UTRECHT, Netherlands (Reuters) - The 102nd Tour de France has some new high-tech toys this year as the famous old race reaches out to younger fans but those old staples, legs and courage, remain the recipe for victory.
Tour organizers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), GoPro and the teams struck a deal to have on-bike camera footage during the Tour and the Vuelta.
There will also be live tracking of individual riders, making it easier to spot them and giving real-time gaps and speed for those fans watching from their laptops.
“It’s a world first. It’s a real plus,” ASO director general Yann Le Moenner told Reuters on Friday.
“We’ll have a Tour that is more digital than ever with on-board cameras and a tracking system, which has never been used before in cycling.”
On-board cameras, although there will be no live broadcasts, are an obvious lesson from Formula One as the sport tries to capture the experience for those sitting in armchairs.
“Gone are the days in running around in clapped out buses and such like ... major corporations are not really interested in that look, they want this that and the other and want to appeal to wider audiences,” Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Sean Yates told Reuters.
”You get the hard core cycling fans who will watch, but in the mean time the generation worldwide, you have to bring in younger audiences.
“As far as major events go, they try to attract massive TV audience -- Formula One is leading the way, even though in many people’s opinion it’s pretty damn boring apart from the qualifiers and the start.”
Team Sky looked to imitate motor sports by bringing a motorhome on to the race so that their leader Chris Froome avoids the sometimes basic hotels organizers provide.
The International Cycling Union (UCI), however, outlawed the move in name of the ‘fairness between the riders’.
If anything is a leveler in cycling it is the unpredictability of the cobbles and they return on the fourth stage when blood, as well as sweat, will be spilt -- the essence of cycling some would say.
Last year, defending champion Chris Froome crashed out of the race a few kilometers before the first cobbled sector which left the peloton battered and bruised in driving rain.
Alberto Contador, attempting a rare Giro d‘Italia/Tour double this season, also abandoned last year after riding a few kilometers with a broken fibula.
This year, the Briton and the Spaniard are in good shape, just like the other three top favorites, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana, all looking to make it in one piece through a treacherous first week that begins with an individual time trial in Utrecht on Saturday.
“In Nibali and Contador, you have two riders who can attack anywhere, and if I were them I’d take advantage of the first week,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said on Friday.
And Quintana and Froome are capable of strong attacks in the mountains on a Tour that could be decided in the penultimate stage on the 21 hairpins of l‘Alpe d‘Huez.
Behind the Big Four, American Tejay van Garderen believes he has “a good chance of a podium finish” in Paris, while Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet are the two riders who could become the first home favorite to win the Tour de France, 30 years after Bernard Hinault.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman