Climb times at the Tour de France
Calculating times at the Tour de France
The speculation about the times of riders on climbs from year-to-year at the Tour de France has been a subject that’s received a lot of attention recently. There is plenty of commentary about how one year a rider in the Tour climbed one mountain faster than another but how accurate is this data and can any conclusion be drawn from the images you see on the televison? We wanted to know, so we spoke with a representative of the company responsible for the timing at the Tour de France to find out how they record the times in the mountains during the race.
In the past, there have been transponders at the base of some mountains that offer this information but there are many variables: wind, rain, the distance raced before said climb, the humidity, temperature… they all have an influence on the times.
L’Equipe and other media have published times over the years for certain climbs but to compare one year to the next isn’t really relevant as the finish line could be located in a different place, for example. Or, in another instance referenced by Bruno Cordier of Matsport, there were times when the climb was recorded to the KOM banner, not the finish line; in the case of Ax-3-Domaines the other day, this was a difference of around 500m… all these variables need to be taken into consideration…
Here is the transcript fo the chat with Cordier…
Q. Can you explain how ASO – or Matsport – does the timing for the climbs at the Tour de France?
A. “We don’t do anything. Matsport does the timing for the Tour de France but we don’t time the climb. The information that is being circulated is from people who are watching television and trying to make some split between a peloton and other riders at the top. But officially, there is no timing of the climbs in the mountains. Nothing.”
Q. So when we see published times, in L’Equipe for example, it’s just based on television images? There’s no GPS data?
Q. And there never has been?
A. “Years ago we did Alpe d’Huez and a few other climbs but no more.”
Q. And when you did do Alpe d’Huez, what year was that?
A. “I don’t remember.”
Q. Is there a transponder reading for the final three kilometres in the mountains like there is for the flat stages? [This is necessary so that the jury can determine if someone was caught up in an incident of the race and therefore receive same time as the group he started that final 3km with, a rule that does not apply in mountain stages.]
A. “No. That rule doesn’t apply in the mountains, so that data is not needed.”
Q. With the GPS data for the rest of the race, is that entirely accurate? Where does that information come from? Is it the transponder on the riders’ bikes?
A. “For the split times, it comes from the motorbike’s GPS, not the cyclists so it’s accurate give or take 10 seconds or so.”
Q. When did Matsport start doing the GPS with the motorbike?
A. “I don’t remember.”
Q. So to judge, for example, Froome versus Armstrong, based on the times that we see, is that a fair appraisal?
A. “You don’t really know how people are getting their times, to be honest. When you watch television, sometimes there are replays or delays for the images that are shown. It’s not accurate enough to be able to draw a conclusion.”
Q. Even you, as a representative of the company responsible for the timing, would suggest that there’s no foundation to base the climbs of the times for certain riders by using television images…
A. “I know that there are people trying to get evidence but it’s very difficult to take the time on each rider. We use transponders that are very accurate but by just watching television with a stopwatch, is not accurate anymore and I don’t think it can be used to compare two riders on climbs.”
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