A new cycling broadcast company is bringing an array of technological bells and whistles to next weekend’s Redlands Bicycle Classic.
Flying drones, ultra high-definition cameras, and innovative wireless transmitters are just some of the tools that startup Cyclestream.tv will deploy during the final two stages of the five-day race. The company will produce upwards of 14 hours of live coverage between the two stages, as well as a live studio show.
And viewers will be able to watch the action for free.
“We’re not cutting corners, and we’re really trying to change the way people experience a live bike race broadcast,” said Brad Sohner, a longtime race announcer and producer with Cyclestream.tv. “We’ve never had resources like this at a domestic U.S. race.”
Broadcasting bike races is an expensive and tricky business. In the January/February print issue of VeloNews we took a deep dive into the challenging economics, and finicky technology, that prevents many small- to mid-tier races from televising the action for viewers. Large-scale races like the Tour de France and Amgen Tour of California spend millions on their respective broadcast infrastructure. Radio frequency cameras following the race beam images to helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, before the signal is captured miles away at a production truck.
Smaller races like Redlands lack the budget to finance an operation of this size.
Advances in camera technology and wireless systems have allowed criteriums and cyclocross events to produce webcasts; USA Crits now broadcasts all of its events online, as does the Armed Forces Cycling Classic. Cameras can transmit images back to a production truck via wireless Internet networks, or via cellular signals.
Yet broadcasting stage races and longer road stages still presents a challenge, due to the greater distances and spotty cell signals in rural areas. Also, wireless technology often leads to poor image quality.
Cyclestream.tv, however, is broadcasting Redlands in 1080P, an ultra high-definition resolution that is rarely used in live bike racing. It also has a more robust cellular bonding system that should ensure a stronger signal that overcomes the occasional drops in coverage. The company has hired outside firms that used similar technology to broadcast the New York City Marathon.
It’s a more expensive setup — VeloNews pegged the operational costs in the low six figures — however, the group hopes to use the Redlands broadcast as a test for future cycling projects.
“It’s definitely a proving ground,” Sohner said. “It’s a new frontier, and we’re willing to see if it works because it will save a few hundred grand on the way you broadcast a bike race.”
The broadcast will air on Cyclestream.tv, and on other select websites, including VeloNews.com. It begins at 1 p.m. PCT on Saturday, March 16 for the men’s and women’s criteriums. The five-hour broadcast includes a studio show hosted by longtime race announcer Dave Towle.
Towle, who is also working as a producer, said the studio show will include interviews with a long list of current and retired riders.
“It’s a chance to bring some of these personalities to life for viewers,” Towle said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
On Sunday, March 17, the broadcast runs from 9:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., and provides coverage of both the men’s and women’s Sunset Loop road races. The broadcast will again cut between the race action and Towle’s studio show.
Redlands has featured live streaming broadcast on and off since 2008 when the race first mounted a camera on a crane and broadcast video live on the Internet. The race’s marketing director, Scott Welsh, said the race backed away from livestreaming in 2017 and 2018 due to rising costs. When Cyclestream.tv approached the race in late January, Welsh said there was “a natural fit.”
“Our goal is to get people outside the cycling community to click in and see a fantastic event produced at a very high level,” Welsh said. “There is a very small degree of difference between our event and the larger UCI races. We feel we have a great story to tell.”
Cyclestream.tv and the Redlands broadcast is the brainchild of Leah Sturgis, the backer of the new Wildlife Generation pro cycling team. In late 2018, Sturgis came on board to fund the team — formerly the Jelly Belly-Maxxis team — after a chance meeting with the squad’s driver at the Peter Sagan Gran Fondo.
Sturgis has a background in feature film production and development and says she saw an opportunity to bring her expertise in filmmaking and broadcast to pro cycling. Sturgis is also producing a video series around the Wildlife Generation pro cycling team and wanted additional ways to tell the story of the team.
“I could see there was a real need for more coverage,” Sturgis said. “Cycling fans are this underserved group. They’re wanting more good content around domestic cycling, so I saw a need for it. I’m entrepreneurial and teamed up with the right people.”
Sturgis is self-funding much of the project, however, she said her long-term plan is to bring in outside investment from her business network. Sturgis said she helps operate businesses in a variety of sectors, from food and beverage to the pet industry. The Cyclestream.tv website will continue to broadcast its studio show throughout the year, she said. The show will take viewers inside the domestic U.S. racing scene.
“The goal is to find a sustainable model,” she said. “We’re also going to have fun with it.”