Optimizing race organization and fan experiences for the Tour de France

Over the past seven years, we’ve been the Official Technology Partner of the Tour de France and race owners Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.). Together we’re exploring new and innovative ways to leverage technology to drive their digital transformation journey.

This journey is driven by the goal of creating a thoroughly modern race, one that inspires both long-time followers and reaches younger, more digital fans. The data-driven approach allows A.S.O. to not only connect with fans on multiple platforms but also provides new levels of insight into the race. At the same time, they’re digitally transforming race operations, enabling their teams to make faster decisions informed by real-time data, delivered to them wherever they are.

To make this a reality A.S.O. are using technology to reduce complexity, leveraging the power of data to put available resources to best use, ensuring the long-term sustainability of this iconic event.

The process of creating a digitized Tour de France started in 2015, using GPS transceivers to track the location of the cyclists in real-time. Each year we’ve deepened this relationship, working together to find innovative applications of existing technologies and introducing others, including artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality, while continuously creating new ways for broadcasters and fans to interact with the race.

In 2020 we leveraged our platforms to support the Virtual Tour de France when the physical event was delayed because of COVID-19. We introduced an augmented reality application, tapped into the collective capabilities of our global team with a Tour de France Hackfest, and supported the execution of the Tour with a team distributed across five continents.


Creating a digital twin of the Tour de France

In 2021 we’re turning the roads of France into the world’s largest connected stadium, covering all 3,400km of the Tour de France. We’ve created a digital twin of the physical event, mapping all the elements of the race, from the riders through to race vehicles, the route, and the areas around the start and finish of each stage. This provides race organizers with an accurate digital representation of the real world, enabling them to build plans, monitor the race in real-time and anticipate situations using real-world data. This capability is vital in helping them reduce risk and manage their dynamic environment.

To achieve this, we’re leveraging a digital fabric of sensors, edge computing devices, networking technologies and applications, all working in concert to provide A.S.O. with the insights they need to optimize race operations and provide fans with deeper insights.

Tour de France Smart Event operations


Making data work to support business goals

Data collected from the sensors on the riders’ bikes - combined with information such as weather and historical race statistics - provides us with a real-time view of the race and insights into what might happen on the day. Alongside this data, we’re using other sources of information to provide race organizers with a view of the environment beyond the race. To do this we’re using a broad range of IoT sensors, integrated into a common platform and mapped against a geo-location model of the stage. This enables real-time visibility of key locations and assets, monitoring of crowd density or congestion, COVID-19 contact tracing, and real-time updates of caravan and race arrival times. The real-world and real-time data provides race organizers with the insights needed to deliver a safe and secure race environment for riders, teams and fans.

An example of this in action is our ability to use real-time video feeds to monitor crowd density. The footage from the high-definition cameras is monitored by an AI-powered system and can alert organizers when one area is becoming overcrowded, enabling them to direct fans to less crowded areas. While this is useful intelligence at any event, COVID-19 prevention regulations make this critical data for today’s event organizers.

In access-controlled areas, integrating access control with information from accreditation systems allows organizers to do contact tracing should there be a confirmed case, enabling them to monitor people’s movements and alert others who may have come into contact with them.


Providing visibility for the officials in the race vehicles

Our tracking solution uses a diverse network fabric to get data from the bicycles to the end of the race.

This year we’re not just receiving data from the race, but also sending back information to the race vehicles to solve another pressing challenge for race organizers. While it’s one thing to get information about the status of the race out to the rest of the world, getting vital race data back to the race vehicles is a critical challenge. Each day the race organizers have vehicles on the road supporting the race commissaires, medical personnel and their own team members. Until this year they’ve been reliant on race radio for all their information, unable to get a comprehensive view of the state of the race given the limited mobile network coverage available in remote areas the race travels through.

Working together with A.S.O. and their partners, we co-innovated a solution that can be used by race commissaires to view live broadcast footage and race telemetry data. With edge computing capabilities in the broadcast truck at the end of the race, we combine a broadcast feed and critical race information into a signal that’s sent from the edge to the vehicles in a compressed package over the same network used by the broadcast team to transmit the live race footage.


Richer fan engagement

As part of our combined innovation around fan engagement, this year will see the introduction of a data-rich media wall and the expansion of our augmented reality app at the Tour de France. A key focus over the past seven years has been finding new ways to use data to tell stories, enabling A.S.O. to reach new audiences. Leveraging our experience in telling stories with data that’s been built up through our work with broadcasters and on our @letourdata social media channel, we’re integrating real-time race data, insights, and live footage and delivering it to fans at the race and across the globe. In the VIP areas in the Arrival and Departure villages, the NTT Media Wall provides fans with real-time data visualizations and race updates.

The NTT Media Wall is delivered through the NTT Services Portal which also delivers real-time insights to our clients on the status of the services and solutions we provide to them.

The same underlying data is being used to power the 3D race tracker, an augmented reality app for fans, enabling them to view a real-time map of the race in 3D, completely independent of their location - be it at the race or watching from anywhere in the world.

Fans on the side of the Tour de France route


Powering real-time decision-making

Critical to our ability to deliver these experiences are the underpinning technology platforms, services and support teams.

We’ve adopted a range of computing models, including physical, virtualization, containers and serverless technologies, for different workloads and operational situations. Operating in a hybrid cloud environment gives us the flexibility to deploy workloads on the most appropriate technology, but also the most efficient location. We have automated the deployment of our platforms by managing our infrastructure as code, enabling us to rapidly stand-up new environments if required and ensuring consistency in configuration across environments.

The team supporting the Tour de France are distributed globally, and due to the implications of the pandemic, many will be working from home. We’ve been able to leverage our Managed Collaboration Services to connect the team across the globe and create a virtual operations center. Together with role-based dashboards in the NTT Services portal and cloud-based video streaming we’ve created what we call the ‘Virtual Zone Technique’, as a set of services that allow our staff to securely monitor and manage the race remotely.

This year we’ve taken the next step in supporting our team, by beginning to implement AIOps (Artificial Intelligence for IT operations). This uses all the platform monitoring data we’re collecting across our network, servers and applications, to predict performance and indicate potential issues ahead of time. With the growing volume of data involved in managing IT operations, AIOps will become a critical tool in supporting IT teams to be proactive and better understand the operating relationships between different components of complex environments.

None of this is possible without a secure and reliable network backbone. We’re leveraging our Managed Network Services to ensure the network is available, while our Managed Security Services provide real-time threat detection and management for all aspects of the environment. By using these proven managed services, we’re able to cost-effectively ensure a high quality of service, while enabling the core project team to focus on delivering great experiences to the fans.

These managed services platforms have enabled us to increase the scope of the services we provide to A.S.O. by more than 5X since the start of our relationship while cutting the cost to support by half.

Think of your organization and the need to securely capture data, across your various locations. Now consider the challenges of the last year as you’ve had to embrace distributed working, expanding your security perimeter to include both people working from anywhere and an ever-increasing number of endpoints.

Now imagine moving your entire operation to a different location every day, securely – while the world is watching. This is what’s achieved daily during the Tour de France.

Our ongoing partnership with A.S.O. enables them to leverage our global capabilities to explore the possibilities that technology offers. Working closely together we’re focusing on their key business goals and challenges and, each year, helping them move forward on their digital transformation journey.