Tour de France TV Coverage is Full of Technical Innovations

Even if you think that watching cycling on television is boring, I urge you to turn on the Outdoor Life Network sometime this month and watch some of the coverage of the Tour de France. The coverage of the race on the road is particularly interesting when you think about how it's assembled.

Every day for three weeks, the Tour de France conducts a race known as a stage. The stages are up to 150 miles in length. In order to show the race on television, many production elements have to be mobile for up to 8 hours at a time. The cameras that capture the images of the Tour are held by cameramen who ride as the second person on a touring motorcycle. The typical motorcycle used is a Kawasaki 1000 GTR.

France Television produces the live video coverage, which it syndicates to international partners like the Outdoor Life Network in North America. Syndicators add commentary and graphics in their home country's language.

France Television typically operate five moto cameras on the road with the cyclists. Two additional motos carry France Television commentators that perform the same role that "sideline" commentators do at NFL games.

The moto units transmit their video and audio to one of two low-flying helicopters above the peleton. The helicopters, reportedly Eurocopter Ecureuil AS355N's with Wescam units, relay the signals to the mobile production facilities co-located near the finish line of the stage. The production facilities operated by France Television and their partners are quite similar to the production trucks seen outside stadiums during sporting events throughout the world. The difference is the number of producers and directors assembling their own unique feed for transmission back to their home networks.

The main announcers for each syndicated broadcast are located in mobile booths with a strategic view of the finish line. They do most of their commentary by watching the race on television.

People who watch cycling on TV all the time have become accustomed to seeing smoothly produced programs where the cameras always catch the stage winner, the look of joy, pain, or despair on the leader's face, and the surprising crash of multiple riders on the open road. But, the technology and the skill necessary to bring it all into our homes is amazing. [ images courtesy of Kawasaki and Eurocopter ]