Mobile technology and the Tour de France: Good, bad, ugly, cool — and you still need to pay NBC to watch it live online

Ever wanted to know what the Tour de France looks like from right in the middle of the pack? You now can see what it looks like for yourself, thanks to some on-bike cameras being used on a trial basis at this year’s race. Here is a link to a clip from Stage 1 that shows what it’s like to see a crash happen right in front of you. Great stuff, the kind of smart use of mobile technology that we’ve been waiting for since GoPro cameras hit the scene.

(For some reason it looks like the TdF is making some of these videos private, so watch them while you can. We also agree with what some commenters have been saying — what’s with the cheesy overdubbed music? Just use cycling action noise, please… thanks)

Of course, with technology advancements come things both good and bad, and if there is a crisis-about-to-happen trend it’s the proliferation of fans alongside the Tour de France trying to snap selfies with the racers in the background. Look, we get it: You are at a bucket-list type event, you spent hours by the side of the road waiting for the too-brief minute or two of action… so hell yeah, you’re going to snap a selfie to show everyone else how cool and important you are! Superb!

(VeloNews also has a report on the problem.)

The only problem is, over the last couple years, it’s become pretty obvious to anyone who watches Tour de France coverage on TV that the exuberant fans of old — usually fat old French guys who would sprint alongside the riders, on the steepest inclines where a human running can keep up with a bike for short distances — have now been replaced by a crew of idiots who know nothing about bike racing, but who want to be on TV. Or on the Internet. They dress up, they run in the road, they block the path of cyclists and motorcycles — every day now we hold our breath, hoping like hell there isn’t an incident where a fan takes out a leading rider, or far worse, a cyclist or fan suffers a terrible injury because some idiot was out in the middle of the road. Combine the idiot behavior with the turned-around selfie head not looking at what’s coming and you have a toxic stew. Who will save these jerks from themselves?

I’ve been around big bike races enough to know that there’s really no way of keeping these crowds completely controlled, short of putting up fences like they do for the last 1,000 meters in tour stages. Even then, people lean over the fences and cause crashes. I get it that part of the romance, the excitement of the Tour is the up-close involvement of fans. But these days it seems like it’s 90 percent self-important party clowns lining the roads, and not people who really care or understand the event. So far, it seems like the Tour has done little to try to tone down the on-road crowding. Let’s hope someone figures something out before there’s a race-changing or life-changing incident.

Crowds overwhelming cellular signals again?

This report is somewhat unconfirmed but in watching the NBC coverage live early this morning west coast time we heard one of the on-course reporters saying something about how team cars couldn’t communicate from the front of the pack to the back because they couldn’t get a cell signal — courtesy of the huge amount of fans lining the road for the stage into London. Shades of the Olympic road race! Guess they still haven’t figured out how to handle cellular crowds in the UK countryside.

TourTracker partners with CyclingNews: Best of both worlds!

Screen shot of TourTracker TdF app

Screen shot of TourTracker TdF app

We are also happy to see that our favorite live-action tour-following app, TourTracker, is now finally available for Tour de France coverage thanks to a partnership with CyclingNews. We’re happy for founder Allan Padgett and TourTracker… the best way to follow the biggest race in a mobile fashion. Unfortunately, the TourTracker app won’t have live video coverage — for that you still need to pay NBC extra, to the tune of $4.99 a day or $29.99 for the whole race. For mobile access only it looks like the charge is $14.99; not sure if there is also a per-viewing charge as well as a charge for the app.

How do we feel about NBC milking cycling fans for chump change? It wouldn’t be so bad if you could ensure that Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen were the only commentators heard, but from my short viewing stint today it appears that NBC has loaded up the announcer roster with those “other guys” that people generally can’t stand. My suggestion to Phil and Paul — hold some classes in the offseason to train the next generation of announcers! Please!

Xirrus Gets Yellow Jersey for Successful Tour de France Mobile Wi-Fi Network

That white circular thing at upper right is a Xirrus wireless array, doing its duty in a Tour de France press room. Credit: Xirrus.

Just like Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, Wi-Fi gear vendor Xirrus had a pretty good Tour de France, as its wireless arrays finished off a successful string of supporting the demanding needs of the world’s media during the 21-stage event.

According to a Xirrus press release, the company supplied its gear to French wireless supplier Orange, which delivered Internet access to the race’s start and finish areas, a challenging task that involved quick setup and teardown in the host cities. The Xirrus release said that its network for Orange supported “125 TV broadcasters, 2,300 journalists, 70 radio stations, and 450 newspapers transferring enormous amounts of media-rich files from the Tour’s Start Village, Timing Locations, Sprint Locations, Media Centers, and Finish Lines.”

If you’re not familiar with the demands of sport media, the still cameras alone at a big event like the Tour de France can account for millions of megapixels. Typically the photographers, who spend most of race days on motorcycles, decamp at the finish line press tents and start immediately downloading huge files of photos to their main offices, where the images are posted on web sites or readied for print publications. And they are just a subset of the throng of local broadcasters, national and international print writers and radio commentators who all need big broadband pipes to get their information from race site to website.

That’s where Xirrus and Orange came in, designing a highly mobile network infrastructure that featured Xirrus’ modular access points, which can be configured with more radios as are needed to handle bandwidth demands. That Xirrus was as up to the task as Wiggins and all the other riders who traversed the race’s thousands of kilometers was proven in part by the money quote from the apparently satisfied client, Henri Terreaux, Events Projects Manager at the French Operation Division of Orange:

“Orange is focused on providing the Tour de France, NBC Sports, government dignitaries, and thousands of media professionals during the race with reliable, high-performance wireless connectivity. Xirrus makes it easy to support the thousands of devices, simultaneously transferring large amounts of video and photo files through a robust network that, due to the race, must be redeployed on a daily basis, across 21 cities, in extreme environments. The array-based platform is the most powerful and trusted solution we’ve tested, and very quick to set-up.”

Here are some more details on the Xirrus blog.

Tour de France Nears Paris Finale But Monster Final Mountain Stage Remains

The final mountain stage and traditional penultimate time trial stage two days later will highlight beginning Thursday the final four days of the 99th Tour de France and its unique current overall title competition.

Not since the mid-1980s, when cycling icons Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond battled for supremacy, has the Tour de France featured teammates in the top two spots.

Bradley Wiggins (Sky) of Great Britain has led the race for 10 days and while not a dominating climber, he’s ridden strategically well to remain in the lead. He’s held off all pursuers, including teammate and compatriot Chris Froome, who in the Alps at times appeared stronger than the race leader.

But after a difficult day in the Pyrenees in stage 16, the weary Wiggins, Froome and the rest will be at it again in stage 17 Thursday, the event’s “queen stage.” The 89.2-mile trek from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Peyragudes has five categorized climbs.

The summit of the Port de Balès (11.7km at 7.7 percent), the three-week race’s final beyond category ascent, arrives about 20 miles from the finish. It will be a new challenge for most of the field since the Port de Balès has only been featured twice in previous Tours.

Wiggins retains the same 2:05 advantage over Froome and 2:23 margin over Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) of Italy that he’s had for days. Defending race titlist Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia, faltered in stage 16 and is now seventh more than eight minutes behind.

There’s the chance Wiggins could suffer and lose time in the final mountain stage. But his strength waits in the stage 19 individual time, a 33-mile ride on Saturday from Bonneval to Chartes.

Wiggins claimed the race’s earlier shorter individual time trial over Froome by 35 seconds. Defending race titlist Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia, lost nearly two minutes to Wiggins in the first time trial. And American Tejay van Garderen, now sixth overall (7:55) finished fourth, but more than a minute behind.

Wiggins, therefore, appears on his way toward claiming the first Tour de France title by a British rider. But as has occurred many times in the long history of the Tour de France, the riders still have to pedal their bikes to Paris on Sunday, which means anything can happen.

Note: To watch live Tour de France video online, you can sign up for the $29.99 package for the entire race, or $4.99 per stage. Plus, you need to sign up for a Map My Ride account.

Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen Leading the NBC Tour de France Broadcast, Teammates Need Rest

The first rest day of the Tour de France is good for many reasons. The riders and the race’s huge entourage all need rest.

But the one-day break (the event continues July 11 with stage 10) also allows event fans to collectively catch their breath and assess what’s happened in the race to date.

For those watching on television and online in the United States or accessing Twitter and cycling forums, it’s a near 24/7 proposition. And for Tour de France enthusiasts, that’s cycling nirvana.

Phil Liggett (L) and Paul Sherwen , NBC Sports Network broadcasters

But not everything about the constant information flow of Tour de France news is great.

The difference on Twitter between the Tour de France and other sports, I believe, is that as a once-a-year event, there’s too much on Twitter that’s simply play-by-play. Following followers of the Tour de France is often the modern day version of a phonograph stuck in a groove.

Knowing Peter Sagan won a stage is great, knowing it 20 times, isn’t interesting. Sometimes it seems those tweeting from the event or watching a live broadcast think they’re the only one telling the Twitter Nation that Peter Sagan won again.

The NBC Sports Network is broadcasting an unprecedented amount of Tour de France programming, the live content of which is again highlighted by the much-appreciated tandem of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.

Like any longstanding broadcasting team, Liggett and Sherwen have detractors. But Liggett, now attending his 40th Tour de France, and Sherwen, who’s been at it a quarter century, are still terrific.

Does Liggett misidentify riders? Yes. Does Sherwen repeat his “go-to” phrases a lot? Yes. But the two broadcasters know each other so well and work together so well, their near limitless knowledge of cycling overshadow the mistakes and repetition.

Sherwen corrects Liggett gently; Liggett gives Sherwen plenty of time to reminisce about his time in the pro peloton, his friendships with team directors and his knowledge of French history. The marriage just works.

The evening broadcast of the race, a condensed rebroadcast of the day’s already concluded stage, isn’t as smooth. Bob Roll, the former pro, is unique. He knows the sport, provides insight and is also refreshing because he’s the antithesis of every pretty boy, slick-haired broadcaster type.

What doesn’t work as well is NBC’s three-broadcaster approach. Scott Moninger, the now-retired long-time rider, is the newcomer and it shows.

If Bob Roll makes a comment about team strategy, for example, Moninger often adds the same information. It’s not that Moninger isn’t trying, but with his quiet persona, Moninger hasn’t figuratively or literally found his voice and where and how it fits best. Wouldn’t another broadcast tandem work better for the network than having three broadcasters working hard just to find a way to share the airtime?

Like the event itself, the NBC broadcast team gets a rest from live stage reporting and quick stage analysis until Wednesday. Sherwen and Liggett still seem eternally fresh, but the night crew needs the time to recoup and re-evaluate its tactics.

Note: To watch live Tour de France video online, you can sign up for the $29.99 package for the entire race, or $4.99 per stage. Plus, you need to sign up for a Map My Ride account.

Lance Armstrong’s lingering USADA saga prompts odd response from former teammates, USA Cycling

With the 99th Tour de France now in its second week, crashes and the evolving overall race competition dominate the news as riders pedal into mountains for the first time.

The lingering saga that is Lance Armstrong versus USADA and the connection to four former teammates competing in the Tour de France has subsided — for now.

But the issue isn’t going away soon.

Did Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie, Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer admit that they doped in their careers and say that Lance Armstrong did, too, in exchange for plea-bargained, six-month suspensions?

Or is the story leaked a few days ago to newspapers in Europe fiction?

That’s the claim of Jonathan Vaughters, the general manager of the Garmin-Sharp team who’s also listed among those who testified.

One of story’s complementary components is the role or lack of role in the controversy of USA Cycling, the sport’s governing body.

Each of the four cyclists in the fiasco expressed interest in competing in the Summer Olympics later this month in London, England.

Hincapie, 39, a five-time Olympian, is retiring in August. Leipheimer won the 2008 Olympic time trial bronze medal. During the Tour of California, Zabriske said he was focused on winning the event’s individual time trial because he wanted to prove he belonged on the team. Vande Velde said he’d welcome a spot on the team, which would have been his third Olympics.

But in mid-June, all four riders said they had requested via USA Cycling to have their names removed from Olympic team consideration. This year, because no American cyclist met automatic qualifying standards for time trial or road team selection, the choices were subjective and made via a USA Cycling committee.

When asked, USA Cycling issued a statement that it didn’t know why the four riders had made the request. The governing body also said it would have no further comment on the matter.

The surprising turn of events are odorous.

Why did the riders ask to have their names removed? Why did USA Cycling find it necessary to make its “no further comment” comment? Did it think no one would question the odd circumstances?

Why couldn’t any of the cyclists, all largely accommodating with the media throughout their careers, say something along the lines of “a private matter,” instead not commenting?

The actions of USA Cycling are particularly disturbing. The organization offers plenty of news of its expanding membership and corporate sponsorship deals. But when a difficult scenario arises, it removes itself.

If USA Cycling wanted to avoid the controversy, it could have just announced the five-rider team and said nothing. And now, regardless of what happens next, USA Cycling and the four cyclists involved, all with their career reputations at stake, simply look bad.

Note: To watch live Tour de France video online, you can sign up for the $29.99 package for the entire race, or $4.99 per stage. Plus, you need to sign up for a Map My Ride account.

NBC Sports, Tour de France Organizer (ASO) Announce Long-Term Broadcast Marriage

If you like watching the Tour de France and you’re in the United States, you’re likely going to watch it via three broadcast platforms on NBC — at least for the next 12 years.

Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the race owner, and NBC Sports Group, have agreed to a 10-year multi-platform extension that includes exclusive U.S. television, digital and mobile rights for the Tour de France through 2023.

As part of the agreement, which begins in 2014, the NBC Sports Group will continue as the exclusive U.S. television home of the Tour de France, with live coverage of every stage, including live coverage on NBC each year.

Additionally, the NBC Sports Group will continue coverage of several other ASO properties, including the Dakar Rally and the Paris Marathon, as well as spring classic cycling events including Paris Nice, Criterium International, Criterium du Dauphine, Paris Roubaix, Fleche Wallonne, Liege Bastogne Liege and the Paris Tours.

As previously announced, NBC Sports Group, the exclusive U.S. television partner of the Tour de France, will surround this year’s race with 295 total hours of coverage and digital offerings in its current contract through 2013.

The network, in its three broadcast formats, will provide an average of 13 hours of coverage daily this year through the race finale July 22 in Paris.

James Raia is a California-based journalist who writes about sports, travel and leisure. Visit his cycling site at