What cycling can learn from sailing

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10/8/2013| 0 comments
by Neil Browne
America's Cup vs. Cycling A.S.O.

What cycling can learn from sailing

Cycling broadcasting needs to dragged into the 21st century.

They drive carbon fiber machines that cost huge amounts money and have been aerodynamically designed for speed. The athletes wear helmets and wear skin tight clothing adorned with sponsor logos on almost all the available space. The event lasts for two and a half weeks with 19 individual races that determine an overall winner. I could be talking about bike racing. Instead I’m talking about the America’s Cup.

In a stunning finale Team USA’s Oracle AC 17 boat overcame from an eight race deficit to defeat New Zealand’s The Fly Emirates boat. It didn’t take long for commentators to start describing it as one of the greatest sport comebacks in history.

Initially I thought the America’s Cup was a bunch of rich guys racing their expensive toys in the harbor while sipping martinis. Sure, the boats are owned by rich guys – in the case of America’s boat software billionaire Larry Ellison who was reported to have spent an estimated $500 million the last 11 years to win the Auld Mug trophy, the America’s Cup winner’s trophy.

I tweeted a couple of weeks ago, “A boat race is exciting? Really?” I knew I’d take some heat from Twitter as people were worked up about Oracle taking the win. Admittedly I tweet sometimes just to get a rise out of people. As expected I got flak from people describing how exciting the race was, so I decided to take a longer look than the cursory glance I’d taken before.

I watched races 17 and 18 on the America’s Cup YouTube channel and it was exciting to watch. I had to wait until the following day for them to upload the history-making race 19.

While exciting to watch, I was blown away by the production value of the broadcast. The positions of the boats were marked by GPS telling the viewers how much of a lead a boat had. Further, the graphics showed the wind direction, current, and the path they had sailed.

On the boats themselves several mounted onboard cameras brought the action to the viewers. I couldn’t help but contemplate what professional cycling could learn from the America’s Cup.

GPS is used in cycling broadcasts, but there is a lot of room to improve the graphics of the broadcast such as showing wind direction and using on-screen diagraming to show tactics in action. This is going to require a younger commentator who can react and commentate on what could be a rapidly changing race situation.

In addition to the cameras we were able to hear audio from the sailors. While I had no idea of what the terminology meant, what I could understand was the excitement or tension in the voices of the sailors.

There should be some serious thought into putting cameras on select riders, but also in all the team cars. I’ve spent my fair share of time in team cars during races and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t an action packed experience (There are plenty of photos of mechanics and journalists asleep in the back

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