including the prefecture of the Alpes-Maritimes, site of the first stages of the Tour.

Cars and motorhomes – which usually dot the summit roads – will not be allowed on climbs, although spectators wishing to walk or cycle to the viewpoints will be allowed. They will need to wear face masks and will need to keep their distance from runners and other fans.

“We want to avoid gatherings,” said Bernard Gonzalez, prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes, before the team’s presentation today on Place Masséna in Nice. This signature kickoff by the starting city is usually a spectacular preview of the race, but has been reduced, with only half of the audience expected.

Gonzalez said much of the race in his area will be “almost behind closed doors,” and it likely will be for much of the rest of the event.

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