The Incredible Logistics and Technology Circus That Is The Tour De France
The 103rd edition of the Tour de France begins today at Mont-Saint-Michel, a tiny island off the Normandy coast. The island is connected to the French mainland by a bridge that is completely submerged during exceptionally high tides. The race organizers hope that doesn’t happen today. That’s not all they hope for. Over the next three weeks the technology cavalcade and logistical nightmare that is the Tour de France will cover 3535 kilometers (2196.5 miles) and the organizers are hoping all of it plays out without a hitch. It never does.
Professional cycling is not a popular sport in the US. Many Americans express attitudes and opinions about the sport based on what they’ve heard about performance enhancing drugs and Lance Armstrong. This is like people expressing opinions about American professional football based on what they’ve heard about concussions and the O.J. Simpson trial. In other words, when it comes to professional cycling in general and the Tour de France in particular, many sports fans in the US don’t know what they’re missing.
Finding out what you’re missing isn’t hard. The Tour is covered by 2000 journalists from 600 media outlets that include 68 radio networks, 87 TV channels, 99 photo agencies and 347 newspapers, press agencies and internet websites.
The Tour is broadcast in 190 countries with 60 channels offering live coverage. The race is being covered live in the US by NBC and NBCSN. The networks that cover the event live set up their broadcast booths in a 5000 square meter (3.1 square mile) technical area that is located at the finish line of each day’s stage. The technical area includes 120 trucks, 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) of cable, and 90 commentators in broadcast booths. All of this has to be torn down at the end of the day and set up again at the finish line of the next day’s stage.
There are 500 people on the TV production team. Live footage comes from five cameramen on motorcycles that ride with the cyclists and two camera-equipped helicopters that follow the race. Sixteen of the bikes in the race are equipped with GoPro cameras and there are two motorcycles that record sound from the peloton. The video and sound feeds from all of these sources are sent to a high-frequency (HF) helicopter which then sends the combined feed to two HF airplanes that fly above the helicopters. The planes send the feed to HF dishes set up in the technical area at the finish of the stage.