I’m not a sports guy. I’ve never been. And while I'm all for playing some baseball with friends, the desire to sit down to watch any televised sport has always eluded me, let alone taking the time to memorize players and statistics. But once a year, for the three weeks of Le Tour de France, I'm one of the guys.
A few years ago I got into cycling — just to commute at first, and then I became a sporting rider. I head out on weekly rides with an aggressive race group. I’ve even raced a few criteriums. That lead to my interest in professional cycling — most notably Le Tour de France.
It’s not widely televised in the states, and I don’t own cable. So, there’s no way to watch it. Fortunately, Le Tour has done an excellent job of helping international fans keep up with the race minute by minute by means of fantastic websites and mobile apps. Not only are these great ways to follow the race, but the design and branding is worthy of mention on any graphic designers' blog. Here's how you can watch it.
The official race website has a beautiful interface to follow each stage of the race live. An incredibly slick interface displays the position of the peloton, attacks, chasers, etc. There's a ton of information in front of the viewer, but it's presented in a clean and simple interface. Working from home, I can keep the browser window open and it automatically refreshes every minute. It also adapts to a mobile screen with ease. A news stream highlights notable developments in the race. It’s surprisingly exciting (and sometimes distracting) to follow.
The designer in me can’t get enough of the site. The typography is clean. Everything is so well organized — presenting a stage-by-stage anlysis of the race with video highlights, maps, and photo galleries. You can drill down and explore the racers by team or individual. You can learn about the race in general, keeping up with well-designed charts of the race leaders and team standings. It's easy to find the information you're looking for without undue clutter. It’s a gorgeous site.
This year I splurged on the official Tour de France iOS app, and this has elevated my access to the race exponentially. It is of course very well designed, like the website. However, paying $20 for the app also give you access to the live video feed of the race each day. And after each stage, video highlights, news, and the entire race footage of each stage are archived and available to watch any time.
It’s a stunning app and ideal for fans who don’t have access to a special cable sports channel, like me. In fact, I think it’s better than having a cable station. I can watch the live stream of the video anywhere I have wi-fi or a good LTE signal. And if I miss a stage I can rematch it at my liesure. The app also includes news updates and a course map with live tracking of the peloton and breakaways similar to what is found on the website.
Here's the ultimate geek access to the race — Dimension Data's live tour tracking website. This is the company that actually built the system that provides a live data stream that makes letour.fr and the mobile apps possible.
Amazingly, they've provided free access to the all the data from the race. And while letour.fr and the iOS app allow you to view the status of the race as a whole, Dimension Data's site gives you stats on individual riders. Speed, distance, etc. This is a new feature for 2015, and the live tracking site is in Beta. But it's all there and the data is beautifully organized and designed.
And so, in the end, for the three weeks of the tour I get what it means to be a sports guy. To sit and listen to the mindless chatter of sports announcers. To obsesses over statistics. To cheer for your team.
For the 2015 race, it looks like Chris Froome of Team Sky is on his way to win. He crashed out early in 2014, so I hope he pulls it off this year. I wouldn't be upset if this year's dark horse, BMC's Tejay Van Garderen, pulled some tricks out of his bag and won the whole thing, either. Time will tell, and a lot can happen in the mountains before the racers get to Le Champs-Élyseés.
There's a week left, check out the world's greatest race while you can.
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