Over the past nine years of following the Tour de France, cycling fan Merrill Chua, 23, would watch the race on television to observe the tactics of the front runners.
But to fully keep up with his favourite riders such as Edvald Boasson Hagen and Tony Martin, who race for NTT Pro Cycling and Jumbo-Visma respectively, he had to rely on highlight reels posted on YouTube.
This year, Chua, a third-year physics undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University, can track the performance of all cyclists at any point in the race through the new race centre website launched by NTT, technology partner of Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisation.
It provides data like weather conditions, live rider telemetry, race commentary and race predictions.
These customised offerings illustrate one of the many ways organisers have enhanced fan experience this year. Unlike previous editions, when 12 million people usually gathered along the 3,500km route, attendance for the start of this year’s Tour was capped at 5,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last Friday, organisers said no spectators would be allowed at any of the finishes of the Tour’s stages. The Tour started on Aug 29 and ends on Sept 20.
Chua, who represented Singapore in the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in the men’s junior categories, said: “Usually when I see the riders sprinting on TV, commentators will say what their speed is roughly but I want to know down to the decimal places their exact speed. This is very insightful especially for aspiring riders because you get to know these details and conditions and you can try to simulate them.
“Now fans can also see what’s going on behind the scenes and they will appreciate the sport even more because they understand how teams work.”
National cyclist Calvin Sim added: “This is a great way for fans to experience how intense the Tour de France is. Not many other sports provide this kind of insight and data during competitions.”
Other features include a new augmented reality app that allows 1,000 users to see the terrain in 3D with interactive live data.
Peter Gray, senior vice-president of the advanced technology group for sport at NTT, said these digital platforms work in tandem with the television broadcast to enrich the fan experience.
He noted: “Fans can watch the broadcast on TV for the action and scenery while they’ve also got these platforms to give them more detailed data and highlights.
“The atmosphere of being at a huge event like the Tour de France with millions of people at the roadside is not something you can ever completely replicate in the virtual world. But we can give the best possible view of everything happening in the race in data.”