It was just a matter of time before someone gets the idea of using satellite localization to map the positions of the cyclists of the Tour de France. In a first test on July 21 during the ascension to l'Alpe d'Huez, ten riders were equipped with receivers and tracked by the EGNOS European satellite positioning system, a preparatory programme for the Galileo system. The European Space Agency (ESA) reports about this first test in "The best view of the Tour is from space." It's highly possible that all riders can get receivers as soon as next year. And this data will be available on the Web, so you will know in real time the exact location of your favorite champion.
Here is how this works.
Fitted to each rider are receivers which use signals from satellites to constantly calculate their position and speed throughout the entire length of the Tour.
This new approach to the competition is made possible by the use of data from EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service), a European Space Agency-developed network made up of satellites and ground stations which correct and augment data provided by the US Global Positioning System (GPS). In its current form, the (military) GPS system is neither accurate nor reliable enough for the task in hand, while EGNOS, operational as of this summer, provides the accuracy and continuity required to show positions with precision.
Now, let's look at the initial test of the system.
For the moment, the tracking of riders by satellite is in the experimental phase and was demonstrated for the first time in the 21 July time trial between Bourg d’Oisans and Alpe d’Huez.
For this first ever trial, 10 riders were fitted with receivers and tracked by the EGNOS network, with team directors' vehicles trailing close behind each rider. It was thus possible to monitor the precise gaps between riders and even, for some of them, to model their ascent over the entire 15 kilometres of this legendary stage, visualising for example the efforts of Lance Armstrong as he negotiated the 21 bends leading to the top of l'Alpe d'Huez and comparing his ascent to those of other riders.
||Here is a frame extracted from a 6 MB movie showing the respective positions of Lance Armstrong and Richard Virenque, the top-ranked climber Frenchman, while climbing to the top of l'Alpe d'Huez on July 21 during a time tral (Credit: Trimaran).|
So what's next?
Eventually the intention is to fit a receiver to each rider and thus to monitor the exact positions of all the cyclists taking part.
This data will be available on the Internet, on the Tour de France channel or will be broadcast by television channels even when they have no presence on the ground.
In my humble opinion, the organizers should check what the riders are eating and drinking instead of tracking their locations.
Source: European Space Agency, July 23, 2004