In 1996, Stage 9 of the Tour de France was a small 46-kilometre ride from Le Monetier-les-Bains to Sestriere in Italy due to bad weather.
The UCI’s experiment with allowing video cameras on bikes during races is absolute gold, and it should be pushed into broadcasts as quickly as possible.
The UCI is an organisation that we’re often happy to criticise for its lack of innovation, which can at times produce farcical outcomes – like mandating a minimum bike weight well above what non-pros can buy in the shops.
So it deserves some credit for relaxing its rules banning cameras on bikes – strictly for an experiment, mind – at both the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse.
So far, the experiment is a success. Everyone I’ve showed the videos to, cycling fan or otherwise, has been blown away by the pace and intensity of the footage from within the bunch. It’s a viewpoint that has until now been completely out of reach for all but elite cyclists.
This is the first time we’ve been able to see inside the peloton when the fur is really flying, not just from a safe distance on a moto or helicopter. It’s the difference between cricket’s camera behind the bowler’s arm, and stump-cam.
Used judiciously, it makes the action feel that much more personal. You definitely wouldn’t want to watch the whole race from within the bunch, but as a supplement to the current coverage, it would definitely add some extra spice.
Watching Giant-Shimano sprinter John Degenkolb fighting for teammate Koen de Kort’s wheel in the run-in to the finish of Stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse, you see exactly how much skill and white-knuckle resolve is needed to stay at the pointy end of the race.
Or this video from Stage 6, where you can see riders bombing down a mountain at high speed, carving through a crowd and climbing out of the saddle.
It really gives a strong sense of what it’s like in bike races, seeing as not all of us can smash a 53-11 gear at 65km/h surrounded by 150 of our best friends and worst enemies.
I reckon it’s bloody grouse.
The videos we’re seeing are not perfect, of course. The video is in HD, but these little action cams still don’t produce video quality to rival a proper broadcast camera, or even most decent digital still cameras.
The other big stumbling block is that nobody in cycling has yet managed to produce a live feed from one of these cameras. It takes someone to copy the video off the camera, edit it, then upload for viewing.
There must be a way to get this video into live TV broadcasts. If Formula One can get a signal from a turbo-charged carbon-fibre missile travelling at 300km/h, I’m sure a bicycle doing 45km/h is a relative doddle.
Many of these cameras have WiFi and the ability to live-stream their output. Perhaps the broadcast technology experts could route this signal to a camera moto and bounce it to the broadcast producers for some near-live action shots.
There is probably a better professional broadcast option that doesn’t rely on what is effectively a consumer product being marketed by a bicycle component manufacturer (the model used by InCycle TV is made by Shimano). Accomplishing a live feed might require some extra weight for camera and batteries, but so many riders have to add weight to their bikes to comply with the UCI’s pointless mandatory minimum bike weight that this would be easy enough for most to cope with.
There are glitches. The footage can be problematic when the road gets bumpy or when the riders get out of the saddle to sprint or climb. I’ve had the same problem using on-bike video cameras myself, as I wrote recently for The Roar‘s sister publication Techly.
But I can forgive a bit of shaky video and dodgy sound, if it means I get that extra insight into the action in the bunch. Even for someone who watches a lot of cycling, it’s exciting hearing the yells, seeing the road furniture flash past, and watching John Degenkolb gently shoving a rival off a wheel.
The UCI should take this to the Tour de France.
How good would it be to see Marcel Kittel ripping along the Champs Elysees at 70km/h, right up close? How amazing to see Alberto Contador launching an attack on the road to Hautacam, from the point of view of the rider on his wheel?
And does anyone else feel a guilty frisson when you think of what it would be like seeing a big crash happen in front of you, from the comfort of your couch?
With all the doom and gloom with sponsors quitting, TUE shenanigans, intra-team squabbles, ongoing suspicion and all the rest of it, it’s bloody refreshing to have something cool and new in pro cycling which really makes people at home go, “Whoa, cool!”
More of this sort of thing.