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the riders, on the steepest inclines where a human running can keep up with a bike for short distances — have now been replaced by a crew of idiots who know nothing about bike racing, but who want to be on TV.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!

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.