The Tour de France is happening this year despite the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic health crisis. Fans of the cycling race will be able to watch it from the safety of their homes thanks to technology services company NTT in partnership with Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), a company that specialises in “non stadia” events, including Le Tour and the Lacoste Ladies Open de France.
Some 70 remote NTT employees will operate from five continents to support the three-week long race that takes place from 29 August to 20 September 2020.
NTT has, according to a statement issued with ASO, developed what it dubs a Virtual Zone Technique that brings together different technologies to deliver its Tour de France services remotely. This will keep its staff safe while supporting the running of the race and providing what it claims is an “enhanced experience” for fans.
To create a digital so-called “global stadium” for fans who can’t be at the roadside, NTT and ASO are making use of real-time data analytics, including an augmented reality (AR) data app. In addition to the live race footage, this app will provide users a way of viewing and interacting with live race data as well as a helicopter view of the landscapes of the tour.
The two organisations will offer data insights and visualisations as part of the live television broadcast, and there will be a social channel through its @letourdata Twitter page, which will “provide deeper insight into how the cyclists are performing, their team strategies, and predictions from the #NTTPredictor”.
And there’s more. The official Tour de France fantasy game will enhance the experience for fans, with machine learning predictions provided by #NTTPredictor. This will enable fans to compete with each other without having to mount a bike.
Additionally, the RaceCentre live-tracking platform has been re-developed for 2020. It will provide a “second screen experience, showcasing key race data, live rider telemetry and other insights including race predictions and race commentary”.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, NTT’s managed services will “safeguard the operational success of the race. Managed collaboration services will enable the global technology support team to communicate and a secure-by-design approach will enable real-time threat management, ensuring security.”
Ruth Rowan, chief marketing officer at NTT, said: “This is not just a first for the Tour de France, but a first for sport; everything we would previously have done physically has been moved to a remote environment.
“Sport has the power to inspire and we wanted the public to enjoy the race this year even if they can’t be at the roadside. Our work with ASO has shown how, when we work together, we can find solutions to do great things. Innovation means fans will see the race in a different way, actually get closer to the action and more people than ever before can enjoy it safely.
Yann Le Moenner, CEO of ASO, said: “Over the past five years, we have built the Tour de France with NTT Ltd and we have continued our digital transformation journey under unique circumstances this year.
“People have seen the benefits from sport even during the pandemic. Many people exercised during lockdown and now even more people are cycling to travel around. We can use technology to ensure the fan experience is richer than ever.
“These changes are good for the world. For example, if we can use the Tour de France as a platform to accelerate cycling in cities, we can improve people’s health and lessen our impact on the environment.”
NTT is, however, not the only IT company involved with the tour. French telecoms company Orange has pieced together the “technical infrastructure to connect the tour across each stage of the competition to deliver on the race’s new dates [the tour was delayed from 27 June to start on 29 August]”.
In addition to the network infrastructure, Orange has deployed a system to remotely manage post-race press conferences this year. This solution uses Orange Fibre, which allows 4K UHD-quality video conferences.
This system generates a speed of 30Mbps, linking the interview bus to the press room. This will allow the media to remotely interview the yellow jersey wearer and the day’s stage winner after the race from the press room.
During the three-week race covering 3,470 km of roads, 76 Orange experts and technicians will join to create the telecoms system for the event.
Highlights include the deployment of eight Wi-Fi networks in each Tour de France village with an equivalent rate of 200Mbps able to handle more than 10,000 simultaneous connections. Around 17km of fibre and 11km of civil engineering were required to network the sixth stage of the Tour de France at Mont Aigoual.
Some 350 back-office technicians are involved in a project that will deliver more than 6,300 hours of broadcasting in 190 countries and 1.4 million minutes of internet connections.