How the hell … can they make TV coverage of cycling better?

Cycling on TV: whether the race is happening in the Dubai desert or the snow-covered Alps, the TV presentation of cycling has been the same for years. Journal Velo says it’s time for an update but how the hell can they make TV coverage of cycling better?

On Sunday, the TV coverage of Paris-Roubaix featured a new innovation: a camera capable of taking 300 images each second to enable super slo-mo replays. The replays got a bit dull after a while (we know that race is a bit bumpy and shaky) but full marks for trying. It got the grey matter moving… what else could they be doing?

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It’s a minor miracle we get the coverage we do. Your typical bike race takes place on hundreds of kilometres of public roads. Most of your bike-racing pictures come from a few people on the back of motorbikes and shooting from helicopters. We tend to take for granted what a great job they do showing us so much of the race. 

Having said all that, watching a cycling race in 2018 is not much different from seeing it in 1998. So how the hell can they make TV coverage of cycling better?

Most of the recent “innovations” in TV coverage are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. On-screen rider watts? I don’t care, I can see on the screen who’s going fastest. On-bike GoPros? Some shaky pictures released hours after the finish don’t do it for me.

But enough negativity. Let’s have some ideas:

On-screen information

The biggest gap cycling TV coverage needs to fill is providing more information on which rider is where. It’s pretty standard to see the lead group called Tete de la course and the peloton named groupe malliot jeune, let’s get some more detail in there.

Motorsports find enough room on the screen to show where cars are on the leaderboard and cycling could do with some of this. You could have a bottom-of-the-screen crawler showing which rider is in which group. Maybe a sidebar of edited information showing the most interesting names in each group of riders.

It would also be great to get more detail on the time gaps. These are usually pretty accurate but crying out for extra context. How about an arrow beside the gap pointing up if the gap is increasing and down is the gap is closing? All of a sudden your understanding of the race situation increases. 

Especially during one-day races, it would be great to see information on where the race favourites are. Which ones are in the bunch? Which ones are in the chase group? Which ones are out of the equation altogether?

I’d love to see more information about where a front-rider’s teammates are. During E3 Harelbeke, a graphic showing Niki Terpstra in the lead, Yves Lampaert further back and Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar in the chasing pack would have really brought the race dynamics to life.

On-bike footage

Perhaps the hardest to achieve technically but used right it could add a lot to the TV coverage. Have a look at this 360 footage taken at the recent Abu Dhabi Tour. Play around with the video and you’ll see some interesting concepts.

Forward-facing cameras in the middle of the peloton show a lot of Lycra-clad derrières and not much else. Stick one on the handlebars of a rider soloing a descent and you’ll get the sense of the speed and challenge the rider is facing. 

How about a camera facing up at the rider? Don’t bother showing the footage when they’re taking a gel or sucking on a bidon. Instead, focus on the face when the action is crucial. Imagine what it would have been like to take a close look at the face of Alberto Contador during one of those attacks.

How about a camera pointing sideways? On those mountaintop finishes, it would provide a great view of one rider as he passes another. A sprint replay showing Marcel Kittel surging past Arnaud Demare would be a joy to watch. 

Get over the sprints

Speaking of sprinters, cycling TV producers should have a look at how they cover sprint finishes. The default is to look at it head on from behind the finish line, which is absolutely terrible for gauging the distances and identifying the riders. At Milan-Sanremo last month, the head-on shot seemed to show Vincenzo Nibali in danger of getting caught before the line. The picture changed to one from the helicopter and you could see there was no danger whatsoever. [I kind of think that made it more exciting – would he get caught? Would he prevail?… Ed]

TV coverage of cycling is technologically excellent but needs some updating. How the hell can they make tv coverage of cycling better? See all of the above. My commission is quite small.

One thought on “How the hell … can they make TV coverage of cycling better?

  1. Sums it up about right, methinks. Without going all F1, I’d maybe add race/team radio into the mix for added immersion in the experience.

    Live coverage aside, I’ve always felt that cycling lacks a decent highlights/analysis package outwith the Tour, which ITV do rather well. Eurosport’s definition of “highlights” is rather just “the last hour” and as a bike race is invariably 3 hours of nothing interspersed with moments of excitement, there’s no guarantee that the last hour is going to give you much other than a sprint.

    Instead of the jarring “Juan and Only” or the Ashley House bits around the live stuff, I’d prefer to see Eurosport invest in an evening show that combos the best/important parts of the race (remember Cyclocsm’s ‘How the Race Was Won’?) with some decent analysis and features too. Or just let the ITV4 guys take over it all. 🙂

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