‘You have to see it to believe it!’ 5 things that surprised us at the Tour de France 2015
For digital marketing specialist, Noelani Wilson, and man-on-the-ground former Masters world road-cycling champion, Gary Beneke, their first experience reporting from the heart of the Tour de France action has been a real eye-opener. Gary and Noelani are part of the Dimension Data team keeping an ear to the ground for the news behind the news, providing insights and commentary to guests, executives, and fans on social media.
So what are the 5 things that surprised them the most?
#1 The sheer scale of it
Gary: This event is so enormous it’s mind-boggling. I’ve been involved in cycling for 35 years and experienced many other cycling tours around the world, but nothing like this! I’ve always understood the demands of the race from a rider’s point of view, but seeing the size of these mountains up close makes my jaw drop.
Noelani: Unless you’re here, it’s hard to believe the size of this event. It seems that France turns into the world’s biggest stadium.
Gary: Absolutely. This isn’t a one-day event in a single arena – it’s a 21-day travelling spectacle. Each morning and night, everything is put in place and then packed up, loaded in trucks, and reproduced perfectly in the next village. The logistics behind the logistics is mind-boggling.
Noelani: It’s so well organised. From the kilometres of barricading that are erected along parts of the route, and teams that collect the trash after each stage, to the advertising boards that get put up in exactly the same way each day, it just works. even the road markings in each village are painted over to make way for sponsorship branding at the finish line.
#2 The professionalism of the teams
Gary: The backend of the tour isn’t glamorous. For every rider, there’s at least five soigneurs or assistants. They make sure that everyone is fed, massaged, and clothed. The ASO rents 1,550 rooms every night just for the organisation and teams. Every person associated with a rider is riding the race in their own way. Their unselfish professionalism is inspiring.
Noelani: True. There are many unseen hands that make this clock tick — people who live and breathe the race that never get to actually see the race.
#3 The passion of the fans
Noelani: The fans here are incredible! My first fan-girl moment was spotting the famous El Diablo (the Devil), who’s been following the Tour since 1993. Some fans dress in outrageous costumes — and some wear almost nothing! They set up their caravans along the route days before a Stage, especially in the mountains, and paint messages of support on the road for their favourite riders. Come blistering heat, freezing cold, or soaking rain – the fans are there. From the most remote farmlands, to the peaks of the highest mountains – they colour the route with support.
Gary: If it wasn’t for the fans, the excitement around the Tour wouldn’t exist. A fan waits on average six hours to catch a 30-second glimpse of the peloton. I believe every rider is determined to finish the race for the fans.
Noelani: Every village gets excited about the Tour passing through, from citizens to shop owners. I’ve never seen so many decorated bicycles or bunting in the Tour de France jersey colours. Just the other day, I spotted a red-and-white polka dot wedding dress in a shop window!
Gary: When we take Dimension Data’s VIP guests in a hospitality helicopter to get a better view of the race, you see ‘bicycle’ formations created with bales of hay, tractors, or human beings — all hoping to be spotted by aerial TV cameras.
Noelani: Everyone really gets into the spirit of the event. They take the fun of it very seriously!
#4 The time it takes to get anywhere
Gary: I wasn’t expecting to spend so much time in traffic. It takes three hours to get to the start of the race every day; I start getting ready five hours before any live action starts.
Noelani: It’s been a shock! Our team in the Big Data truck have an early start and a late finish every day. I’m a happy traveller but I’ve found the travel exhausting. If we’re lucky, we have a one hour journey to the technical zone in the morning, and anything between one to three hours of travel at the end of each Stage.
Gary: There are over 20 vehicles just in the publicity caravan that precedes the race, which takes 45 minutes to move into a village – handing out sweets, gifts, and water to the crowd. Behind that, you have the sponsors and partners in their own vehicles to bring in their guests and VIPs, getting them to helicopter drop-offs so they can have an immersive experience of the race.
Noelani: With so many cars, it’s no wonder traffic is awful – especially getting down narrow mountain passes. Last night, we got caught on a mountain in the rain for two hours as our bus wasn’t cleared to pass. We finally made it to our hotel at midnight.
Gary: You never know what to expect on any given day. You have to think of your feet and learn to accept a change of plans.
#5 Sharing the experience digitally
Noelani: Part of sharing the race on digital platforms is to tweet regular data updates on the race on the ASO’s official Twitter handle @letourdata, as well as share ‘on the ground’ experience via @dimensiondata. A good Wi-Fi connection is a must, so when that goes down, it’s a nightmare.
Gary: And it always goes down when you need it the most!
Noelani: Ironically, I’ve had a better connection in the technical zone on top of the Alps than in a hotel in the city.
Gary: I’m a sports guy. I don’t understand everything about the technology behind the race, but it’s amazing that it’s giving fans their first truly digital experience of the race.
Noelani: It’s satisfying when we give people relevant, exciting content on social media. Our most popular tweet showed the data from the infamous crash in Stage 3 – we doubled our Twitter following in a day on the back of that post!
Gary: For me, it’s about adding colour to the data when we prepare the Daily Data Wrap. That’s when I can look at the race through the lens of my own experience – analysing riders’ tactics, mistakes made on the day, or making predictions.
Noelani: The human element really does add a deeper context to the data. There’s so much more insight into the race for the fans, whether they’re watching it on television, following it on social media, the live-tracking website, or catching up on highlights with our Day in Data.