The sporting world has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, with events across nearly all sports postponed, delayed or cancelled outright.
Professional cycling, which typically dominates the European summer calendar, was particularly hit hard, with the three grand tours of France, Italy and Spain all postponed from their midsummer heyday as a solution was found.
With the 107th Tour de France finally underway, race organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) faced a challenge unlike no other, as the hundreds of thousands of fans that line the route each year are a huge part of the event itself. With many obeying orders to stay away, the challenge now became how to keep the race as accessible and interactive as possible.
Race Center 2.0
NTT Data has enjoyed a fruitful relationship as the official Tour de France technology partner with the ASO – as well as being the sponsor of one of the sport’s most successful pro cycling teams.
The bulk of NTT’s work can be found on the ASO’s official Race Center website, which the company says has been completely redeveloped this year. The hub provides live updates and coverage on each stage of the Tour de France, giving fans a variety of tools concerning the unfolding day’s events.
The company describes this as a virtual “global stadium” that will let fans all around the world get more in-depth information on their favourite riders, as well as exciting features such as stage win predictions and even a “Tour de France Fantasy” online game.
“We’ve really built what we describe as a co-innovation relationship with the ASO, where we’re innovating together and working together to bring new capabilities to the sport of cycling, and not just the Tour de France,” said Peter Gray, Senior Vice President, Advanced Technology Group: Sport at NTT.
“The Tour de France is the pinnacle event in world cycling, and the technology implementation of the Tour de France is the pinnacle of any cycling event in the world, and for any sporting event for that matter.”
The global tech giant, which is entering its sixth year as the ASO’s technological partner, made an early decision to not have employees at the race for the very first time, with workers instead operating remotely.
This covered workers based in all corners of the globe, from Australia to India to the UK, yet Gray notes that, “so far, it’s actually worked remarkably well…it’s the next best thing to being at the race.”
NTT works with the ASO production team on the course to create a wealth of data and information, supported on Microsoft Azure, that can be shared with broadcasters all over the world and online in order to enrich the viewing experience for fans.
This spans from simple information such as which riders are in the lead, to the latest weather data, to who may have fallen in a crash or suffered a mechanical issue.
All of this is updated in real time thanks to transponders clipped to every rider’s bike, just below the saddle, which provides NTT with 50 pieces of data from each rider every second.
This information transmits from the transponder, to the motorcycles or helicopters involved in production, from where it is bounced to a range of edge computing solutions that pass it on to NTT itself.
This year, the company has created a new “virtual zone technique” setup that takes live TV feeds, data monitoring, infrastructure monitoring into a single collaboration platform, combining various different strands into the best offering for broadcasters.
“Really, it’s about how do we use digital technologies to bring new capabilities and enhance the fan experience and particularly bring younger, engaged younger viewers in the sport of cycling,” says Gray.
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