OBERNAI, France (VN) — The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift has made its mark on cycling, not just for the way that it has platformed women’s cycling for a worldwide audience, but there have been some technical innovations that could have a lasting impact.
Bringing more information to the audience has long been a debate in cycling with speeds, heart rates, watts, and more being beamed to fans in recent years. The Tour de France Femmes has seen something new being tested with team radio being broadcast during the stage.
It is the first time that television viewers have been able to hear the conversations between teams and riders while the race is happening. Sport directors are still getting used to the idea that their comments are being broadcast, but all those that VeloNews spoke to thought it was a good thing.
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“It’s an interesting step because it’s also giving the viewers an insight into the race,” EF Education-Tibco-SVB sport director Daniel Foder told VeloNews. “For me, it’s not something that I’m thinking about. I think it was on stage 2 or 3, apparently, someone had listened, and they reminded me that they could hear what I was saying so I said I hope I didn’t say something stupid.
“I think it’s a good idea and a fun idea and it may give people at home a little bit of a feeling of what is going on behind the scenes and all of that.”
Plans to trial this system, which is already seen in sports such as Formula One, have been in place for some time, but the teams were approached about it in the weeks leading up to the race.
Race organizer ASO gave teams the option of whether or not to have it with nine teams ultimately going for it, with a mixture of WorldTeams and Continental squads. The teams who have their radio conversations broadcast are Canyon-SRAM, FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope, Stade Rochelais Charente Maritime, St-Michel Auber 93, SD Worx, Arkea, ED Education-Tibco-SVB, AG Insurance-NXTG, and Team DSM.
— Le Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift (@LeTourFemmes) July 29, 2022
It doesn’t mean that teams who are not being broadcast on television rejected the idea. VeloNews spoke to several teams who had discussions with ASO about using the system and were open to it but stopped receiving correspondence from the organizer.
“I knew a few weeks already. I think it’s positive for cycling in general. At first, I had questions like how does it work and is really straight from the moment I say something that it goes right on television,” DSM sport director Albert Timmer told VeloNews. “The exact delay time I’m not sure but I know that there are people in between that listen and check what is useful for the television show.
“We have an extra box in the car that connects to the rider radio. It’s not so much, I have a lot more cables in my car, but otherwise, it’s actually fine.”
In Formula One, a large amount of the team radio is broadcast during the race with a small timing delay. Teams have developed codes to ensure that their tactics are not revealed to their rivals and therefore hurting them, with things as simple as plan A or B, or more unusual phrases such as the “Multi 21” that was supposed to keep Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in place at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2013.
At the moment, only a very small amount of the team radio has been used during the Tour de France Femmes broadcasts. There has been a loose agreement between the ASO and teams that tactical discussions will not be broadcast.
Unlike F1, there are workarounds as riders can drop down to the car and talk with the DS. For now at least, there the teams aren’t coming up with complicated code systems for their tactics.
“We have not been coached for the radio yet. Maybe that’s coming for the future, but at the moment no,” SD Worx sport director Danny Stam joked with VeloNews.
“It was explained to me that they can listen to the complete radio and then they will put it on the television with a delay of some time and also that they will filter what information that they use and any information that involves tactics they will pull out. That’s the trust that you need to give them, but until now there has been nothing strange.”
“Today, like always, our plan was to be aggressive, to cover breakaways, and to be in the break, and today was my turn.
— EF Education-TIBCO-SVB (@EF_TIBCO_SVB) July 29, 2022
EF Education DS Foder believes that the system would fall out of favor with teams if ASO or other organizers broadcast team tactics.
“Of course, there can be tactical discussions in the car and that is something we want to keep for ourselves,” he said. “Of course, our tactics can be exposed but I also think that the people behind this system are careful about what information is published. I think if team tactics were exposed then I think that teams wouldn’t want to use it.”
Though there are parts of the team radio that DSs and riders might prefer to remain unbroadcast, the resounding feeling appears to be that access to it for fans is something that cycling should be doing more of.
“I think it’s a benefit for the public and the spectators like to see it. Personally, I don’t like to give my tactics away but on the other side if it makes cycling more interesting then it’s a good move,” Stam said. “Fans really like this kind of information. It’s always good to see from the outside what is happening in the race. I think a lot of people don’t understand what is happening, they just see a bike race. They don’t know the rest.”